Police make arrest in cab driver's murder

Investigators collect evidence at 416 15th St. NE after a search warrant was served there this morning, Tuesday, May 3,
Investigators collect evidence at 416 15th St. NE after a search warrant was served there this morning, Tuesday, May 3, 2011. (Jeff Raasch/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS – A murder suspect is in custody after more than a dozen heavily armored officers raided a northeast Cedar Rapids house, police said.

Johnathan D. Mitchell, 33, has been charged with first-degree murder after police arrested him without incident around 9:20 a.m. Tuesday at his residence, 416 15th St. NE. He is accused of killing cab driver Cathy Stickley during a robbery attempt, according to a criminal complaint.

Stickley, 54, was found dead lying face down near the driver’s side door of her vehicle Friday night in the 1500 block alley between Second and Third avenues SE, according to the criminal complaint. She died of multiple stab wounds to the head and neck, authorities said.

Stickley’s purse, a bank bag and other personal effects were found a short distance from the vehicle, according to the complaint. A witness identified the defendant making contact with Stickley where she was found murdered and officers identified Mitchell’s bloody left palm print on the driver’s side door.

“It is tragic when a member of our community is murdered,” Police Chief Greg Graham said in a statement. “The men and women of the Cedar Rapids Police Department worked tirelessly in tracking down the suspect that needlessly took Ms. Stickley’s life.”

Police took Mitchell into custody in head-turning fashion. Witnesses said as many as 20 officers in SWAT gear approached the house, which is a half-block away from Polk Elementary School. They were armed with shields, rifles and crowbars, and streets were closed in the area.

One neighbor said a police officer warned her that an evacuation may be necessary.

“It looked like an army out that back window,” said Kim Knight, 38. “They were everywhere.”

Knight said she saw sharpshooters, who had been positioned behind a tree with their rifles, run to the house and yell at a person to get on the ground, shortly after police swarmed the area.

Chris Petersen, Stickley’s son who now lives in Wisconsin, applauded Cedar Rapids Police for the arrest but said his family is still reeling from the unexpected attack. In a statement Tuesday, Petersen said the family worried for their mother’s safety working as a cab driver and said they had recently urged her to move from Cedar Rapids.

Stickley apparently shrugged off the idea, telling her children, “Dont worry, the people down here love me.”

“And I’m sure that is the case,” Petersen wrote in the statement. “One bad person does not make a neighborhood. Many good people do.”

The Wellington Heights neighborhood where Stickley was killed last week is the same area where Stickley raised her family, who still have fond memories of the neighborhood.

“Over the past week some people have shared with me how much the neighborhood has changed for the worst. I don’t think that’s fair to say,” Petersen wrote.

“I shot hoops right where my mother died with many friends who liked to call me money every time I shot. How ironic at one time I was deadly from the very spot that someone from my neighborhood would claim my mother’s life.”

The house where Mitchell was living was around the corner from the school and directly across from the Coe College track. Polk was locked, but did not go into lockdown mode during Tuesday’s raid, school district spokeswoman Marcia Hughes said.

“The incident was less than an hour, and the school environment was not disrupted,” Hughes said in an e-mail.

At least one K-9 unit was on the scene, along with the department’s mobile command center. By 10 a.m., investigators were snapping photographs and collecting evidence into a Crime Scene Unit van.

Family members told SourceMedia Group they believe Stickley, a mother of four and taxi cab driver for Century Cab, was robbed as she dropped off a fare. A pedestrian found her body next to her taxi cab.

“Words cannot express my deepest sympathy to the family on their loss,” Graham said. “I am extremely proud of the way our employees have conducted this investigation. We will be able to hold the offender accountable for his crime.”

Streets in the area have since reopened.

Mitchell’s lengthy criminal record includes convictions for theft, domestic assault and drug possession. He was charged with forgery last December and with willful injury causing serious injury after an incident last Sept. 25. His residence is about five blocks from where Stickley was killed.Mitchell grew up in Wellington Heights and attended Cedar Rapids Washington, records show. Mitchell, along with his brother, were heralded by the Cedar Rapids Fire Department as heroes in 1994 after they rushed into an apartment building in the 1500 block of Second Ave. SE and woke several sleeping tenants and got them out of the burning building.

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