NOTE: Law enforcement in Grand County is maintained by three agencies: the Utah Highway Patrol, which enforces state and federal highways, the Grand County Sheriff's Office which deals with all law enforcement problems outside the Moab City limits, and the Moab Police Department which is confined to the town. Each of these departments is administered independently, but they often provide assistance to each other in the course of their work.

The quoted comments by officers and witnesses in this story come, for the most part, from direct police reports and interviews conducted by the Grand County Sheriff's Office...JS

In the summer of 1981, Moab, Utah had a new police chief and his name was Lester Stiles (no relation to this writer). Stiles had big city ideas about law enforcement in a small town and was appalled by what he considered an under-equipped police force. The new chief requested and received additional funding for his department and soon an assorted array of state-of-the-art law enforcement gear and equipment was in the hands of the Moab P.D.

One late afternoon a few months later, a disturbance was reported at Woody's Tavern on Main Street. A motorcycle gang had stopped for refreshment and some of its members had begun to get rowdy. A few had even carried their beer outside, a violation of Utah law.

Within minutes, the Moab Police department arrived in force, decked out head-to-toe in much of the newly acquired gear. Wearing riot helmets and shields and with 12 gauge shotguns nearby and at the ready, the officers practically surrounded the little bar. To passersby, the scene looked like a riot-in-the-making.

About then Sheriff Jim Nyland passed by, saw the congregation of officers and police cruisers around Woody's and stopped to see what the commotion was all about. Nyland thought he knew a couple of the guys inside and he sure knew Woody, so he did what none of the Moab P.D. officers had been willing to risk---he walked inside and had a chat.

The sheriff told Woody the bar was closed, he told the drunken would-be troublemakers to empty their beers or he would empty the bottles for them. They resisted and argued and threatened and Nyland kept talking. Finally he just wore them down. The 'incident' ended. No arrests were made.

Today, when I ask Sheriff Nyland about that afternoon, he shrugs and says, "Oh...that was no big deal."

He's right. But it could have been.

On the evening of November 24, 1997, Moab resident John Dinsmore was shot and killed by Moab City Police Sgt. Mike Wiler. He and other officers responded to a 911 call by John's wife Holly, who told the dispatch operator that her husband was threatening to kill himself. Not long after Wiler arrived on the scene at 8:56 PM, John was in the driveway of his home, belligerent, very drunk, and waving a kitchen knife. In the minutes that followed he mostly threatened himself, but at times he acted aggressively toward the police as well. When he made a threatening gesture and began to move toward Wiler, the officer fired once with a 12 gauge shotgun, hitting Dinsmore in the upper abdomen. He dropped instantly, officers cuffed him and an ambulance that was standing by rushed him to Allen Memorial Hospital.

The mortally wounded and still cuffed Dinsmore was met at the emergency room by Dr. Steven Rouser. The time was 9:08 PM---just 12 minutes after Moab P.D. officers first confronted Dinsmore. John died in the operating room less than an hour later.

Wiler was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Grand County Sheriff's Office under the supervision of Chief Deputy Doug Squire. County Attorney Bill Benge reviewed the evidence and ruled two weeks after the shooting that the use of deadly force was justified under the circumstances. Wiler was returned to active duty and the incident was put behind them.

But the 'incident' has not gone away and many questions still linger. More than any other...why? Why did this happen? Why wasn't there another way to deal with a man threatening mostly to harm himself? Why did John Dinsmore have to die?

The seven months that preceded his death were a living hell for John Dinsmore and his wife Holly. In May 1997, their 14 year old son had been removed from their home by Juvenile Court Judge Scott Johansen. John and Holly went to court that day believing he would most likely receive 30 days in the youth detention facility in Blanding and then probation. So they were stunned when Judge Johansen ordered him placed in a foster home outside the community. Their son was removed from the court room and then returned to the Blanding detention facility in shackles.

For the next six months, the Dinsmore's boy was shuffled from one foster home to another and from one town to the next. At one point, even John and Holly weren't sure where he was. Persistent and unrelenting efforts by the Dinsmores to regain custody were futile and by November, when they finally got to spend a weekend with him, John was at the end of his rope.

