Medical examiner rules death of woman in custody a homicide; SLC police launch investigation

She was arrested and put in leg restraints in January near a refinery; autopsy results were released last week.

(Salt Lake City Police) A Salt Lake City Police squad car, parked at a crime scene on Nov. 8, 2021.

Salt Lake City police have launched an investigation after a 40-year-old woman died several weeks after being taken into custody — a death that the Utah medical examiner’s office, some six months later, has ruled a homicide.

“Our officers acted appropriately, quickly and professionally to save” the woman’s life the night of the arrest, police Chief Mike Brown said in a news release Saturday. “We welcome and respect the officer-involved-critical-incident protocol. We have confidence this will be a fair and judicious process.”

In the early morning hours of Jan. 11, police applied leg restraints to the woman, who they said was resisting arrest, according to the release. Later, on Jan. 30, she died at a hospital.

On July 28, the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner sent its autopsy results to the police, the release stated. That report determined she died from an “anoxic brain injury” due to “cardiac arrest” from “probable methamphetamine intoxication in the setting of an altercation involving physical restraint.”

The encounter began at 3:13 a.m. on Jan. 11, when police responded to a report of a woman “walking in circles carrying a piece of rebar” at the intersection of 400 West and 900 North, the release explained. The woman allegedly tried accessing a secure area at Marathon Petroleum’s Salt Lake City refinery and then ran back into the intersection.

A Salt Lake City police officer was working a second job at the refinery and approached the woman at about 3:30 a.m. She was carrying two pieces of rebar, so the officer ordered her to drop them, the release added, and she complied.

The officer had her sit on the ground, and a private security guard reported that she “kept screaming incoherent language.” The guard told investigators that the woman was resisting and attempted to run, so the officer took her “into custody” and called for backup.

While seated on the ground in custody, the woman “started resisting the officers and kicked one officer several times,” so they moved her onto her stomach. The woman kept kicking and screaming despite attempts from officers to communicate with her, the release stated, so they placed her in leg restraints.

The woman then stopped resisting and yelling. An officer then placed her in a position to monitor her breathing, but the woman remained unresponsive after they attempted a sternum rub, the release noted, so they administered a dose of naloxone — a medication that reverses opioid overdoses.

The woman remained unresponsive, so officers removed her from all restraints to perform CPR, the release explained. She then was transported by ambulance to a hospital.

Hospital staffers later told police that the woman was improving and that her condition was not life-threatening, according to the release. Officers left the hospital since the alleged crimes the woman was arrested for “did not require ‘guard duty.’”

The release stated that police later found methamphetamine and spice on her “property.”

The Salt Lake City Police Department did not know the woman had died until Feb. 9, some 10 days after her death.

At that time, the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office advised the department that woman’s death did not qualify as an “officer-involved-critical-incident,” the release stated, but awaited instead the medical examiner’s findings. That autopsy report was sent last week.

The four primary officers in the encounter have been placed on paid leave, according to Saturday release. Body camera footage from the woman’s arrest will, under city ordinance, be released in 10 days.