20 Utah cops disciplined, including one officer who shot a woman in the knee and one who thought duck hunters shot at him

(Nate Carlisle | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jeremy Dunn, left, a former police officer in Enoch, addresses a meeting of the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council on Sept. 25, 2019. The council suspended Dunn's police certification for four years for shooting a woman in the knee. The woman was holding a screwdriver and Dunn believed she was a threat. An administrative law judge said the shooting amounted to aggravated assault.

Sandy • Jeremy Dunn says he didn’t want to kill her.

But Dunn, who was an officer in Enoch’s police department, also thought the woman was a threat. She had a screwdriver and wasn’t responding to commands to put it down. The prongs of his Taser couldn’t penetrate the woman’s coat.

So Dunn drew his pistol and fired three shots at her legs, striking her twice in the right knee.

“I saw her as an imminent threat,” Dunn told the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council on Wednesday, “and I made the best decision I could to minimize the damage to her. The life, the preservation of life, was my priority.”

An administrative law judge called the shooting an assault. The POST Council on Wednesday suspended Dunn’s police certification for four years.

Dunn was one of 20 officers who received suspensions or had their police powers revoked Wednesday, and one of two suspended for how they used their firearms.

Lance Bess received a three-year suspension in one of the most-litigated police misconduct cases in state history. Bess was a Unified Police Department officer when, in October 2015, he was duck hunting in Box Elder County.

A new hunter in another party fired errant shots that went in the direction of Bess and his party.

“I felt the concussion of each shot,” Bess told the council Wednesday. “I had BB’s cutting through the weeds around me. I thought I was going to be shot.”

(Nate Carlisle | Tribune file photo) Lance Bess smiles after leaving the Utah Supreme Court on Oct. 12, 2018.

With his police-issued pistol in one hand and his hunting shotgun in the other, Bess — depending on one’s point of view — either investigated the errant shotgun blasts or confronted the other hunters. They contended he swore at them and didn’t identify himself as a police officer until they threatened to call 911.

A jury later convicted Bess on a misdemeanor of threatening or using a weapon in a fight or quarrel. Bess appealed the conviction to the Utah Supreme Court, arguing he had a presumption of innocence because he was a peace officer responding to a danger. Organizations representing police filed amicus briefs on his behalf.

The court upheld the conviction. Bess had to serve two days in jail as well as pay fines and attend community service and anger-management training. He transferred to civilian positions with UPD and then the new Herriman Police Department while his legal case proceeded.

Bess wants to be a cop again.

“I love law enforcement and the community which I served,” Bess said Wednesday.

His attorney, Nathan Evershed, asked the council to impose a two-year suspension. But the council opted to follow a recommendation by POST investigators.

In Dunn’s case, investigators recommended his certification be revoked. While Dunn said he was trying to save a life, the Iron County attorney ruled the shooting of Ivonne Casimiro on June 28, 2018, unjustified under state law. Then-Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said Casimiro, who was suspected of burglarizing cars at a truck stop, was not fleeing, not verbally threatening and was far enough away from Dunn and bystanders that she didn’t constitute an immediate threat.

Garrett opted not to prosecute Dunn, however, saying the likelihood of conviction was too low.

Dunn already has filed one challenge of what was then-pending discipline with POST, but an administrative law judge found “clear and convincing evidence” the shooting met the state’s definition of an aggravated assault. That’s lower than the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Dunn on Wednesday admitted he deviated from police training. Law enforcement officers in Utah and elsewhere are trained that, if they are going to shoot their guns, to aim for the center of the body.

Woods Cross police Chief Chad Soffe, a member of the POST Council, asked if Dunn had other less-lethal options. Besides the Taser, Dunn also had a baton, he said, but that the training does not allow for combating a sharp weapon with a baton.

Dunn’s lawyer, Ashley Gregson, told council members that even if they thought her client used excessive force, that does not equal aggravated assault.

“He chose that target,” Gregson said, “and he does not deny that he chose that target to avoid causing her serious injury that would have resulted if he shot her center mass or another part of her body.”

John Crowley, a council representative for the Utah Peace Officers Association, motioned to give Dunn a four-year suspension. The motion passed by a majority vote.

The council issued a two-year suspension to Shane Zilles, who was the Mantua police chief when he was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of driving under the influence. The city later fired him.

Zilles was in a marked patrol car when a Utah Highway Patrol trooper pulled him over for speeding and struggling to keep the vehicle in its lane. A report to the council Wednesday said Zilles admitted to taking Ambien and Benadryl. He pleaded guilty to impaired driving.

Other peace officers disciplined Wednesday:

• Juab County Sheriff’s Office: Tyrel Curtis, three-year suspension for false information on an employment application.

• Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office: Robert Calkins, three-year suspension for assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

• South Jordan: Jonathan Mangum, certification revoked for theft by extortion.

• Uintah County Sheriff’s Office: Abinidi Gray, one-year suspension for falsification of a government record.

• Unified Police Department: Nicholas Riggs, certification revoked for fraud, driving under the influence and hit and run.

• Utah Department of Corrections: David Bingham, certification revoked for cruelty to animals, forgery and falsifying government record; Brittney Ryan, certification revoked for drug possession and open container; Bradley Johnson, certification revoked for reckless endangerment; Bryan Lentz, certification revoked for false information on employment application; Javen Lowell, 3½-year suspension for sexual conduct and lewdness on duty; Kirk B. Smith, three-year suspension for domestic violence, domestic violence in the presence of four children and disorderly conduct.

• Utah Valley University: Jake Hardee, one-year suspension for false information on an employment application.

• Officers not not employed at the time of the offense but who still had law enforcement certification: Roberto Benvenutto, certification revoked for exploitation of a vulnerable adult; Joshua Hardman, one-year suspension for impersonation of a police officer; Andrew Hatcher, two-year suspension for driving under the influence; Jerred Loftus, certification revoked for threats of violence, impersonating a police officer; Terry Thomas, certification revoked for voyeurism.