West Valley City’s police department has settled a lawsuit filed by the family of a 31-year-old man who was shot and killed while handcuffed inside the police station.
Susan Neese filed the lawsuit last September, alleging her son, Michael Chad Breinholt, was unnecessarily killed and that officers “threatened and antagonized” him before Sgt. Tyler Longman fired the fatal shot.
West Valley City and Neese’s attorney confirmed Friday the lawsuit had been dismissed and was settled “for a mutually agreeable amount.”
The city refused to say Friday how much money it agreed to pay to Neese to settle the lawsuit, though Utah law states that the amount of money government entities pay to settle a lawsuit is considered a public record. The Salt Lake Tribune has filed a records request seeking that information.
Breinholt was arrested on Aug. 23, 2019, after he showed up at his girlfriend’s workplace while intoxicated, records show.
Body camera footage obtained by The Tribune shows Breinholt’s girlfriend and a co-worker told officers Matt Lane and Taylor Atkin that he had taken a lot of pills and his breath smelled like alcohol.
“It seems like he just wants to commit suicide,” his girlfriend told police, later adding: “He just said that he took all those pills so he’ll die.”
The officers arrested Breinholt for DUI and they took him to the police department for a more accurate Breathalyzer test. Eventually Longman came to help the officers fill out an electronic warrant to do a blood draw.
At one point before the shooting, Breinholt fell from his chair to the floor — and officers left him there for more than 11 minutes before medics arrived to check on him, according to the footage.
But the arresting officers, Atkin and Lane, didn’t tell the medics that Breinholt had taken pills or was suicidal, and the medics left.
Later, Breinholt asked Longman to be taken to a psychiatric hospital, but the sergeant refused.
The footage shows a situation that escalated quickly after Breinholt told officers he had a gun in his shoe. He didn’t, and the officers didn’t take him seriously, but they attempted to take his shoe from him. When they did, Breinholt — with his hands cuffed behind his back — put his hand on Atkin’s gun. Two officers start wrestling with him, though the gun never leaves the holster, the footage shows.
Longman then rushed into the room, said, “You’re about to die, my friend,” and shot Breinholt in the head at near point-blank range.
It marked Longman’s third police shooting. He shot and killed a man in 2007 and another in 2008; the district attorney found his actions to be legally justified in both cases. He has never been disciplined for any of the shootings he’s been involved in.
Longman is one of 38 Utah officers who has have been involved in more than one police shooting in the past 17 years, according to a database maintained by the Tribune. He is among six West Valley City officers, both current and former, who have fired their weapons more than once.
Neese told The Tribune last September when the lawsuit was filed that she felt her son’s death was preventable.
“Chad was in distress. He needed help,” his mother said. “His cries for help were ignored.”
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill found the shooting legally justified but called it “disturbing” and said he believed the death could have been prevented.
Neese’s attorneys argued in the lawsuit that while Breinholt did have his hand either on an officer’s duty belt, gun holster or gun handle, it would have been impossible for him to pull out the gun and use it.
“Chad only weighed approximately 125 pounds and his hands were cuffed behind his back,” the complaint reads. “He was also highly intoxicated, overmedicated, weakened, delirious, confused, and reacting slowly. It was not difficult for multiple officers to physically push and control Chad.
“By the time Longman announced he was about to kill Chad, [two officers] had already successfully restrained Chad and neutralized any possible threat, which never actually existed,” the complaint continues.
West Valley City officials said last September that it was Breinholt’s actions — not their officers — that led to the shooting.