Reported by USAToday
DES MOINES, Iowa — An Ames, Iowa, police staffer twice suggested that an officer back off his pursuit of a 19-year-old man who allegedly stole a truck Monday from a work site where he and his father were working, according to dispatcher audio obtained by The Des Moines Register.
The officer, identified as Adam McPherson, continued his pursuit of Tyler Comstock onto the Iowa State University campus, according to the audio.
Minutes later, the truck Comstock was driving stopped, and officers commanded him to shut off the vehicle. Instead, Comstock revved the engine, and McPherson fired six rounds at the truck, police said.
Comstock died from two gunshot wounds, one each to his head and chest, according to the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s office.
McPherson, an eight-year veteran of the Ames department, was placed on leave while the shooting is investigated.
Ames police have not yet reviewed whether the chase followed department policy, Cmdr. Geoff Huff said. An investigation into the shooting, led by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, will be completed first, he said.
On the audio, an unidentified Ames police staffer can be heard saying that the driver’s identity is known.
A copy of the department’s chase policy, obtained by The Des Moines Register, requires ending pursuit “when the suspect’s identity has been established to the point that later apprehension can be accomplished.”
Huff said he could not comment on the dispatcher audio obtained by The Register. The audio is from Broadcastify, an Internet site that broadcasts dispatcher traffic.
“We have not released any audio or video about the incident,” Huff said. “We don’t know where they came from, so we wouldn’t comment on them.”
In the audio, an officer in pursuit of Comstock tells dispatch that the truck’s driver “just rammed me, he just rammed my vehicle.” A few seconds later the officer, who is not identified, says: “He blew the stoplight … he lost the trailer.”
At that point, the unidentified police staffer tells the officer: “If he’s that reckless coming into the college area, why don’t you back off.”
Moments later, the police staffer again suggests the officer cut off the pursuit. “We know the suspect. We can probably back it off.”
On the audio, there’s no indication that the officer responded to the suggestion.
On Monday, Huff had said police discussed ending their pursuit as it neared the ISU campus but decided to continue because of the driver’s dangerous behavior. The driver had shown a “disregard for all pedestrians in the area,” and police wanted to stop the truck before the driver hit anyone, Huff said.
Ames police Tuesday released a six-page policy on the pursuit of motor vehicles, created in 2004. According to the document, the policy requires:
– Officers and supervisors involved in a chase to “continually evaluate whether or not the seriousness of the offense justifies continuing the pursuit.”
– The pursuit be ended if the officers or supervisors believe the danger created by a pursuit outweighs the capture of the suspect.
– The pursuit be ended when the suspect’s identity is confirmed and the suspect could be apprehended at a later time.
William Moulder, a law enforcement consultant and retired Des Moines police chief, said it’s a standard rule in law enforcement not to shoot at a vehicle when the driver is inside, even if the vehicle is stopped.
“If the guy’s in a car, it can presumably drop into gear and go,” he said. “If you hit the driver, the car may continue moving and run into a pole or somebody, and you really increase the danger.”
In an officer-involved shooting, the officer will have to explain whether he believed someone’s life was in danger when he fired, Moulder said. Iowa law requires deadly force be used only to stop danger to another person.
When deciding whether to continue a chase, some departments have a policy that requires a police supervisor to monitor the chase, Moulder said. The supervisor then has the authority to call off the chase, if necessary.
Moulder cautioned that dispatch audio reveals only a portion of the events. A full investigation could reveal other details.
“It’s one of those things, you can’t really Monday-morning-quarterback it until you have all the facts,” Moulder said.