“Guess I’m gonna lose my gun again,” an Idaho officer said minutes after fatally shooting a knife-wielding man whose family had called authorities for help because they said he was experiencing a mental health crisis.
The shooting and comments were captured on police-worn cameras, and NBC News obtained the videos through a public records request from the Lewiston Police Department. The agency reviewed the fatal shooting of Michael Trappett, 48, at his parents’ home Jan. 31 in Orofino, a town of roughly 3,100 in north Idaho.
Last month, Clearwater County Sheriff’s Cpl. Brittany Brokop’s actions were determined to be justified by the Latah County prosecuting attorney, and she returned to regular patrol duty, Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz said in a statement. She was placed on administrative leave in February.
Randall Carruth, a second deputy who shot Trappett, was also cleared by the prosecuting attorney and returned to patrol duty.
Brokop also appears to have been cleared of wrongdoing in a 2020 shooting while working for the same sheriff’s office, placing her in a rare class of law enforcement officers who fire their service weapons more than once. The man who was shot in that case, Andrew Hull, 23, spoke out for the first time to NBC News, saying “she pulled that trigger just as fast as she could.”
“It went from 0 to 110 in a minute, and the next thing I knew, I was shot,” he said, adding that the bullet struck his right thigh, narrowly missing his femoral artery.
“I was 3 inches from death,” said Hull, who was intoxicated at the time of the shooting.
Officials said Hull was combative and removed a gun from a holster before the deputy fired.
Neither Brokop nor the Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz responded to requests for comment. The Idaho chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police also did not respond to a request for comment. Idaho State Police, which investigated Hull’s shooting, referred questions about Hull’s shooting to the department’s public records unit. The agency has not yet provided documents.
Court records for criminal charges filed against Hull confirmed Brokop’s role in the shooting.
Authorities from the prosecutor’s office in neighboring Latah County who reviewed the fatal January shooting said Trappett posed a deadly threat when he came within 10 feet of Brokop and Carruth. Efforts to reach Carruth for comment were unsuccessful.
In a federal lawsuit filed last month, Trappett’s family accused the deputies of excessive force and other allegations.
“We think Brittany Brokop should be held accountable for her actions,” said Trappett’s brother, Bill Trappett. “She’s gone too far.”
The family also wants the sheriff’s office to strengthen its de-escalation policy, he said.
In an April statement, the sheriff called the family’s notice of a lawsuit “false” and said Trappett was trying to “attack” officers when they fired. Goetz added that Michael Trappett has a “history of threatening and aggressive behavior” toward law enforcement, though it isn’t clear what incidents Goetz is referencing.
Bill Trappett said he knew of only one recent incident at a hospital when his brother was intoxicated and yelling at facility staff about having to wear a gown. In that case, officers tackled him and put him in a straight jacket, he said. But Michael Trappett wasn’t arrested, and his anger was directed at everybody — not just law enforcement, Bill Trappett said.
‘Lawful but awful’
It isn’t clear in the video if Michael Trappett intended to attack the officer, a use-of-force expert who was not familiar with the case but reviewed the video for NBC News said. Brokop appeared to approach Trappett too fast, said Justin Nix, a professor of criminology at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
“It happens enough — officers rush in and make poor tactical choices,” Nix said. “They have to shoot their way out to protect themselves.”
He said he wasn’t surprised that the shooting was determined to be justified because Trappett had an edged weapon. He said many in law enforcement embrace a theory known as the 21-foot rule: If a person has a knife and is within 21 feet, they can attack quicker than you can draw your gun and fire.
The theory isn’t supported by strong evidence, he said. “But if you buy into that logic, why is the officer pursuing so closely?”
About 30 percent of the roughly 1,000 fatal police shootings that occur each year in the United States involve people with knives and weapons that aren’t firearms, he said. Trappett’s death appeared to belong to a class of “lawful but awful” shootings that departments should do more to prevent, he said.
“I’d like to see more effort to train officers not to rush in, to slow down,” he said.
Hull described himself as a recovering alcoholic who was going through a rough patch when he went to a friend’s property to shoot for target practice on March 25, 2020.
Hull got into a shouting match with a man on the way, he said. The man’s wife called 911, the sheriff’s office said in a statement, and when officers arrived, they found Hull with what he described as a .45 handgun in a thigh holster.
The statement says that Hull “confronted” deputies, refused to follow directions and removed his gun from the holster.
Deputies got into an altercation with Hull, which led to Hull being shot, the sheriff’s office said.
Hull said he was intoxicated and “extremely loud.” He believed the officers were instructing him to drop his gun, so he removed it and tossed it out of reach, he said.
“Next thing I know, they both rushed me,” he said.
Brokop had her gun trained on him, he said, and a second officer tried to shoot him with a stun gun. According to an arrest affidavit, Hull was wearing a ballistic vest, and the stun gun had no effect.
According to the affidavit, a struggle followed, and Hull tried to take Brokop’s gun. Hull said that the officer fired three times before striking him and that he had tried to grab the weapon so that he wasn’t shot.
The affidavit states that Hull attempted to take the deputy’s pistol. It does not say how many times she fired.
Hull said it wasn’t clear if the officers knew he threw his gun away, and the affidavit does not address the matter.
Hull was charged with aggravated assault upon certain personnel and removing a firearm from a law enforcement officer, according to the document. He served roughly one year in prison, he said.
Hull has questioned Brokop’s actions the night that he was shot, and he said he believes Trappett’s death was unnecessary. “There are ways to handle things, and that was not the way to handle it.”
Worried family calls for help
Bill Trappett, 52, said that his brother struggled with bipolar disorder and drank heavily when he’d fall into a deep depression. In January, Michael Trappett — a certified nursing assistant who cared for his parents and loved animals — lost a beloved pet, a rescue bulldog that was hit by a car, his brother said.
On the night of the shooting, Michael Trappett was reeling from the loss, and his mother, tired of his drinking, threw out his alcohol, Bill Trappett said. When he left their home with a knife, she dialed 911. According to the family’s lawsuit, Jackie Trappett called because she was concerned her son might hurt himself. Bill Trappett said his brother had tried multiple times throughout his life to die by suicide.
In the bodycam video, the two deputies can be seen searching outside the family’s house for Michael Trappett. His sister alerted the officers to his mental illness on a phone call. The second deputy can be seen and heard telling a neighbor that Michael Trappett’s “cheese done slid off his cracker. We want to make sure he’s not out here terrorizing people.”
Minutes later, Trappett appears in front of his parents’ home and walks toward the officers with one hand in his pocket. He stops several feet from them.
“Show me your hands, Michael,” the officers shout.
Trappett pulls a knife from his pocket, and the officers tell him to drop it. “Shoot me,” he says, along with a series of expletives.
“We don’t want to shoot you, man” Carruth responds. “Just talk to us. What’s going on?”
Trappett marches to the side of the house, and the officers follow. When he turns around and appears to start raising his right arm, knife in hand, the officers open fire. Trappett collapses. According to the family’s lawsuit, 15 shots were fired.
After noting that she’d lose her gun again, Carruth says to Brokop: “We didn’t have a choice.”
“No,” Brokop responds. “He didn’t give us a choice.”
Trappett’s parents, who were home when their son was shot, initially agreed with this assessment, though they had questions about why he was shot multiple times and why the officers didn’t try to use a stun gun, Bill Trappett said.
In the months since, he added, they came to believe that the shooting “was clearly preventable. They had every option to de-escalate.”