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Utah Legislator Says The Law For Justifying Police Use Of Deadly Force Is Fine As Is

A photo of D.A. Sim Gill speaking at a podium.
Emily Means
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he wouldn’t be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a West Valley Police sergeant didn’t need to use his gun when he killed Chad Breinholt in 2019, so Gill declined to file criminal charges against him.

In 2019, Chad Breinholt was intoxicated, handcuffed and suffering a mental health crisis while being held by West Valley police.

Breinholt managed to grab one officer’s gun, so Sgt. Tyler Longman shot him in the head and killed him.

Last week, nearly two years after Breinholt was killed, Gill said his hands were tied by state statute when he cleared the sergeant of wrongdoing.

“If we want different outcomes, which is not unreasonable for us to ask, then we need to change the law,” Gill said. “Either that, or we need to change the legislators who are not reflective of those values, which the community is calling out [for].”

In the wake of last year’s protests against police brutality, Gill’s office put forth a list of proposals to overhaul the state’s use of deadly force laws.

But he said there was “no political will” in the state Legislature this year to see most of those through.

“We are at a point where a legitimately dangerous profession has protections in a disproportionate way to the expectations of our communities,” Gill said. “They want transparency. They want fairness. They want accountability.”

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, has been an outspoken advocate for police as a member of the Utah Legislature’s House Law Enforcement Committee. Dozens of police reform bills were either approved or died in that committee during this year’s General Session.

He said it’s not the law that’s the problem.

“If we want a different outcome, people have to learn to obey law enforcement, and they have to change their attitudes,” Ray said. “We're making excuses for people, and I'm done making excuses for people.”

Ray said Gill’s comments make him not want to give the Salt Lake County district attorney more authority to prosecute officers.

“I don't think we want to raise the bar,” he said. “I think we have to protect the public. We have to protect those officers that are there. I'm very comfortable leaving the bar where it's at.”

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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