By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson has issued a decision that members of the Eau Claire Regional Tactical Team were justified in shooting and killing a Cedar Falls man while executing a search warrant in February.
Peterson issued his decision March 19, along with his seven-page letter to Dunn County Sheriff Dennis Smith, after receiving reports from the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation.
Dennis Grohn, 32, was shot and killed February 12 during a struggle with law enforcement officers who were executing a high-risk “no knock” search warrant at Grohn’s home on 708th Avenue in the Town of Red Cedar.
According to Peterson’s letter, on February 11, officers from the West Central Drug Task Force, using a confidential informant, had made a controlled buy of two grams of methamphetamine from Grohn at his residence.
Dunn County Circuit Court Judge Rod Smeltzer subsequently signed a warrant for law enforcement officers to search Grohn’s residence for evidence of delivering methamphetamine, including the “buy” money, meth and related paraphernalia.
The Dunn County Sheriff’s Department requested help from the regional SWAT team to execute what was considered by officers to be a high-risk search warrant.
The regional SWAT team includes officers from the Menomonie Police Department, the Fall Creek Police Department, the UW-Eau Claire Police Department, the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Department, the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department, and the Wisconsin State Patrol.
At a briefing before the search warrant was executed, officers received information about Grohn’s history with law enforcement that included methamphetamine use, his size and strength, and his tendency toward fighting with law enforcement.
Dennis Grohn, according to Chris Kruse, Dunn County medical examiner, was six-feet, three inches tall and weighed 280 pounds.
The search warrant was executed at about 2 a.m. on February 12 and included simultaneous entry of the house and garage by four teams, one team each entering the house and the garage, and one team each as back-up for the entry teams.
Dunn County Deputy Peter Forbes and Fall Creek Officer Adam Proroc were the entry team for the garage.
The four teams approached on foot, and one team was prepared to enter the garage when a woman emerged, saw the SWAT team, and retreated back into the garage.
Forbes and Prorok yelled “police” or “sheriff,” “get on the ground” and other commands.
Other SWAT team members reported hearing the commands before hearing any gunshots.
Here is the report of the Department of Criminal Investigation interview with Deputy Forbes:
“Forbes stated that as he entered the garage, he saw who he believed to be Dennis Grohn sitting in a chair directly across from Forbes. Forbes stated that instantly Grohn got up and charged forward making a growling or grrr sound, which Forbes described as a ‘war cry.’
“Forbes stated it was like someone had turned the violent knob all the way up. Forbes described when Grohn ran into him, it was a collision with a lot of force due to Grohn charging him so fast. Forbes also stated he could see Grohn’s eyes, that his eyes were focused on Forbes’ rifle.
“Forbes went on to state that Grohn was in a football stance or athletic stance, head forward and hands straight out. It was at that point that Forbes became fearful for his life and others. Forbes then made the decision to shoot.”
The report of the interview goes on to say that Forbes shot once when Grohn was close to him.
“While on the ground, Forbes felt he was in a ‘life or death struggle’ with Grohn. Forbes also stated that all during this time, Grohn was still making the growling sound. Forbes states that he remembers lots of blood and then slowly feeling less resistance. Forbes states that when he got up his rifle was still attached to him by its single point sling.”
According to Officer Prorok’s statement to the Department of Criminal Investigation, Prorok had, at Forbes’ request, taken out the sledgehammer used to break open a door to gain entry, and that when the garage door opened, he could see a woman standing in the doorway, screaming.
While Prorok was attempting to put away the sledgehammer, Forbes entered the garage.
“Prorok stated that while the door was open he could also see Dennis Grohn charging aggressively right at Forbes. Prorok stated at the same time the door closed because of a bungee cord that was attached to the door. Prorock stated that after the door closed, he could no longer see in the garage. Prorok stated he then heard one gunshot. Prorok stated that he opened the door and that the female was standing to his right. Prorok stated that the first thing he could see was Grohn on the floor physically fighting with Forbes.”
Prorok’s statement goes on to say, “In asking Prorok to describe what he could see, he stated that Forbes was being pushed on his right side by Grohn who appeared to be getting the upper hand. Prorok stated that when Forbes turned, there was a small gap between the two of them as they faced each other. Prorok could see Grohn’s hand on Forbes’ rifle.
“Prorok stated he felt 100 percent fear for his and Forbes’ lives because Grohn’s hand was on Forbes’ rifle. Prorok thought Grohn was going to shoot Forbes. Prorok stated that while standing very close to Grohn, he saw a clear shot and fired his weapon at Grohn. Prorok stated that once he shot, he could see the threat stopped so he discontinued any further shooting.”
The Ramsey County medical examiner in St. Paul performed an autopsy, and the cause of death for Dennis Grohn was determined to be two gunshot wounds in an altercation with law enforcement.
One gunshot went through Grohn’s left hand and re-entered his left forearm at close range. The other gunshot entered Grohn’s right side near the armpit and “was immediately fatal.”
All of the SWAT team members were interviewed, and while none of the others witnessed the shooting, they were consistent in what they heard and the general sequence of events, according to Peterson’s letter.
Grohn’s girlfriend, Tiffany Tillman, said she did not see the shooting or the circumstances just prior to the shooting.
“Ms. Tillman has given inconsistent accounts to different investigators and at one point claimed Grohn was shot in the chair. The physical evidence clearly corroborates the officers’ statements and is inconsistent with Tillman’s. It is important to note that Tillman said she saw the SWAT Team coming on the surveillance system’s TV screen,” according to Peterson’s letter.
The report goes on to note that Grohn was on supervision with both Minnesota and Wisconsin for felony convictions.
According to the search warrant affidavit, Grohn’s father had recently reported to the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department that he believed Grohn had taken a shotgun from him in spite of being a convicted felon.
Additional information gathered after Grohn’s death “tended to strongly corroborate Grohn’s potential for violence … under the circumstances, Grohn would (should) have been aware that he was facing a lengthy prison sentence if caught selling methamphetamine again.”
District Attorney Peterson concludes that both officers were justified in their use of deadly force.
“Both officers who used deadly force are well trained and experienced law enforcement professionals. The SWAT Team was executing a ‘no knock’ warrant under high risk circumstances with a known methamphetamine user and dealer who had a history of resisting and aggressive behavior toward law enforcement.
“Grohn essentially attacked members of the SWAT Team lawfully executing a search warrant to search for evidence of a very serious crime.
“Grohn would have been exposed to a lengthy prison sentence as a repeater for selling meth and he was already on probation for serious drug offenses.
“Deputy Forbes and Officer Prorok were faced with making a split second decision on whether to use deadly force because Grohn attacked Forbes and eventually was in a position to control Forbes’ rifle and shoot Deputy Forbes or other officers. Both Forbes and Prorok reasonably believed that Forbes was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and therefore their use of deadly force was, in my opinion, justified under the law and the facts of this case.”
According to Peterson’s letter, toxicology reports are not yet available, but “toxicology reports may later confirm that Grohn was under the influence of meth directly or ‘tweaking’ in the after effects, but that will only provide an explanation for Grohn’s behavior. For law enforcement officers making a split second decision during a dangerous and dynamic situation what matters is what is happening and not why it is happening.”