Salt Lake City police officers will not face charges after a man died days after they shot at him, D.A. rules

Police shot Penisimani Halai once in the chest, and he died of sepsis eight days later in the hospital, according to a letter from the Salt Lake County district attorney.

(Jordan Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill during a news conference on March 29, 2024.

Three Salt Lake City police officers who shot at a man after a car chase last January will not face charges, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced Friday. The man, Penisimani Halai, was hit once in the chest and died days later, investigators said.

Officers with SLCPD’s gang unit were initially investigating two wanted fugitives with felony warrants early Jan. 13 when they found them in a vehicle in an alleyway near 620 S. Concord Street, according to a letter released by Gill’s office on Friday. Halai, 41, was driving the vehicle.

Police pulled into the alleyway behind the vehicle with their emergency lights on, according to the letter, and the officers then challenged the two individuals at gunpoint. The two then fled the area in their vehicle, ramming police cars driving through a fence during the ensuing pursuit, the letter states.

About 10 minutes into the chase, the vehicle stopped after crashing into a parked car near 576 N. Star Crest Drive. Police arrested the passenger inside the vehicle without incident, while Halai fled the vehicle as officers yelled for him to stop, the letter states.

Halai eventually jumped a chain-link fence into the front yard of a nearby residence and attempted to enter the home. While he was on the front porch, officers drew their guns and repeatedly yelled for Halai to get on the ground, according to the letter.

Halai repeatedly cursed at them in response, investigators wrote, yelling “kill me” while he reached into his waistband and attempted to open the front door to the home.

(Screenshot via YouTube) An SLCPD officer points his weapons at 41-year-old Penisimani Halai after a car chase on January 13, 2022.

One officer then got close enough to deploy a stun gun on Halai. About four seconds later, body camera footage showed, officers fired two shots at Halai. The man then broke a ground-level window and dove into the residence, according to the letter.

While police moved the blinds to see inside the residence, Halai continued to curse at them, and at that point Officer Miles Southworth saw Halai has a small knife, the letter states.

“I hear voices and all of a sudden I know there’s innocent people right there,” Southworth told investigators, according to the letter. “And he turns like he’s going towards the doorway, towards where I hear the voices. And as fast as I possibly could, I fired at him three times.”

Southworth and another officer then entered through the window and removed the knife as they apprehended Halai, who was shot once in the chest, according to the letter. Individuals identified in the letter as an “elderly couple” who lived in the residence could be seen in body camera footage as the officers put the man in handcuffs.

Police then provided medical assistance to Halai and he was transported to a local hospital, where he at one point underwent surgery, according to the letter. In an interview with police on Jan. 19, 2023, Halai told police that he was “on meth” and had been “up for a few days” at the time of the shooting

Halai also told authorities that he had pulled out the knife during the shooting to show police everything that he had in his hands. On Jan. 21, 2023, after eight days in the hospital, Halai died from sepsis, the letter states.

Gill declined to file charges in the man’s death, and said Southworth’s account of his attempt to use less-than-lethal force during the confrontation was important for his office to hear.

“It was a volatile situation,” the district attorney said Friday. “Because now the fugitive was running into a neighborhood, into other civilians’ home[s], including residents who might be surprised by that.”

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown released a statement addressing two decisions involving his department that Gill announced Friday — in both, the D.A. determined he would not file charges.

”No matter the circumstance nor danger we face, we take an oath to uphold the law and to serve and protect our communities,” Brown said in a statement. “I am proud these separate investigations proved that is exactly what happened in both instances.”

Gill released three decisions on Friday, including another case where he determined that federal and local officers wouldn’t face charges for shooting a man as he pulled out a gun and shot himself.

Update, Mar. 30, 11:30 a.m. • This story has been updated to include a statement from Salt Lake City Police Department.