NOVEMBER 24th...
On Monday afternoon after work, John passed the Rio, a popular Moab restaurant and bar, and spotted his friend Ned Robinson's car in the lot. Ned was John's accountant and something of a computer whiz; John was having trouble with his own computer and thought this might be a good time to ask for some help. He found Ned inside and, while they drank a couple of beers, John described his computer problem. Ned proposed they go to John's house and take a look.

So at 6 PM, John and Ned found themselves hunkered down over the computer, trying to understand Windows and perhaps looking ahead to an evening of Monday Night Football and a few beers. Instead John produced a bottle of Crown Royal whisky, given to him by his father, shortly before his death almost a year earlier. "Ned," John said, "The seal on this bottle has never been broken and I'd like you to have the first drink with me."

It was a mistake.

All of us carry demons on our backs of one sort or another and some of us fare better with them than others. John Dinsmore struggled with his own pain and grief and, most of the time, he could stay on top of them. But alcohol turned the demons loose inside John's head and on this evening, with each glass of Crown Royal, he sank deeper and deeper into a black hole of bad memories and frustration and despair. The bottle reminded him of his own father, of the unresolved relationship that kept them at odds with each other for most of their lives, and which now could never be resolved.

He thought of the unresolved relationship with his own son, hundreds of miles away in a foster home. In a foster home. He wasn't even deemed fit by the government to take care of his own son. John picked up the bottle of Crown Royal and flung it at a picture of his parents. The bottle shattered a window and John cut his hand on a piece of the broken glass.

John walked to the kitchen and pulled a knife from the drawer. " 911. I'm going to kill myself." Holly had seen John drunk before and tried to laugh him off. But he persisted. Again and again he demanded that she make the call.

"Call 911. Make the call. I'm going down and I'm taking someone with me."

Finally Holly picked up the phone and dialed the three numbers.

At about 8:53 PM, Sgt. Mike Wiler responded to a call from dispatch, advising him of a possible suicide threat at 455 Huntridge. The subject was drinking and had a knife and was outside the house with a friend. Wiler was at police headquarters at the time and, with Officer Eddie Guerrero as backup, drove immediately to the address. Three minutes later, he and Guerrero arrived at the scene. Officer Robert Montague and Deputies Louis Manson and Steve Brownell of the Grand County Sheriff's Office had heard the broadcast and responded to the call as well. All five vehicles and their occupants, in fact, arrived within seconds of each other. According to Sgt. Wiler, "our arrival was almost simultaneous, at the same time."

Then according to Wiler, "upon arrival in the area of Aspen and Huntridge Drive, I parked short of the residence and exited my patrol unit. Prior to closing the door, I could see John waving a knife and yelling at the top of his lungs. Because of John's out of control behavior, I chose to un-rack my shotgun and remove it from my vehicle." Wiler carried a sidearm, but decided that additional firepower was necessary to control the situation.

However, Officer Robert Montague had a different recollection of their arrival: "On exiting my vehicle I could see Officer Guerrero and Sgt. Wiler approaching the south side of the residence and I could also hear yelling from the area.

"I moved to the south side of the residence and observed a man yelling and lunging at Deputy Manson in an aggressive manner. Deputy Manson had parked on the south side of the residence next to the driveway. Deputy Manson was standing north of the dirt path of the yard.

"John was on the dirt path of the yard when he was confronting Deputy Manson. I observed John move from that dirt area jumping up on to the driveway that (is) west of the dirt area. The driveway was about two feet higher than the dirt area.

"When John reached the driveway, I observed him pull a knife from behind his back."

Officer Eddie Guerrero's recollection was similar to Montague's: "Sgt. Wiler, Officer Montague, and I approached the residence at almost the same time. During this time John was yelling and appeared to be very agitated. John and Ned (Robinson) stepped up onto the concrete driveway, near a white Suburban. At this point, John said something about dying and pulled the knife from the small of his back."

The first officer to approach and make contact with Dinsmore, Louis Manson, made this observation in his report: "Dinsmore was walking with his hands stretched out to the sides shoulder high. The first words that I could make out were 'what are you going to do, shoot me.'

"Dinsmore made a slight turn to look at or say something to someone else and when he did, I could see a knife handle sticking out of his pants in the middle of his back."

