Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ruled Friday that a Murray police officer was legally justified when he shot and injured a woman who had pointed a gun at officers.
Detective Brad Rowe shot and injured Rhonda Lee St. Onge on March 5. He and other officers had been called to her apartment as back-up after another officer and an Adult Protective Services case worker went to check in on St. Onge, and the woman wouldn’t open her apartment door and instead fired a gun toward them.
The case worker had wanted to speak with St. Onge, according to the district attorney’s office, because there had been reports of her walking around her apartment complex partially clothed and carrying a gun.
After the back-up officers arrived, the police identified themselves and yelled for St. Onge to open her door.
“Rhonda, we’re to help you!” one officer yells through the door, according to body camera footage shown Friday. “I understand you’re having a bad day. We’re here to help you out.”
The officers decided to enter the home, according to the district attorney’s office, because they feared St. Onge may have shot herself. The social worker had been given a key from the landlord, and an officer used it to open the door.
As soon as the door opened, one officer yelled “Stay there!” and Rowe fired a rifle once at St. Onge, striking her in her side.
Rowe refused to be interviewed by investigators about what happened, Gill said, but the district attorney noted a conversation captured in the bodycam where the officer said the woman had pointed a gun at officers.
“So she had the gun pointed at everybody?” a detective asked.
“Pointed straight at the door,” Rowe replied.
Only one officer had his body camera activated at the time of the shooting, and the video did not capture a clear image of St. Onge pointing a weapon because the officer wasn’t standing in the doorway when it was opened.
After Rowe fired his weapon, several officers rushed into the apartment and one held her to the ground with a ballistic shield as she was being handcuffed. A gun was found near her.
She was taken to the hospital for treatment, and survived her injuries.
St. Onge was later charged with four counts of assault against a police officer, a charge of aggravated assault and felony discharge of a firearm. She was found not competent to stand trial on those charges in August, and is currently being treated at the Utah State Hospital.
Gill estimated Friday that of the just over 100 police shootings he has reviewed as district attorney, at least a third of them involved people who were struggling with mental illness or mental health issues.
He said there’s a system breakdown where people are not getting the help they need, and there’s no meaningful follow-through to make sure resources are getting to those who need them.
That means that law enforcement are often called because the criminal justice system is seemingly the only option left.
“Here’s the reality. There are going to be future contact with people who are mentally ill with law enforcement,” he said. “And the last thing that I want to do is another shooting review of that. There is a breakdown in our system of those who are mentally ill and the intersection with law enforcement that’s occurring because other systems of support are not being funded and are currently broken down.”