Minnesota man involved in Utah police shootout sentenced to 25 years in prison

Bullet holes in a vehicle following a 2021 shootout with police and James Howard Klein. Klein was sentenced this week to 25 years in federal prison.

Bullet holes in a vehicle following a 2021 shootout with police and James Howard Klein. Klein was sentenced this week to 25 years in federal prison. (Utah County Officer Involved Critical Incident Response Team)

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NEPHI — A Minnesota man who engaged in a shootout with police in central Utah has been sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.

James Howard Klein, 35, of Chaska, Minn., pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm during a narcotics offense, methamphetamine possession with intent to distribute, and carjacking. On Monday, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release.

"You engaged in some of the most egregious offenses I have ever seen during my time on the bench," U.S. District Judge Jill N. Parrish told him at sentencing.

On May 19, 2021, Klein and Jennifer Huang, both from Minnesota, were pulled over on I-15 near the Juab County-Millard County line for a traffic violation. During the stop, officers suspected possible drug activity.

Klein was asked to step out of his car and wait in the passenger seat of a Juab County sheriff's deputy's patrol SUV. Just as the deputy was getting ready to search Klein's car, Klein got into the driver's seat of the police vehicle and sped away, according to charging documents.

He drove to the exit for Yuba Lake, but took the turn at the top of the ramp too fast and went off the road. Utah Highway Patrol troopers pursuing Klein got to the end of the off-ramp, about 50 to 100 feet away, when Klein grabbed a police rifle that was in the vehicle and "began to shoot at the UHP officers. UHP troopers engaged Klein and returned fire." the charges state.

While this was happening, a couple in an SUV returning from Yuba Lake were attempting to get onto I-15 when they approached Klein. The couple later told police they saw the police vehicle stuck off the road with its emergency lights still flashing and slowed down thinking Klein needed help.

Klein then threatened the couple with a rifle and told them he would shoot them if they didn't give him a ride, the charges state. The passenger reacted by grabbing the barrel of the rifle and pushing it away from his wife, who as driving. A shot was fired into the dashboard during the struggle.

As the driver began to speed away, Klein fired more rounds, hitting the man in the passenger seat in the leg.

After the couple drove off, Klein "continued to engage the UHP troopers in a gun battle for several minutes," the charges state. During the shootout, Klein was hit in the leg. But, even after being injured, he crawled under the police SUV and continued to shoot at troopers.

The injured Klein then attempted to escape by going down an embankment and following a culvert toward the Sevier River.

Officers from numerous agencies responded to the area and eventually tracked Klein near the river and covered in mud that he used to try and conceal himself.

In the trunk of the vehicle Klein was driving when he was initially pulled over, police found approximately 9 pounds of methamphetamine, according to the charges.

"Mr. Klein's brazen actions demonstrate how desperate he was to evade arrest at the expense of law enforcement and public safety," said Cheyvoryea Gibson, the Salt Lake City FBI acting special agent-in-charge.

The violent incident in Juab County happened while Klein was on pretrial release on a separate case in Minnesota.

In March 2020, Klein was charged with assault and using deadly force against a police officer for an incident in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. In that case, police were attempting to question Klein in a shoplifting investigation at a Walmart, when Klein and officers exchanged shots in the parking lot, according to charging documents. Klein was shot and taken into custody.

Huang was convicted in 4th District Court in 2021 of drug possession with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm by a restricted person. Other charges were dismissed in exchange for agreeing to testify against Klein. She was given a suspended prison sentence and placed on three years of probation.

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.


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