Thursday , April 12, 2018 - 5:51 PM
Kaysville Police Sgt. Jeremy Owens, left, supports Officer Shawn McKinnon on Thursday, April 12, 2018, as they watch security camera footage from an incident where McKinnon and three other officers were injured. The four officers were burned when a man lit himself on fire at a gas station on Thursday, April 5, 2018, in Kaysville.
KAYSVILLE — This past week, Kaysville police officers here have been called a number of things. Courageous. Selfless. Role models. Heroes.
But the officers’ consensus regarding their own actions?
They were just doing their job.
On Thursday afternoon, the Kaysville Police Department held a news conference to give the public a look at the four officers who were injured attempting to thwart a fiery alleged suicide attempt a week earlier.
Back on April 5, police were called to the Top Stop convenience store on 200 North in Kaysville. A man had poured gasoline on himself in the bathroom of the business and was threatening to light himself on fire. Officers said they attempted to defuse the situation, but when they were unsuccessful, they finally tried to remove the lighter from the man’s hand. He then ignited the gasoline.
Four officers were burned in the incident and taken to the hospital, two others were later sent there for smoke inhalation.
At the news conference, police chief Solomon Oberg introduced the four injured members of his force — Officer Robert Jackson, Officer Cade Bradshaw, Officer Lacy Turner and Sgt. Shawn McKinnon. McKinnon and Turner sustained minor burns and are now back on duty. Bradshaw suffered substantial burns to his arms and is “home recuperating with his family” according to a KPD Facebook post.
Jackson, who attempted to wrestle the lighter from the man’s hands, was the closest officer when the man ignited the gasoline. Jackson suffered third-degree burns on both his legs and will undergo surgery to repair them. His left arm also sustained second-degree burns from his wrist to near the shoulder.
On Thursday, Jackson appeared via video feed from his bed at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Also at the news conference, Kaysville Police showed video footage of the incident, taken from the store’s security cameras. Oberg said his department wouldn’t be releasing body camera footage at this time as the investigation is active and there will “likely be charges coming out of this.”
For this same reason, police said they couldn’t share many of the details of the incident itself.
The 26-year-old man who lit himself on fire remains in critical condition at the hospital, according to Oberg.
“My job is to protect lives,” Jackson said from his hospital bed. “And if I have to risk mine to save somebody else, I’m going to do that.”
Jackson said he and other officers attempted to de-escalate the situation in the convenience store bathroom. At one point during their negotiations, the man — who’d been holding a reusable Zippo-type lighter — closed the lid on the lighter. Jackson believed that provided him the best opportunity to safely resolve the situation, and he attempted to grab it from the man’s hands.
Throughout the news conference, Jackson and the other officers repeatedly referred to the man by his first name. Although police and some media outlets have identified the man, the Standard-Examiner typically doesn’t identify those involved with suspected suicide attempts.
Following the news conference, McKinnon acknowledged he had mixed feelings about the man at the center of this incident.
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“It’s tough to want to care about somebody who tried to — who did — hurt us,” McKinnon said. “But at the same time, there’s some empathy there. Robert (Jackson) is laying there in the hospital with burns, so he knows what (the man) is going through.”
McKinnon said he and the other officers have been reluctant recipients of all the praise coming their way.
“It’s difficult being in the spotlight, being called a hero, when you’re just doing your job,” said the eight-year law enforcement veteran. “I don’t consider myself a hero. But what Officer Jackson did? That was very courageous.”
McKinnon has been taking a little time off, dealing with the emotional aftermath of the April 5 incident. Being around family and friends has been important, he said, as well getting out and doing things.
“I went for a hike yesterday,” McKinnon said. “And I’ve been up to see Robert quite a bit. I just try to keep my mind occupied and keep busy.”
Oberg, who has been the Kaysville police chief for five years, described his department as “close-knit” and said members “check in on each other a lot.”
Oberg said representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will be coming in to do a peer debriefing for the officers involved. This won’t involve discussing tactics, according to Oberg, but rather things like “How are you feeling?” and “How are your spouses doing?”
Kaysville Police Department will also be offering other resources for officers dealing with post-traumatic stress — an issue that only becomes worse if it’s ignored, Oberg says.
“My generation of officers didn’t do a good job on that,” he said. “We put an emphasis on physical checkups, but not on mental checkups.”
Oberg said officer wellness is something police administrators need to do a better job of addressing. And while in the aftermath of this incident his officers have been telling him they’re fine — both physically and mentally — Oberg knows he needs to remain vigilant.
“I made some of them go to the hospital,” he said. “And I’m making some of them talk to a psychologist.”
Oberg said if his administration handles this properly, there’s great potential to bring the department — as well as the community — together.
His department is now focusing on the investigation into this incident, and Oberg said there’s no timeline to get it done.
“We want a complete and thorough investigation,” he said. “Then we’ll screen it all with the county attorney’s office and see if there will be any charges coming.”
Those thinking of harming themselves have several resources available:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255
National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah, 801-323-9900