‘This was our worst nightmare’: Police describe harrowing moments during SLC shootings, chase
Carter Williams, KSL.com
Published at | Updated at
SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown has seen a lot of different situations during his nearly three-decade career with the department. But the situation prior to a fatal officer-involved shooting in South Salt Lake Monday morning was new and something he said police weren’t necessarily prepared for.
Harold Vincent Robinson, 37, of West Valley City, led officers on a pursuit down State Street Monday while firing shots as police pursued him down the busy road. That came after police received multiple reports of shootings throughout downtown Salt Lake City.
“We train for active shooters, but we usually, basically, train for the standard — in schools or a business or something like that. This was our worst nightmare: an active shooting that’s mobile in a truck,” he said during a press conference updating the case Tuesday afternoon. “This is new. I don’t remember another one of these.”
Police later identified Robinson after he crashed the pickup truck he was driving into a business and multiple officers fired at him, killing him.
A Utah Highway Patrol trooper and one bystander also received minor injuries throughout the chain of events, according to Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.
“We’re very fortunate that nobody was injured yesterday,” she said.
In all, 15 officers from three agencies have been placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation into the fatal officer-involved shooting continues. It’s a standard protocol for any officer-involved shooting.
Ten officers from the Salt Lake City Police Department and two from the Unified Police Department were placed on leave, as well as three Utah Highway Patrol troopers.
“We did have a lot of officers who witnessed (the shooting) and we also had officers throughout the UPD jurisdiction looking for the vehicle,” Rivera added. “Anytime you’re involved in that type of case, it does affect them and we were are working with our officers to ensure their wellbeing.”
The calls before the pursuit
Police received two armed robbery reports with descriptions matching the truck Robinson was driving less than an hour before the reports of shootings across downtown Salt Lake City began, according to Rivera.
At 10:05 a.m., Unified police responded to a report that a man attempted to steal a case of beer at the Holiday Oil convenience store located at 2729 W. 4700 South in Taylorsville. When another customer confronted the man, he pulled out a handgun and fled the scene in an “older model” Ford F-350 with the license plate 1B7MM, police said.
Unified police received a report of an armed robbery at the 7-Eleven located at 911 E. 3300 South in Millcreek about 30 minutes later. Police said the man brandished a firearm and demanded money from the cash register before fleeing in an older model Ford pickup truck.
Rivera explained that those times are when the reports came in and not necessarily the exact time each crime happened.
At 10:42 a.m., Salt Lake City police received multiple reports of a shooting at the Sheraton Hotel, located at 150 W. 500 South. Witnesses said the shooter left in an older model white Ford pickup truck that fled west to 400 West. Police said he continued to fire shots as he went through the city.
Robinson ended up driving south on Main Street, where witnesses told police he fired shots near the 111 Main building and again near the Matheson Courthouse near 200 South and State Street, and also 500 South and 200 East over the course of about 10 minutes, according to Brown.
“We dealt with one of the most dangerous situations that any department can ever be engaged in: that was an active shooter in a vehicle driving through a busy downtown metropolitan area, shooting with impunity,” he said. “This situation lasted for 19 minutes.”
Salt Lake City police officers and Utah Highway Patrol troopers, who had been patrolling in Salt Lake CIty’s Rio Grande district, located the vehicle at 10:55 a.m. traveling south on State Street when the pursuit began. Police said the man was firing his weapon during the pursuit.
Officers attempted to deploy a spike strip during the chase but were unsuccessful. Another officer attempted a PIT maneuver at the intersection of 3300 South and State Street moments before the truck crashed into a building at 3339 S. State St.
Video sent to KSL from several witnesses showed multiple officers firing rounds at the vehicle following the crash. Robinson died at the scene.
West Valley City police are handling the investigation into the use of deadly force. Rivera said police will investigate whether Robinson fired back at officers after he crashed his truck. Regardless, Brown backed the decision by the police to shot at Robinson.
“Sometimes we have to use deadly force in these dynamic situations,” Brown said. “I trust that the officers of the Salt Lake City Police Department, Unified PD (and) UHP had the proper training, the ability and were able to make the right decisions in very dynamic situations that led to the outcome to end this situation in a safe manner for all others involved other than the perpetrator.
“Had it not been for the immediate response of our officers, it really could have been a whole different outcome,” he later added. “Many, many other people could have been injured or killed.”
The officers who fired their weapons were interviewed before they were placed on leave, police said. State Street was closed in the area for the rest of the day while police investigated the scene.
Body cam footage from the shooting may be released as early as next week, according to Brown. He added that putting officers on leave will likely put a strain on the department, particularly because seven other officers are still on leave from other cases.
Remaining officers are expected to put in overtime to fill the void over the coming weeks, Brown said.
Piecing together what happened
Police still aren’t sure why Robinson started firing randomly around downtown Salt Lake. Unified police are still investigating the armed robberies in Taylorsville and Millcreek, while Salt Lake police investigate the downtown shootings.
There could have been more shooting locations police don’t know about, according to Brown. As Robinson drove down State Street he fired several shots at officers, and Brown said they’re not sure where all the bullets went.
“We’re not quite sure yet,” he said.
For Rivera, Monday’s chain of events is a sobering reminder that police and communities have to be aware of shooting threats at all times.
“We know society is changing and these types of things are going to continue to occur. … I believe that we are ready to handle these types of situations, but you never know when it’s going to happen again and that’s the thing we have to keep working on.”
This story was first published at KSL.com. It is used here with permission.