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Salt Lake City officer justified in shooting suicidal man, prosecutors say

Navada Escholt shot three officers, police said. He later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

(Salt Lake City Police Department) Body camera footage shows Officers Benzon (left) and Abel Bromley (right) standing outside Navada Escholt’s apartment on July 20, 2021, moments before Escholt doesn’t shoot officers. Bromley fired back but missed. Escholt later died of a self-inflicted gunshot, police said.

A Salt Lake City officer who shot a suicidal man after the man opened fire on police last July will not face criminal charges, prosecutors said Friday.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said officer Abel Bromley reasonably believed — as Utah law stipulates — that he and other officers were in imminent danger after the man , Navada Escholt, shot them.

Bromley returned a single shot, which did not hit Escholt. Escholt, 42, shot himself shortly afterwards, according to Gill’s discovery letter.

Three officers – Bromley and two others, identified only as “Dunn” and “Benzon” – responded to Escholt’s apartment near 1600 West and 800 North on July 20, just after noon. Escholt’s wife had called police to say he was suicidal, had a gun and needed an ambulance, the letter said. She told police that Escholt had been drinking and had not taken her prescription medication.

Officers knocked on the door of Escholt and others in the apartment complex and tried to call Escholt. When no one responded, officers moved about 90 feet from the apartments to the sidewalk, Gill said.

Dunn called Escholt’s wife and asked if she could try to talk to Escholt. He said the officers did not want to force their way inside and escalate the situation.

During that phone call, Escholt opened his front door and fired a single shot at officers who took cover. Bromley fought back from behind a tree. Dunn and Benzon pulled up behind a truck in a neighbor’s driveway.

Escholt fired about 20 minutes after officers arrived. Shortly after that first volley of fire, Escholt apparently shot himself in his apartment.

Officers learned he later died after sending a police robot into the house and finding Escholt in a bedroom.

Escholt had been charged earlier in the day with witness tampering and retaliation. He was being investigated for aggravated assault and allegedly sent threatening messages on Facebook to someone involved in the case. His wife told investigators he had recently lost his job and was suffering from a “nervous breakdown”.

Gill praised the “incredible restraint” of the officers, noting that they tried to contact Escholt several times and kept their distance from the apartment to buy time and defuse the difficult scene. Gill said they had to deal with multiple concerns at once – the cares of the caller, an armed person in mental health crisis and an apartment complex with “people and thin walls”.

Gill said officials could do more to ensure people with mental health needs receive adequate treatment, and that police could receive more training for situations involving people going through such crises.

“But unfortunately tragedy happens because sometimes the people who are hurting can also escalate into a really violent situation, and then we have to respond as law enforcement to protect everyone else as well,” Gill said.

(Paighten Harkins | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill reviews body camera footage during a news conference on Feb. 11, 2022. Gill ruled that an SLCPD officer was legally justified in shooting Navada Escholt after Escholt shot officers on July 20, 2021.

All three agents from Salt Lake City were certified in crisis intervention.

A Salt Lake Tribune analysis of a decade of police shooting data found that more than 40% of police shootings in the state involved someone in mental health crisis. More than half of those cases involved someone with a gun, and 80% of those cases involved someone who was suicidal.

The shooting marked the 17th in Utah in 2021. Police shot 31 people last year, surpassing the previous record of 30 police shootings, which was set in 2018 and tied in 2020. Records show more more officers have been shot at least a year than in recent history.

Editor’s note If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour assistance at 1-800-273-8255.

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion