It is often said that an attack on one policeman is an attack on all policemen. Law enforcement officers usually support one another when a perpetrator targets one of them. When such instances occur, the brethren in blue are generally unanimous in their support of their fellow lawman.
Such was not the scenario, however, for a former San Diego Police Lieutenant. When Doyle Wheeler was attacked in his Suncrest, Washington, home in April 1988, many of his former colleagues dismissed the incident, believing it a farce orchestrated by, in their view, a disgraced former lawman.
Doyle Wheeler had been a decorated Lieutenant with the San Diego Police Department. But he was forever changed by one of the most infamous incidents in southern California history.
On July 18, 1984, sniper James Huberty killed 21 people. He injured nineteen others at a San Ysidro McDonald’s restaurant, immediately north of the United States-Mexican border and about 12 miles from downtown San Diego. The San Ysidro Massacre was, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
Wheeler was one of the first police officers on the scene, in charge of the SWAT team. He ordered officers to fire on Huberty, and they ultimately did so, but not before a deadly delay. For reasons that are still unclear, Wheeler’s order to fire was not executed until 26 minutes after it was issued. Wheeler believes four teenagers were shot to death by Huberty during this delay.
The San Ysidro massacre had such a traumatic effect on Wheeler’s emotional health that he attempted suicide in March of 1985. He recovered, but in October, he was forced to retire from the San Diego Police Department because of a stress-related disability. In June of 1986, Wheeler and his family moved to Suncrest, Washington, a suburb ten miles north of Spokane.
On April 19, 1988, Wheeler said two men broke into his home, tied him up with a rope, and held him at gunpoint. The men then dragged him to an upstairs office where they beat him and burned him with cigarettes. The former lawman says the assailants then threatened to harm his family and forced him to write a note:
“To the San Diego Police. I lied at the trial about Donovan Jacobs and the Police Department. I’m sorry. I make this statement of my own free will. Doyle F. Wheeler.”
On April 24, 1986, Wheeler was subpoenaed to testify at the murder trial of Sagon Penn, a 22-year-old black man charged with killing San Diego Police Officer Thomas Riggs and wounding officer Donovan Jacobs. Penn claimed Jacobs had beaten him with a nightstick after pulling him over for a traffic violation. Penn said he grabbed Jacobs’ gun and fired the shots in self-defense against both officers.
Wheeler testified for the defense. He described Jacobs as a “hothead” and accused him of previously being “overly aggressive” in using excessive brutality on minorities. Several San Diego Police Officers corroborated that Jacobs had exhibited racist overtures, with one officer going so far as to say that Jacobs was “the most prejudiced white person I’ve ever known.” Other officers, fellow lieutenants, and administrative personnel, however, turned against Wheeler.
Penn was acquitted largely due to Wheeler’s testimony. After his acquittal, Penn was in and out of jail for the rest of his life. He committed suicide in 2002.
Donovan Jacobs soon left the San Diego Police Department.
Two months after his testimony at Sagon Penn’s trial, Wheeler moved to Suncrest, Washington. Shortly after relocating, he allegedly received death threats because of his testimony. Ten months later, in April of 1988, Wheeler was attacked.
Wheeler told Spokane investigators that after he was beaten and forced to write the note, one of the perpetrators dragged him to his family room, where he was placed on the floor with his hands and feet tied. Simultaneously, he could hear the other man ransacking his downstairs bedroom. While one man made a phone call, the other assailant shot Wheeler in the left side of the head. Wheeler played dead until he heard the men drive away. He then managed to free himself and summon help.
Phone records confirm a call was made from the Wheeler home at the time of the attack to the Narcotics Unit of the San Diego Police Department. The 30-second phone conversation, automatically tape-recorded, confirmed a male voice asked for Donovan Jacobs. However, before the call could be transferred, the caller hung up. The results of a voice analysis were inconclusive, with experts determining the voice was likely not Wheeler’s, but it was possible he “made the call and tried to disguise his voice.”
Two witnesses, however, seem to corroborate Wheeler’s account. A couple of hours before the attack, a neighbor noticed a blue Toyota, possibly an unfamiliar Celica hatchback parked across the street from Wheeler’s house. The neighbor saw the same car speed away several minutes before the ambulance arrived in response to the 911 call. The day before the attack, another neighbor noticed a car similar to the Celica hatchback parked 12 miles from Wheeler’s home. Four men were talking around the vehicle.
Suncrest investigators ultimately dismissed the San Diego Police Department’s suggestion that Wheeler had staged the attack on himself. The Suncrest Police are confident Wheeler was truthful in his accounts of his beating.
The two men who attacked Wheeler have never been identified. Wheeler thought he recognized the dark-haired assailant as an informant with the Narcotics Unit of the San Diego Police Department. Because the man worked undercover, his identity was protected.
In 1988, the dark-haired assailant was in his late 20s, 6’0″ to 6’2″ with a slender, athletic build, crooked teeth, and one large pockmark on his left cheek. The blond-haired man was also in his late 20s, 6’0″, thin, wore a gold earring in his left ear, and had a tattoo of a double lightning bolt (a Nazi symbol) on his left hand. He also a pockmarked face.
The men may have been driving a dark blue Toyota Celica hatchback. They would today likely be in their late 50s.
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More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:
Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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