Sergeant Shawn Miller
West Des Moines Police Department, Iowa
End of Watch: Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Tour of Duty: 26 years
Badge Number: Not available
Cause of Death: Automobile accident
Date of Incident: August 3, 2016
Weapon Used: Not available
Suspect Info: Not available
Agency Contact Information
Chief Shaun LaDue
West Des Moines Police Department
250 Mills Civic Parkway
West Des Moines, IA 50265
Phone: () –
Sergeant Shawn Miller was killed in a motorcycle crash while returning from court after testifying in a hit-and-run case at the Dallas County Courthouse.
He was traveling on Highway 169 when another vehicle turned left in front of him at the junction with I-80. Sergeant Miller was unable to avoid a collision and struck the side of the vehicle.
Sergeant Miller was an Iowa National Guard veteran. He had served with the West Des Moines Police Department for 26 years and was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant. He had previously served with the Iowa Department of Corrections. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Shawn Miller was remembered Thursday as a leader who found ways big and small to touch the community he served as a police officer for 26 years.
The 47-year-old was killed in the line of duty Wednesday after colliding with a car while riding his personal motorcycle on U.S. Highway 169 in Dallas County. He was returning to West Des Moines after testifying in a hit-and-run case at the Dallas County Courthouse in Adel.
"It’s always the good ones that go," said Joe Carter, of West Des Moines.
Carter knew Miller from the officer’s off-duty job as a security guard at the Sheraton hotel in West Des Moines. Miller was always there to bring order during hectic weekends when Carter worked the hotel’s front desk.
But it was an encounter last month that gave Carter new perspective on the "serve" portion of the adage "to protect and serve."
Carter was stranded by the side of the road, after someone hit his car, when Miller drove by to check on him. Carter waved the officer away, but 15 minutes later, Miller drove by again. This time, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He stopped to make sure Carter was safe.
The interaction made such an impression that Carter, who is black, asked his wife to take his picture with the officer. He posted it on Facebook.
"With all of these people hating on police officers, I thought, maybe if they saw me taking a picture with him, it would show … they’re not all that bad. Especially him, he was a great officer," Carter said.
Paul Murphy, 32, of Clive, said he met Miller by chance while working at the Kum & Go on Jordan Creek Parkway in 2007.
Murphy served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including two deployments to Iraq. Miller and another officer would stop by the Kum & Go daily to get coffee and chat with the employees, he said.
Murphy and Miller quickly discovered they were both veterans. They swapped stories about the military, and Miller increasingly became someone Murphy confided in. "I really got to know him and trust him," he said.
Miller persuaded him to join VFW Post 9127 in Beaverdale, an organization the police officer was passionate about, Murphy said. They met there regularly with other veterans. Murphy says the camaraderie helped him acclimate to life after the military.
When he started to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Miller was one of the first people he turned to for help.
"You could talk to him about anything, and he genuinely cared to listen," Murphy said. "It really kind of helped me open up."
Miller eventually encouraged him to seek counseling for his PTSD. The officer’s encouragement was also instrumental in Murphy’s decision to pursue his bachelor’s degree. Miller had a bachelor’s degree from Upper Iowa University and was pursuing a master’s in public administration at Drake University.
Although the two men saw each other less in recent years, Murphy said he would still send Miller text messages when he saw a West Des Moines police car or when he needed advice.
"He would always be there. … He was not only a friend, but a mentor," Murphy said. "If I hadn’t met him, I would be a totally different person. … I’m going to miss him. I can’t believe he’s gone."
Miller attended Dowling Catholic High School, where he served on the volunteer corps, a student group that conducts service projects throughout the Des Moines area, said Jerry Deegan, president of Dowling Catholic.
"It’s consistent with what he committed his life to," Deegan said.
Miller graduated in 1987 and joined the Iowa National Guard, serving in the 186th Military Police Company. His company deployed to northern Saudi Arabia and Iraq during Desert Storm from January 1991 through May 1991.
Dallas County Attorney Wayne Reisetter was Miller’s company commander during that deployment. He remembers an impressive soldier who was promoted to sergeant shortly before heading overseas.
"We looked within our ranks and said we need to push the promotion of these young people who are deserving of it and who will be outstanding leaders for us," Reisetter said. "He was one of those."
His military company was responsible for transporting prisoners captured by the advancing front to holding compounds. Leaders like Miller were responsible for the safety of their men, Reisetter said.
"It fell to those first-line leaders, such as Shawn, to really take initiative, to understand the mission," he said. "Of course, in war nothing ever goes right. That first-line leader had to be very astute to overcome that mission, regardless of issues that came his way."
The two worked together again back home in central Iowa. Reisetter took a position as assistant Dallas County attorney in 1991, and Miller joined the West Des Moines police force as a reserve officer in 1990 and became a full-time officer in 1995.
Reisetter said the community has lost a fair, just and reasonable officer.
"What an empty space," he said. "He was one of those people I would certainly say is a model to follow to heal relationships in the community. Now, we are without that model."
Miller was scheduled to be promoted to sergeant by the Police Department at the end of the month.
"Every time I swear in an officer … we always look to the family members and say, thank you for allowing these people to serve in this capacity because, every day they leave, you don’t know if they’re going to come home," West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer said. "Whatever we can do to support them and encourage them … this is a huge sacrifice for all of us, and we appreciate it."
Miller had several roles at the Police Department, including narcotics investigator, field-training officer, firearms instructor, evidence-processing technician and drug recognition expert.
Jim Romar, who retired from the West Des Moines Police Department in 2007, said he knew Miller as a reserve officer, just starting his career in law enforcement. Even then, Miller "had a genuine dedication to his service to the community," Romar said.
Paul Parizek, a sergeant with the Des Moines Police Department, worked alongside Miller in the 1990s as a reserve officer in West Des Moines.
"He was everything you hear. A very honorable man, both personally and professionally. A very calming, yet commanding presence. A well-respected leader and a solid family man," Parizek said.
Miller’s late mother, Mary Miller Rise, was a longtime 911 dispatcher and part-time records clerk for the West Des Moines Police Department. Miller’s father, Jerry Miller, retired from the Clive Police Department in 1999, after 30 years on the force.
Miller is survived by his wife and three children.
A memorial fund has been established for the family at the Des Moines Police Officers’ Credit Union. Donations can be made in either location, 423 E. Court Ave., or inside the Federal Building, 210 Walnut St., Room 927, or online at dmpo-cu.org.