Deputies talk down a man holding a gun to his head, possibly averting a suicide
Just before 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office responded to Coalville for a report of a man with a gun who had told family members he wanted to end his life — either by his own hand or at the hand of law enforcement, according a report from the Sheriff’s Office.
After an hour-long standoff, Summit County crisis negotiators convinced the man to put down the gun he had been holding to his head and led him into a waiting ambulance, according to Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright. He was taken to a local hospital.
It was no accident that the situation ended without bloodshed, Wright said, but rather a testament to the training deputies undergo and the agency’s attitude toward those suffering what Wright called a mental health crisis.
“Two negotiators from our office that were there, also (Crisis Intervention Training) certified, were able to bring that person back to reality, realize we’re there to help them,” Wright said. “Chatted with him for nearly an hour. He finally complied, and they were able to get him the help that he needs.”
Wright said that 25 officers responded to the scene, including representatives from the Park City Police Department, the Utah Highway Patrol and state agencies.
After setting up a perimeter, deputies found the 46-year-old Coalville man pointing a gun to his own head just off the Rail Trail in Coalville. In the initial call, a woman reported the man was under the influence of narcotics and said he wanted to end his life.
While the agency does have trained negotiators, the first two deputies on the scene who approached the man did not have that training, though they, like all other deputies in the Sheriff’s Office, have received crisis intervention training, Wright said.
Approaching a person who has threatened suicide by cop changes the dynamic, Wright said. It’s a situation in which the person may force a law enforcement officer to shoot or kill them by threatening or even shooting at the officer.
“You have tools on you to help protect yourself, but it’s also approaching them in a safe, tactical way, meaning having cover, be behind something, but still allow that individual see that you’re there and that you’re trying to help them,” Wright said.
The deputies approached the man and began having a conversation, asking him to put the weapon down, Wright said. Crisis negotiators later took over the effort.
Wright said deputies are trained to have patience with people who are having a mental health episode.
“This is not a time that police should be going in with aggression of, you know, in a hurry to take control of the situation,” he said.
He said the man most likely wouldn’t face charges, as he didn’t threaten anyone else.
“In a situation like this, our priority as law enforcement is to get that individual the professional help that they need,” he said.
Summit County Councilor Kim Carson said that she was moved when she read a report about the incident and proud of the work done by deputies, calling it the best possible outcome.
“It really brought tears to my eyes,” Carson said. “I think it can serve as a model for other law enforcement agencies. … I’m just incredibly thankful that this young man is getting the help he needs and that he didn’t take his own life or the life of anybody else. And I’m glad that our sheriff’s deputies are safe and I just have the utmost respect for them and the situation that they put themselves in.”
Wright said that the Sheriff’s Office deals with many calls in which someone mentions self-harm or is having a mental health episode. Normally, those incidents do not end up in the shift reports that are sent out to the media to protect the person’s privacy.
But the scale of this incident, coupled with its seriousness and the current context around police reform, justified its release, he said.
“Especially our agency, we take this kind of stuff seriously, and we really — our point is to save lives,” Wright said. “The last thing we want to do is take a life or see someone take their own life. A lot of things went right with this and it’s a great example of what good police work does.”
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The Park City Police Department last week received at least two reports involving cases of different natures at construction locations. In one of the cases, the police were told 1,000 construction workers had left vehicles on the street.