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SLC cops crossed the line when they killed a woman, Robert Gehrke writes. Now they should be held accountable.

Training, department policy and common sense failed as officers used unnecessary force on a woman who posed no threat. It’s up to Sim Gill to seek justice.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

In January, Salt Lake City police cuffed and kneeled on an uncooperative woman until she died because she wouldn’t tell them her name.

Her name was Megan Joyce Mohn.

I don’t know her story. We don’t need to know her story. We don’t need to know her mental health situation or if she was on drugs.

I don’t need to know any of that to know this: Her death, at the hands of four officers, is the most egregious and unnecessary abuse of force that I have ever seen by Utah police officers.

Around 3 a.m. on Jan. 11, dispatchers got a call that, based on what one officer is heard saying in the body camera footage released Thursday, Mohn was trying to get into the Marathon Petroleum refinery and running in circles in traffic while swinging two sticks at cars.

The body camera footage of the second officer on the scene shows that by the time he arrived, an officer who had been working an off-duty security job at the refinery had already apprehended Mohn, cuffed her and had her sitting on the grass.

(Salt Lake City Police Department) Video footage released by SLCPD shows Megan Joyce Mohn, 40, repeatedly screamed for help as officers held her down during the January 11 altercation that led to her death.

At that point, any threat this roughly 120-pound woman posed was neutralized. It should have been the end, but it wasn’t.

They repeatedly tried to get the woman to tell them her name. She appeared to be delusional, demanded someone call the police, told them that she loves the police, but refused to share her name.

“Please don’t kill me, I don’t want to die,” she said.

“You’re not going to die,” the officer assured her.

They told her to stay off drugs, but she said “alcohol is a great drug.” (It was later determined Mohn had methamphetamine in her system).

As one officer tried to cut off the strap of her backpack, she resisted. The first officer put her face-down on the grass and stuck a knee in her back. A second officer grabbed her legs as she kicked.

A third officer arrived and kneeled on her left shoulder as the officer who had tried to remove her backpack pinned her legs, trying to shackle them as she screams for help.

Then she stopped screaming and stopped kicking. And stopped moving. She was unconscious.

The officers rolled her over and one says they should see if they could get her to regain consciousness. The video released by the police department ends there, but a news release from the department said the officers tried to perform CPR and provide other medical assistance.

She was taken to Salt Lake Regional Hospital in critical condition. Seventeen days later she was transferred to intensive care where she died on Jan. 30.

On July 28, the State Medical Examiner ruled her death was a homicide.

You might ask: How, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, did it get to this point?

It never should have.

Police are trained — over and over — to de-escalate encounters, but these officers did not. In fact, they escalated, provoking a woman who was already handcuffed and unstable.

They are trained to neutralize threats, but Mohn, a slightly built woman, unarmed and cuffed on the grass, could not possibly have posed an imminent threat.

They are trained to use the level of force necessary to protect officers and the public, but at the point these officers kneeled on top of Mohn, the level of force far exceeded what was necessary.

Officers’ actions are often excused because they are expected to make split-second decisions. This was not a split-second decision. It unfolded over eight minutes.

We can’t know what was in these officers’ heads, but I don’t believe they were intentionally trying to kill Mohn.

But that doesn’t really matter. Their training failed, they acted recklessly and made every wrong choice that could have been made and none of the four recognized the force they were using was unnecessary.

It ended up costing a woman her life.

Now we once again get to take the measure of Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. In the past instances of police violence, Gill has — perhaps correctly — decided not to press charges, since Utah’s laws make it nearly impossible to convict an officer.

He could, once again, take a pass. Or he could draw a line in the sand and send a clear message that this kind of conduct will not stand.

That’s the choice. Either these officers need to be held accountable, or we need to stop pretending we care if cops kill Megan Joyce Mohn — or anyone — in our streets.