So while Sgt. Wiler recalls seeing John Dinsmore "waving a knife" as he was exiting his police cruiser, neither Guerrero nor Montague nor Manson remember seeing him wave a knife until they approached the house with Wiler on foot and saw Dinsmore climb onto the concrete driveway.

It was about 8:57 PM. Deputy Brownell arrived and noticed Dinsmore on the driveway, now waving the knife. Wiler stood in the street by the curb directly in front of Dinsmore. To his right was Officer Montague and on the far right stood Deputy Manson. Officer Guerrero assumed a position on Wiler's left.

John raged at the officers. "Why have you taken my son?" he screamed. "I want my son back! You cops are corrupt! Shoot me! I'm going to die tonight and one of you is going with me."

Behind John stood Ned Robinson. According to Robinson, Wiler yelled, "Get him out of my line of fire!" and Deputy Manson moved in and pulled Robinson from the driveway. Robinson was instructed to take a position across the street and out of their way.

Dinsmore continued to slash and wave the knife, threatening mostly himself. He put the blade to his neck, then ripped open his shirt and pressed the point against his stomach. But at least twice, he acted as if he intended to throw the knife, particularly at Deputy Manson.

In the background, standing on the front porch was Holly. Wiler instructed Guerrero to remove her from the house. As Guerrero approached the porch, he called dispatch and requested that an ambulance be put on standby. Holly ran across the intersection of Huntridge and Aspen and stood by a police cruiser.

Deputy Manson continued to attempt to calm John down, but with little success. According to Manson, "I remember some of my conversations with him basically that, you know, calm down, let us---let us try to help you here. And he continued to scream at the top of his lungs at us that we stole his kid, we had him for eight months. And I said, 'Well, who?' (And he said) 'The courts have taken my kid for smokin', for truancy, and you've just taken him for eight months."

Manson persisted. John looked at Manson and said, "Do you have a son?"

Manson nodded and John yelled, "How would you like it if someone took your son?"

Meanwhile, by his own recollection Wiler told Dinsmore to drop the knife "probably 20 to 30 times---It was many times I ordered him to drop the knife, and he refused." Later, Wiler recalled in an interview that, "I remember my voice was tiring from yelling at John to drop the knife."

From across the street, a neighbor could hear the cops yelling at John to: "Drop the knife!" or "Lose the knife!" Then John said, " you're going to shoot me? Well go ahead mother fuckers, shoot! Go ahead! Do it!"

It was about 8:59 PM.

Now Ned Robinson came across the street and tried to squeeze between Manson and Montague. Before he could reach the driveway and Dinsmore, Montague shoved him back and Wiler yelled for Robinson to be secured. According to Guerrero, "I holstered my weapon, took control of him and was walking him to my patrol car. He made statements, 'You're gonna have to arrest me and put cuffs on me.' I said, 'Fine."

Deputy Manson moved along the dirt path just east of the driveway. Now Wiler yelled to him, "Get out of my line of fire!"

Dinsmore continued to pace back and forth in the driveway. He would make threatening gestures at himself, then raise the knife and move toward the officers. Wiler described the final moments in his report:

"While the incident was taking its course, I felt John was getting more and more worked up. I felt that John was getting more and more aggressive in his attacks towards the officers. I felt that John was working his courage up to carry out his above listed statements...I could see the anger in John's face, and his body language told me that this time he wasn't going to stop until he stabbed an officer."

Wiler stood directly in front of Dinsmore with the Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun leveled at John. Deputy Brownell, now on Wiler's left, held a can of O.C. spray (Oleoresin Capsicum is an organic substance derived from the cayenne pepper plant...OC has been found to be effective in controlling a person aggravated by psychologically or physiologically induced emotions...from Moab P.D guidelines). Montague stood at Wiler's right with his service weapon drawn and aimed at Dinsmore.

A neighbor heard John scream, "Shoot me motherfuckers. You'd be doing me a favor. Shoot me! Put an end to this worthless life. Do it!"

And he yelled again, "I know I'm going to die tonight and I'm going to take one of you with me."

Then John moved toward Wiler. According to Wiler, "John lunged at me." Montague remembers that Dinsmore "charged at Sgt. Wiler with the knife out in an attacking manner." A neighbor recalls that John took "three giant steps." Deputy Brownell observed that "John began to walk forward, taking two steps toward Sgt. Wiler, he stopped momentarily, then proceeded forward again. This last movement by John appeared quicker than the previous steps."

