Newly released body camera footage shows a woman screaming for help as Salt Lake City police hold her down during a January arrest — a restraint that Utah medical examiners later determined contributed to her death, which was ruled a homicide.
“Help! They’re going to kill me! Help me!” Megan Joyce Mohn, 40, yells in the video, released on Thursday. Later, she can be heard saying, “Please don’t shoot!” and “Don’t kill me! I don’t want to die!”
According to a news release from Salt Lake City police, officers at 3:13 a.m. on Jan. 11 received a report of a woman “walking in circles carrying a piece of rebar” at the intersection of 400 West and 900 North. Police said the woman, later identified as Mohn, had tried to enter a secure area of the Marathon Petroleum refinery before running back into the intersection.
An off-duty Salt Lake City officer who was working a second job at the refinery had ordered Mohn to drop the rebar, and the woman complied, according to the news release.
But when she was ordered to sit on the ground, she “kept screaming incoherent language,” resisted arrest and tried to run away, the release states. That’s when the off-duty officer took her into custody and called for backup.
‘I don’t want to die, please’
Footage of the altercation begins when a second officer arrives on scene at about 3:36 a.m. The woman yells for help while kneeling on the ground, and an officer repeatedly asks her for her name, saying “You’re going to go to jail if you don’t even tell us your name,” the footage shows. The woman replied that she’ll “probably go to jail anyways.”
She then asks officers to call the police, stating that she wants to hear someone confirm that they are police officers. One officer responds that they are the police, which is when Mohn yells “Help! They’re going to kill me! Help me!”
The footage shows Mohn try to get to her feet. Officers then move her back down to a kneeling position.
“I don’t want to die, please,” the woman says. Officers ask her for an ID, and she tells them her identification was stolen. An officer again asks for her name, but the woman doesn’t respond, breathing heavily.
She then asks officers for some water.
“If you tell me your name, maybe,” an officer responds.
“Oh, that’s just exploitation,” the woman says in the footage.
“Well, you want water, I want your name,” the officer can be heard saying in the footage.
The woman then asks if the officers can call more police, and starts yelling for help again.
“I sound like all of those stupid people on TV, don’t I?” she says to the officers.
“You sound pretty ridiculous,” an officer responds in the footage.
Police then move to cut the woman’s backpack off her body, and she starts screaming for help again, telling officers, “You need to stop.” About three minutes after the second officer arrived on scene, officers move the woman to her back.
She begins kicking at them, the footage shows. That’s when one officer holds her facedown on the ground as another officer restrains her legs.
“Say no to drugs, you’d have less problems,” one officer says in the footage.
“Okay first of all, alcohol is a great drug,” the woman responds.
“It is, look where you’re at,” the officer replies with a laugh.
An officer continues to hold Mohn facedown for over four minutes as another officer bend her legs behind her in a hogtie position to restrain her from kicking. The woman occasionally yells indistinctly for about three minutes, then falls silent. After officers have her legs in shackles, one holds her leg up — which hangs limp.
The officers then move her into the “recovery position,” on her side, according to the news release, which is when the footage ends. At that point, the release states that officers attempted a “sternum rub” and administered a dose of naloxone — a medication that reverses opioid overdoses.
Police later found methamphetamine and spice among her belongings, according to the news release.
The woman remained unresponsive, so her restraints were removed and officers performed CPR, police said. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital. According to police, medical staff told them the woman’s condition was not life-threatening, and they left.
Mohn died at the hospital on Jan. 30 — 19 days after the altercation — and police learned of her death on Feb. 9, officials announced in July.
According to police, the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office advised them to wait for an autopsy report and not to treat the death as an “officer-involved critical incident.”
Medical examiners rule death a homicide
Six months after the altercation, the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner ruled the woman’s death a homicide, stating that she died of an “anoxic brain injury” due to “cardiac arrest” from “probable methamphetamine intoxication in the setting of an altercation involving physical restraint.”
Chief medical examiner Dr. Erik Christensen said in an email Friday that the office aims to complete 90% of autopsy reports within 60 days of their examination, which is usually the day of — or the day after — death. Determining a final cause of death also requires a review of the “investigative information obtained,” such as police records, video, interviews with involved parties and other records, he said.
“The evaluation of this information is a complex endeavor which requires time and attention,” Christensen wrote. “The more complex the case, the longer the investigation potentially takes. Our standard for completion is an acknowledgement that not all cases can be completed within a two-month time frame and the investigation will require more than the usual amount of work and follow-up.”
Dr. Alon Steinberg, chair of cardiology at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, California, has studied the use of prone restraint and cardiac death. In cases where people are placed facedown and restrained — like Mohn was — Steinberg said that there is potential restriction in ventilation and circulation, which can be fatal.
“When you have a cardiac arrest — meaning the heart’s not pumping any blood flow to the whole body — but the most vulnerable area is the brain,” Steinberg said. “So if the brain doesn’t get oxygen for four or five minutes, it could be quite catastrophic.”
“It sounds like there was a prolonged period of time where she was not getting enough circulation to her brain,” Steinberg continued, “and she suffered brain death, and she may have suffered other problems.”
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said in a statement that the four officers involved “acted appropriately, quickly and professionally to save” the woman’s life when she was arrested. The four officers are on paid leave as the woman’s death remains under investigation, police said.
“This is, unfortunately, a common occurrence,” Steinberg said of such restraints. “We need to educate people in the public that this is dangerous.”