Salt Lake City officer justified in shooting at suicidal man, prosecutors say

Navada Escholt fired at three officers, police said. He later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

(Salt Lake City Police Department) Officers Benzon (right) and Abel Bromley (left) stand outside Navada Escholt's apartment on July 20, 2021, moments before Escholt fires at officers. Bromley returned fire but missed. Escholt later died by a self-inflicted gunshot.

A Salt Lake City officer who shot at a suicidal man after the man opened fire on police last July won’t face criminal charges, prosecutors announced Friday.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said that officer Abel Bromley reasonably believed — as outlined in Utah law — that he and other officers were in imminent danger after the man, Navada Escholt, fired at them.

Bromley fired a single shot back, which did not strike Escholt. Escholt, 42, fatally shot himself soon after, according to Gill’s finding letter.

Three officers — Bromley and two others, identified only as “Dunn” and “Benzon” — responded to Escholt’s apartment near 1600 West and 800 North on July 20, just after noon. Escholt’s wife had called police to say that he was suicidal, had a gun and needed an ambulance, the letter said. She told police Escholt had been drinking and hadn’t taken his prescription medication.

Officers knocked on Escholt’s door as well as others in the apartment complex and tried calling Escholt. When no one answered, the officers moved about 90 feet away from the apartments to the sidewalk, Gill said.

Dunn called Escholt’s wife and asked her if she could try to talk to Escholt. He said officers didn’t want to force their way inside and make the situation worse.

During that phone call, Escholt opened his front door and fired a single shot at officers who ran for cover. Bromley fired back from behind a tree. Dunn and Benzon retreated behind a truck in a neighbor’s driveway.

Escholt fired about 20 minutes after police officers arrived. Soon after that first volley of fire, Escholt apparently shot himself inside his apartment.

Officers learned he died later after they sent a police robot into the house and found Escholt in a bedroom.

Escholt had been charged earlier that day with witness tampering and retaliation. He was being investigated for aggravated assault and allegedly sent threatening Facebook messages to someone involved in the case. His wife told investigators he had recently lost his job and was having a “mental breakdown.”

Gill commended the officers’ “incredible restraint,” noting that they tried to contact Escholt multiple times and kept their distance from the apartment to buy time and de-escalate the difficult scene. Gill said they had to manage multiple concerns at once — the caller’s worries, an armed person experiencing a mental health crisis and an apartment complex with “people and thin walls.”

Gill said officials could do more to make sure people with mental health needs get adequate treatment, and police could receive more training for situations involving people experiencing such crises.

“But unfortunately, tragedy happens because sometimes people who are suffering can escalate that into a really violent situation, as well, and then we have to respond as law enforcement to safeguard everybody as well,” Gill said.

(Paighten Harkins | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill goes over body camera footage during a Feb. 11, 2022, news conference. Gill ruled an SLCPD officer was legally justified in firing at Navada Escholt after Escholt shot at officers on July 20, 2021.

All three Salt Lake City officers who responded to Escholt’s apartment were certified in crisis intervention.

SLCPD Chief Mike Brown released a statement Friday after Gill announced the ruling. He said the shooting served as a reminder that leaders must invest in more services and resources for mental health care.

“After a careful analysis of the facts in this case, and reviewing the body worn camera, I am proud of our officers who demonstrated compassion, restraint and excellent policing,” Brown said. “They did everything possible to keep things from escalating and to provide help to a person in a mental health crisis.”

A Salt Lake Tribune analysis of a decade of police shooting data found that more than 40% of the state’s police shootings involved someone in a mental health crisis. More than half of those cases involved someone with a gun, and 80% of those cases involved some who was suicidal.

This shooting marked the 17th in Utah in 2021. Police shot at 31 people last year, surpassing the previous record-high total of 30 police shootings, which was set in 2018 and matched in 2020. Records show that more officers were shot at least year than in recent history.

Editor’s note If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.