Wiler says, "At the point I realized I couldn't move back fast enough, and I realized that John was closing the distance faster than I could get out of the area, I fired a round out of my shotgun, aiming at center mass."

Wiler added in a subsequent interview, "I got immediate effect." It was 9:01.

Some witnesses claimed that Dinsmore was as close to Wiler as three feet; others thought it could have been as far away as ten or twelve. John was struck in the upper abdomen, spun to the left and dropped to the ground immediately. Wiler racked his shotgun, ejecting the spent shell and loading the tube with a live round. Montague ran to Dinsmore, secured the knife that had fallen from his hands and cuffed John's hands behind his back. Manson ran for a medical kit.

Across the street, Holly Dinsmore screamed, "No! No! No! What have you done? What have you done?" and tried to run to her husband. Brownell intervened and held her back while the ambulance that had previously been called turned off Kane Creek Blvd. and approached the shooting scene within one minute.

Holly could hear the EMTs pleading with the officers in charge to remove the handcuffs from behind John's back but the police refused. After three or four minutes John was transferred, still cuffed, to the ambulance and rushed the mile and a half to Allen Memorial Hospital, where Dr. Steven Rouzer was on duty in the emergency room. The ambulance arrived at 9:08 but, incredibly, no officers had accompanied it. According to Rouzer's report, "because of the handcuffs, it was difficult to hear his blood pressure because of the flexion of the arms."

However Utah Highway Patrol officer Ken Ballantine heard the radio broadcast that a shot had been fired and a man was down. According to Ballantine, "Upon my arrival (at the scene of the shooting) I was requested by Deputy Louis Manson to go to the hospital and remove the handcuffs from the subject so that they (medical staff) could work on him." Ballantine arrived immediately after John was wheeled into the ER, the cuffs were removed and John was prepped for surgery.

Two Moab Police officers finally arrived at the hospital sometime after Dinsmore went into the operating room at 9:45 PM---45 minutes after the shooting. Dinsmore's condition continued to deteriorate; his liver was destroyed by the shotgun blast and at 9:58 PM, John Dinsmore died.

In the State of Utah, the Sheriff's Department in each county is the legal investigative arm of the State Attorney General Office. In Grand County, the S.O set out to collect evidence and information within minutes of the shooting. Under the direction of Chief Deputy Doug Squire, all the officers involved in the incident were interviewed; so were witnesses in the neighborhood who saw the shooting.

The fact that Sheriff's deputies were involved in the incident caused some Moab citizens to question the propriety of the Sheriff's Office conducting the investigation. Doug Squire disagreed, saying, "We weren't here to make a judgement, our job was simply to collect information and evidence."

The decision-making fell to County Attorney Bill Benge. On December 15, Benge concluded that the use of deadly force by Wiler was justified and that no criminal charges would be filed in the incident. He said that eyewitness reports indicated that "five or six times he lunged at the officers with the knife. And that the last time the officers were not able to backpedal as fast as he was advancing. That is when the shot was fired."

And Benge noted that Dinsmore's blood alcohol level at the time of his death was .21%, almost three times the legal limit.

Sgt. Wiler, who had been on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, returned to his normal duties shortly thereafter.

In January, the Moab City Council asked the West Valley City professional Standards Review Board to review the case and determine if any police rules or regulations were violated. West Valley Police Chief Dennis Nordfelt concluded that Wiler "acted within the procedures and policies of the Moab Police department and his actions are exonerated."

From an official point of view, that was the end of it.

But it wasn't the end of it. For many, the questions will not go away, because the initial provocation, a suicide threat, and the ultimate response, death by a 12 gauge shotgun, seem so out of balance. As time passes even more disturbing questions arise and some of the answers are often just as unsettling...

* Who was in charge? Sgt. Mike Wiler was the ranking Moab P.D. officer and in charge of the incident. Deputies Manson and Brownell of the Grand County S.O showed up as backup. In a subsequent interview, Deputy Manson was unable to say who was in charge.

* Why did Sgt. Wiler need a shotgun to deal with a suicidal intoxicated man with a knife?

