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SALT LAKE CITY — Using words such as "exceptional poise and professionalism," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill gave high praise Monday for a police officer who saved two women last month.
"I do not use this term very lightly: these are the heroic actions of an officer who was well trained and in the execution of his duties did exactly what he was trained to do," Gill said.
On Sept. 22, Salt Lake police officer Ben Hone entered the basement of Breann "Bre" Lasley, 27, and her 22-year-old sister. In the dimly light basement, he found Robert Richard Berger, 48, had Lasley on his lap with her back pressed against his chest, and his legs wrapped around her "like an MMA hold," Gill said.
Berger's arms were around her, a knife in one of his hands. He tried to repeatedly stab her while her sister clung onto his arms in an effort to stop him.
When he was able to pull his arm away from her grasp, Berger's head moved slightly so it was no longer even with Lasley's. Salt Lake Interim Police Chief Mike Brown said it looked as if someone were playing "peek-a-boo."
In that moment, Hone fired one shot from less than 10 feet away, striking Berger in the head and killing him.
"Under the circumstances, the emotion, and everything else going on, I'd say it was a very difficult shot," Brown said.
"There wasn't a lot of room for error," Gill added.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, who conducted the officer-involved shooting investigation, noted: "I have been doing this job now for 30 years. There's a few times when the word 'hero' is appropriate. This instance, we truly are in the presence of a hero. When one looks at the circumstances and totality, had it not been for officer Hone's diligence to be where he was, really based on instinct, it is my belief that we would not have one individual killed, it's my strong assertion we would have two young ladies brutally murdered by this individual."
On Monday, Gill held a press conference to announce that he had determined Hone was legally justified in using deadly force. He was joined by Brown and Winder. In clearing him, all three praised the veteran officer.
Hone, however, did not attend the event. Brown said that "in true Ben Hone fashion," he told the chief that "he acted and followed what he was trained to do. He humbly said, 'Any officer would have done the same.'"
On Monday, Gill outlined the events of that night. He said surveillance video found after the incident showed that Berger was acting "erratically" as he walked, even appearing at one point as if he was trying to fight someone who wasn't there. As of Monday, toxicology results from the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office had not been returned.
Berger, who had served more than 14 years at the Utah State Prison, had been released just eight days before the confrontation with police. He was released to the Fortitude Treatment Center to "stabilize as he transitioned to the community," according to Department of Corrections officials. He was last seen at the center on Sept. 20 when he checked out for a "medical appointment." He failed to return that night and a warrant was issued for his arrest the next day.
This instance, we truly are in the presence of a hero. When one looks at the circumstances and totality, had it not been for officer Hone's diligence to be where he was, really based on instinct, it is my belief that we would not have one individual killed, it's my strong assertion we would have two young ladies brutally murdered by this individual.
–Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder
Before reaching Lasley's house, he broke into another home on Roberta Street and was chased off. Hone was called to the area for that initial break-in. But while he was sitting in his patrol car waiting for backup, he heard Lasley's younger sister, Kayli, yelling.
"He heard a female yelling, 'He's killing her. He's stabbing her,'" Gill said.
At that point, Hone sprung into action. He went into the Lasleys' home where Berger had broken into at random and was attacking Breann Lasley. Gill said at one point, Lasley told Berger there was $1,000 upstairs that he could have in an attempt to get him to stop attacking.
"The male said that he didn't want to hurt her and then stabbed her again," Gill said.
When Hone entered the basement, "he saw two sets of feet," according to Gill. Hone ordered Berger to drop the knife and let Lasley go. The man replied that "he was going to 'stick her' or kill her," Gill said.
When Berger's head moved slightly to the right and away from Lasley, Hone fired.
Gill said while many of the actions of officers go unnoticed, this was a case where he wanted to pause an acknowledge Hone's extraordinary efforts.
"Officer Hone's heroic actions without a doubt saved a life that night," Brown said.
Hone has been with the Salt Lake City Police Department for about 10 years, working in the motor squad and a brief stint in narcotics before getting his "dream job" of being a K9 officer, the chief said.
Gill also praised the two sisters for literally fighting to save their own lives.
"It's incredible, the heroic effort by them. They were not going to go down. They were fighting for their lives. It was incredible when I read the report," he said.
Bre Lasley earlier recounted to the Deseret News what happened and also had praise for Hone.
"That officer came down so composed. And he came downstairs, and right when we made eye contact, I knew I was safe. It's a miracle that he had so much composure and was able to take that shot," she said.
She was treated for multiple stab wounds, including to her lower abdomen and leg. She said Hone later called her.
"I couldn't say anything except, 'I love you, I love you, I love you," Lasley recalled.
Hone has also since met with Lasley, according to Brown.
Contributing: Sandra Yi