Police video of deadly encounter shows lack of de-escalation

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A Salt Lake City 911 caller said a man in his underwear had entered a brewery, tried to steal beer and ran down the street, posing a danger to himself and the drivers. The police tried to arrest the man. Soon Nykon Brandon was dead.

After Salt Lake City police released body camera footage of the deadly Aug. 14 encounter and 911 recording late Friday, activists Saturday asked why an unarmed person was dead and accused police of using disproportionate force.

“Stealing a beer doesn’t equate to the death penalty,” said Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter-Utah. “I don’t care if this man robbed 10 banks in one day. He didn’t deserve to die. He deserved to go to court.”

The death of Brandon, who was 35, comes as the United States continues to see countless numbers of police killings of unarmed people, many of whom suffered a mental health crisis. Activists have called for reform, saying that instead of armed police often escalating those situations, a better solution would be if special mental health crisis teams responded.

Brandon’s Facebook page says he went to Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and worked for a company that sells appliances, plumbing, and hardware. Many people who posted to his page were shocked and saddened by his death.

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The 911 caller said a man had come to Fisher Brewing, assaulted a person at the door, and “walked around crazy. Very erratic. He just jumped in and out of the way.”

“Certainly mental health issues,” the caller said. “So if you have mental health resources, send them in.”

Instead, bodycam footage shows a police officer getting out of his patrol car and ordering Brandon to stop. When he resists and raises a fist, another officer pushes Brandon to the ground and the two officers try to pin him down. “Stop,” one of the officers says repeatedly as Brandon lies face down on a gravel bed between the road and the sidewalk and continues to push the officers.

No police de-escalation efforts are visible or audible in the images from nine body-worn cameras, although an executive order signed by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall two years ago requires all police officers of Salt Lake City de-escalation techniques before using force.

“De-escalation tactics are no longer suggested or preferred – they are mandatory prior to using force to bring about an arrest, unless it would be unreasonable to do so. Officers will use effective communication techniques in an effort to achieve voluntary compliance,” Mendenhall said in announcing the police reforms, which were prompted in part by the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department in 2020.

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Before walking into Fisher Brewing, he had been taken to a rehab center by South Salt Lake Police after they received a report of a man acting confused and scared in a park just after 1 p.m. on Aug. 14, KUTV reported.

Officers determined he was drunk, took him to rehab and charged him with public intoxication. But the facility is not a detention center, and patients can leave at will, KUTV reported.

Salt Lake City Police Department officers met Brandon at 3:22 p.m. In the videos, he cannot be heard during his struggle with the officers, except perhaps for a few words that are unclear.

A minute later, a third agent arrives. Video shows Brandon grasping an officer’s holster and pistol. They finally manage to cuff Brandon’s hands behind his back as he lays on the gravel belly.

“We want to help you,” an officer says. “You have to stop fighting with us.”

After a few seconds, Brandon stops moving. An officer taps Brandon on the shoulder with his gloved hand and asks, “Can you hear me?” three times. Brandon doesn’t respond.

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“Get him into recovery,” one officer orders, and the others roll Brandon onto his side.

“Come on man,” an officer says. All camera images released by the police will go dark at that time.

Salt Lake City Police Department said in a press release that officers began providing medical assistance at 3:27 p.m. A minute later, they administered the first of several doses of Narcan and began performing chest compressions.

“At 4:16 p.m., the SLCPD is notified that Mr. Brandon has passed away. The exact time of death is unknown,” the press release said.

Police said a thorough investigation was being conducted by an outside agency and the department’s own internal affairs department would conduct a separate investigation.

Rae Duckworth, president of Black Lives Matter’s Utah operations, wants to know why the released footage doesn’t show the agents trying to help Brandon.

“We don’t even have evidence that they actually provided help. We have no evidence that they actually administered Narcan,’ Duckworth said. “So that’s probably the biggest red flag and takeaway I’ve seen.”

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