Thank you, Sanpete County officers, for restraint in use of force

Pretend you are a police officer. You are pursuing a deranged suspect who says he has a high-powered rifle and intends to use it. Then he announces his vehicle is packed with explosives he plans to use to “take Mt. Pleasant out” along with anyone in the area. Finally, he makes a high-speed run at your car, comes within inches of smashing into it, then backs up and tries again. Do you shoot?

When that scenario played out for 13 local officers on June 13, they made a collective and conscious decision to avoid a use-of-force situation. That exceptional restraint is an example of why no officer from Sanpete County has been involved in a police shooting in more than 20 years.  

The case started when Mt. Pleasant officers responded to a complaint that Kevin R. Otteson of Mt. Pleasant was once again stalking a local woman. He was already facing charges for stalking the same woman and violating a protective order.

Late in the day, officers pinged Otteson’s cell phone and figured out he was parked in his truck on Summer Grass Road, a dirt track northeast of Moroni.

In a cell phone conversation, the suspect told Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Jim Wilberg he had an SKS automatic rifle. In other conversations with his family, which they relayed to Wilberg, Otteson repeatedly said he planned to kill himself and said he was throwing fireworks out his truck window.

Officers from Fairview, Mt. Pleasant, Spring City, Moroni and Ephraim, along with Sanpete County officers, including Sheriff Jared Buchanan himself, surrounded the area. As a probable-cause statement filed with the court explained, “Law enforcement on the scene made a group decision to hold position and continue to attempt to talk Kevin down from the situation.”

Capt. Gary Larsen of the Sheriff’s Office took over negotiations, backed up by Sanpete County Dispatch. Otteson made various requests. He wanted to talk to the woman who had turned in the stalking report. He asked if his daughter could bring him a cord for charging his cell phone. And he asked for cigarettes. In an attempt to deescalate the situation, officers agreed to his requests, although not all of the individuals he asked for agreed to cooperate.

Suddenly, Otteson made his first high-speed run at police. Driving his vehicle an estimated 70 mph, he stopped 12 inches away from a sheriff’s deputy’s car that had been set up as a barricade on the road. He backed away and retreated up Summer Grass Road. Though he was easily in range at the end of his charge, police elected not to fire.

With Otteson stopped further away, the police adjusted their perimeter. But Otteson made  another charge down the precarious dirt road, turning off at the last minute and taking out some 50 feet of fence. Again, officers held their fire.

Otteson fled up the road and was lost from police sight in the darkness. His abandoned vehicle was found stuck in a ravine. He had apparently fled on foot. Officers searched for him for four hours.

The next morning, with Capt. Larsen resuming communication with the suspect, officers pinged his phone and figured out he was back in Mt. Pleasant. They received a report he was at a family member’s house.

Chief Wilberg and another officer got permission to enter the house, where they found the suspect laying on a bedroom floor, partially covered by a blanket. The officer pointed his gun and ordered Otteson to “show me your hands.” He refused.

The officer put away his gun, held his knee on the suspect’s chest and used a physical maneuver called a twist lock to disable him. Ottosen cried out, “…Shoot me, you fat _____ pig.” Other officers moved in and helped handcuff him.

After Otteson was arrested, officers learned that during the night, the suspect had left a voice mail for the woman who had complained about being stalked. In the message, he threatened to kill the her 7-year-old granddaughter and to do it slowly.

He is currently being held without bail in the Sanpete County Jail.

It’s a minor miracle that through the whole incident, running for hours, neither Otteson nor any of the officers were hurt. The incident reflects remarkable restraint, professionalism and respect for life on the part of our Sanpete County police officers. And it was not just the restraint and discipline of a single officer but all of them acting in concert.

While some in our country vilify police, we tip our hats to our local law enforcement and say “great job” and “thank you.”