Wiler maintains in his statements that he saw Dinsmore with the knife as he was exiting his police cruiser. His testimony is contradicted by three other officers who maintain that, after exiting their vehicles, they approached Dinsmore on foot, including Wiler, and saw John in the dirt path by the driveway with his hands empty. It was only after he turned and climbed onto the concrete driveway that he removed and brandished the knife.

Second, all the officers carried sidearms, including Wiler. Why didn't a service weapon provide adequate firepower to deal with a knife? Of the officers on the scene, only Wiler and Montague continued to brandish and aim their firearms. Deputy Manson had drawn his sidearm for a while but subsequently re-holstered it.

Finally, in a recorded statement for the Zephyr, Deputy Brownell said this: "I'm not sure I did draw my handgun during the confrontation. It's possible that I did when I first got there. It didn't take long to size up the situation, so if I had my handgun out, it was just for a very short time. And then I got the O.C. out in hopes that I might be able to deploy that, but just from the situation I wasn't able to."

* Was Four Corners Mental Health called?

No. In crisis situations Four Corners will respond when it is called by dispatch. In this case, the entire confrontation went down in about five minutes, not enough time for anyone with a skill for crisis management to respond. No one on the scene requested mental health assistance. By the time Four Corners Mental Health did receive a call, it was to provide assistance to John's widow.

* Other than doing harm to himself, was Dinsmore in a position to injure any other civilians at the time of the confrontation?

No. Holly Dinsmore had taken their daughter to a neighbor's house earlier in the evening. Holly was removed from the house by Officer Guerrero. Ned Robinson was removed from the scene by Guerrero. A few neighbors viewed the confrontation from a distance but were not in any danger. And no officer attempted to move them to a location farther from the confrontation scene.

* What kind of physical threat did Dinsmore pose to the officers?

Dinsmore had a kitchen knife. It had an eight inch blade and a five inch wooden handle. The configuration of the knife has stirred a lot of controversy within the community and has been described as everything from a butcher knife to a cleaver to a butter knife.

John was very drunk. A blood alcohol test at his autopsy indicated a .21 blood alcohol level. Dispatch advised officers going to the scene that the suicidal subject had been drinking and his inebriated condition was obvious when they arrived.

Finally, John Dinsmore suffered from chronic rheumatoid arthritis and was legally blind in one eye. At least one of the officers on the scene, Eddie Guerrero, was acutely aware of that fact. Almost a year before, Guerrero stopped Dinsmore for suspicion of driving a vehicle under the influence. The officer asked John if he had any physical problems that would limit his ability to perform a field sobriety test. Dinsmore explained his disabilities to Guerrero who subsequently arrested him. Six months later, Guerrero recounted the incident and a recitation of Dinsmore's physical problems when the case went to court (the judge threw out the charges and the case was dismissed).

On the night of the shooting, probably within minutes of the shooting, Dinsmore threw off his prescription glasses, rendering him virtually sightless in one eye, and severely restricting his depth perception and vision clarity, particularly at night.

* Were any of the officers equipped with non-lethal means of control?

Police officers carry combat batons and cans of a chemical mace called O.C. Spray. At the time the shot was fired, in fact, Deputy Brownell faced Dinsmore with a can of O.C. Spray. Other non-lethal equipment, such as rubber bullets and control nets, was not available to any of the officers at the time. Since the shooting, according to Moab Mayor Karla Hancock, the chief of police has purchased such equipment.

* How far away was Dinsmore when Wiler fired?

Eyewitness accounts by neighbors and the officers vary. One civilian, watching from her back porch from a considerable distance, claimed that John was as close as three feet. Wiler believed that Dinsmore was "six to eight feet. Maybe even closer than that." Brownell's own observation was about 12 feet.

After the shooting, Deputy Walker drew a map of the shooting scene with an accompanying chart that gives an accurate representation of distances from fixed objects to the location of the officers, Dinsmore, and items of physical evidence. Based on their information, Wiler was 11 feet 11 inches from the point where Dinsmore fell to the pavement. John was still in his own driveway.

Perhaps more conclusive is this. After Wiler fired, he ejected the spent round and re-loaded. In his interview he says,"It happened so fast that I couldn't remember racking it. But I looked down and seen the expended shell on the ground."

According to Deputy Walker's map and graph, the shell was 10 feet 3 inches from the 'victim rest point.'

