116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has determined the Aug. 31 fatal shooting of a Jones County man by police was justified because the man would not put down a knife and charged officers.
But the family of Jeremy Berg, 45, say the knife was a pocket knife and officer should have just let Berg run away as he tried to do at one point.
“I don’t know why they just didn’t let him go,” said Berg’s mother, Margie Fensterman, of Colesburg. “He must have lunged with the pocket knife and when one (officer) opened fire, they all did.”
Berg died of multiple gunshot wounds inflicted by officers during the standoff at his grandparents’ farm near Martelle. The professional tree trimmer suffered from depression and methamphetamine addiction and Fensterman told The Gazette Sept. 2 she thought it was possible he wanted officers to kill him.
The Attorney General’s Office released a report Friday afternoon detailing what happened during the standoff that led to Berg’s death.
“Officers in this situation were confronted with a person who was behaving in a threatening manner and was armed with a knife that could have caused serious injury or death to any person including officers,” Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand wrote.
“The officers made repeated efforts to de-escalate the situations by giving multiple commands to drop the knife and comply with the officers. In addition, the officers deployed less lethal options on five separate occasions (a taser was deployed three times and a less lethal shotgun with bean bags was fired twice), but they were unable to subdue Berg, or get him to drop the knife.”
If Berg would have dropped the knife, officers wouldn’t have had to use lethal force, Hammmerand wrote.
“Because of Berg’s actions in quickly advancing towards the officers with a knife raised in his hand, they had no other reasonable choice but to shoot Berg,” he wrote.
The shooting happened after officers were called to the scene of a fire in an outbuilding at the farm of Jerry and Lavonne Pearson, Berg’s maternal grandparents. Berg had been working on a car in the machine shop when the fire started, Fensterman said.
When the Pearsons saw the flames, the family called 911. Lavonne Pearson tried to get Berg to come out of the shop as it filled with smoke, but he refused to leave, Fensterman said Sept. 2.
“He figured he was at fault and was going to die in there,” she said.
Berg’s cousin broke a window and pulled Berg from the building, Fensterman said. Her son’s arms were blackened by the flames and the skin was falling off, she said. He was raving, saying things that didn’t make sense, which Fensterman said could have been because of drugs or because of his injuries.
The AG report bolsters these accounts.
“Deputy (James) Rickels told Berg to stay seated and wait for the ambulance to arrive so they could check him out,” the report states. “Berg did not comply and got up off the ground.”
Officers tried to use a stun gun, but Berg pulled out the probes, the report states. At one point, officers also used less-lethal bean bag rounds.
“The bean bags struck Berg and (Jones County Firefighter Kevin) Steele used his taser, but neither seem to have any affect on Berg and he began to run toward a house,” the report states. “Several officers pursued Berg. Berg then stopped, he turned around, gave a yell, raised his right hand with the knife and charged the officers.”
That’s when five officers fired their service weapons at Berg.
The five officers involved in the shooting were on administrative leave during the investigation by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. Last week the state Department of Public Safety named the officers:
- Jones County Deputy Tim Miller, who has three years of law enforcement experience
- Jones County Deputy James Rickels, with six years of law enforcement experience
- Anamosa Officer Tyler Hunt, with eight years of law enforcement experience
- Anamosa Sgt. Nick Brokaw, with nine years of law enforcement experience
- Anamosa Officer Gabe Humphrey, with two years of law enforcement experience.
The Public Safety Department said these organizations came to the scene: Jones Sheriff’s Office, Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Anamosa Police Department, Mount Vernon Police Department, Monticello Police Department, Iowa State Patrol, Martelle Volunteer Fire Department, Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department, Anamosa Volunteer Fire Department, Mount Vernon Volunteer Fire Department and the Morley Volunteer Fire Department.
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