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Man died after Salt Lake City police pinned him in struggle, video shows

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Man died after Salt Lake City police pinned him in struggle, video shows

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Nykon Brandon was running across the street in his socks and underwear when Salt Lake City police officers confronted him, took him to the ground and tried to restrain him.

Brandon struggled with multiple officers for roughly five minutes until his labored breathing appeared to stop, according to video of the Aug. 14 incident. An officer tapped his shoulder and asked: “Can you hear me?” video shows.

“Is he alive?” another officer can be heard asking in the body-camera footage.

Police provided medical aid to Brandon, according to the Salt Lake City Police Department, but less than an hour later, the 35-year-old was pronounced dead.

The Salt Lake City Police Department on Friday released body-camera footage of the fatal Aug. 14 incident, announcing that its internal affairs division and an outside agency, which it did not name, are investigating. The department did not immediately respond to questions from The Post early Monday.

A department spokesperson told the Associated Press the situation “rapidly unfolded.”

“It was a chaotic situation and our officers were required to make very fast decisions to get a situation under control that was very tense,” the spokesperson added.

Brandon appears to have been unarmed. The videos released by the department do not show Brandon holding a weapon. The department mentioned no weapon being recovered at the scene. However, officials did note that early in the encounter, Brandon appeared to grab at an officer’s belt. Footage shows him placing his hand near the officer’s gun before another took him to the ground.

A 911 caller noted that Brandon appeared to be a danger to himself and possibly others. The caller requested that “mental health resources” respond.

“We are committed to carefully reviewing the investigative findings in this case,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said in a statement. “As a forward-thinking department, we will use those findings to evaluate our policies, training, and procedures to continue ensuring we are making our city safer.”

Brandon’s death comes as police departments across the country grapple with how to confront people experiencing possible mental health crises. While The Washington Post does not track the number of non-shooting deaths by police nationwide, 21 percent of the more than 7,680 fatal police shootings since 2015 involved a person with mental illness, according to Post tracking.

In recent years, departments have implemented de-escalation policies and training to reduce instances in which police resort to using physical or deadly force. Such a policy was mandated in August 2020 by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall (D). It requires officers to use de-escalation techniques like establishing rapport with a person and engaging in techniques that result in “voluntary compliance.”

About two years after those reforms, police were called to respond to the Fisher Brewing Company where a man wearing only underwear tried to steal beer before running into the street, the caller said. They added that the man was “definitely a danger to himself” and that he “more or less” attacked someone at the brewery’s entrance.

Minutes later, a police officer found a man later identified as Brandon running across the street, the department said. The officer said “stop,” approached Brandon and immediately tried to grab him, the officer’s body-camera footage shows.

Brandon then appeared to grab at the officer’s belt and gun, according to body-camera footage from another officer who arrived at the scene seconds later. That officer approached and pushed Brandon to the ground. Both officers tried to subdue the man.

“I’m going to Tase you,” one of the officers says, according to the footage. “You want to get Tased?”

After a third officer arrived and joined the effort to restrain Brandon, the man appeared to put his hand on an officer’s holstered gun, prompting one to announce, “He’s got a hand on your gun.” More officers arrived as the struggle continued, and the officers eventually forced Brandon’s hands behind his back and handcuffed him.

About four minutes into the encounter, four officers were holding Brandon facedown on the ground as he moaned and breathed heavily, according to the footage. Close to five minutes into the encounter, an officer said, “We can sit you up if you stop.”

Brandon did not respond and continued to breathe deeply. After moaning a few more times, he appeared to lose consciousness. The body-camera videos end as police begin to roll him onto his back.

The department said in a statement that officers provided aid to Brandon, including giving him multiple doses of Narcan, a medicine for reversing the effects of opioid overdoses. Brandon was transported to the hospital and pronounced dead less than an hour after the encounter began, according to the department.

It’s unclear if Brandon had drugs in his system. The city’s medical examiner has not publicly shared the results of his autopsy, and the office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post early Monday.

Hours before the violent encounter in Salt Lake City, police in neighboring South Salt Lake found Brandon intoxicated at a park and dropped him off at a detox facility about three blocks from the brewery where the 911 call was made, KUTV reported.

Local activists say nothing Brandon did justified his death.

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


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