* Did Wiler attempt to 'backpedal' as Dinsmore came at him?

In his interview, Wiler says, "...he was closing the distance faster than we could backpedal. And at the point I realized that he wasn't gonna stop, at the point that I realized that we couldn't back up fast enough to avoid his attack, I squoze (sic) a round off into him out of my duty shotgun."

But no other officers mention any significant movement backward into the street by any of the officers at the time of the shot. More importantly, Wiler recalls that he "looked down" and saw the spent shotgun shell. The shell was lying near the curb. The sheriff's investigation and the subsequent map of the shooting scene shows Wiler three and a half feet from the curb.

And further, if Wiler had backpedaled any significant distance into the street before he fired, he would have discharged his shotgun from an even greater distance---as much as 15 to 20 feet. Dinsmore fell to the ground at least eight feet from the curb.

* After receiving what was obviously a critical, if not mortal gunshot wound, why was Dinsmore handcuffed?

Immediately after the shot was fired, John pivoted to his left and fell face down on the concrete. Abrasions on his forehead confirm that he fell in such a manner. He drifted in and out of consciousness as he lay on the concrete, but it was apparent that his wounds were life threatening. Officer Montague immediately cuffed Dinsmore, which is standard police procedure. An ambulance arrived within a minute and EMTs on the scene asked that the cuffs be removed so that IVs could be initiated, but the request was refused.

Although questions submitted to Moab Police Chief Alan West could not be answered directly (due to the impending threat of litigation), he did tell Mayor Karla Hancock that in situations like that, the victim can still be a physical threat to others and that cuffing Dinsmore was therefore reasonable; yet no Moab Police officers accompanied the ambulance to the hospital. In fact, John arrived at the emergency entrance unattended by any law enforcement officer. As a result, no life saving procedures could begin until UHP officer Ken Ballantine arrived and removed them.

* Was Wiler under the influence of any drug at the time of the shooting?

Probably not. A blood sample was drawn from Sgt. Wiler late in the evening of November 24 to test for the presence of alcohol or drugs. It was mailed to the Utah Department of Health's Division of Laboratory Services in Salt Lake City. The sample was received on the 28th and a in preliminary drug screening, Wiler tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. However, the report added, "in a few instances, the confirmation test will be negative for a positive screening test. In such instances, the final report will indicate 'no drugs identified.'" The report was dated December 15.

Two days later, the final toxicology report concluded that there were no identifiable drugs in Wiler's system at the time.

According to Bruce Beck, who signed the final report, false preliminary readings are common, particularly with regard to amphetamines and methamphetamines. Even cold remedies such as Sudafed or Tylenol Cold tablets can cause a positive drug screening result.

However, in a second interview with investigators, following the blood test results, Wiler was asked about the positive reading and if he had recently taken any kind of allergy or cold pill. Wiler adamantly insisted that he had not used such medications in weeks. According to Beck, after that length of time, no trace of the drug should have been found in the blood sample and he was at a loss to explain the positive reading. However, Beck insisted that the drug confirmation test is a much more precise and accurate means of detecting drugs and stood by his final report. He believed that the initial positive reading was simply a mistake.

* How could it have happened so fast?

It is the most disturbing question of all. From the time officers first approached Dinsmore to the moment he went down, no more than six minutes elapsed. Yet it is extraordinary how the perception of time differed between officers on the scene---from Officer Montague, who thought the time span was "15 minutes, maybe more," to Deputy Brownell, who was surprised that six minutes had passed on the clock. "It felt like three or four."

The 911 call was for a suicidal man. Would a less aggressive approach to Dinsmore have made a difference? Was there a way to contain him without surrounding him? Did the display of the shotgun escalate Dinsmore's fury? Were Wiler's 'verbal commands,' shouted over and over again, to the point of leaving him hoarse, merely inflaming the situation? Could the officer-in-charge have called for a tactical retreat as a means of giving John more time to blow off steam?

These are the most frustrating questions. But they are questions that deserve answers.

The Dinsmore family deserves answers. John's friends deserve answers. And so do the citizens of this community. To ask for less is to deny our concept of justice and own humanity...

Justice without strength is helpless. Strength without justice is tyrannical...Unable to make what is just strong, we have made what is strong just.
--Blaise Pascal

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