116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Parents of a 31-year-old Colesburg man who died from injuries after a motorcycle crash last year are suing the city of Manchester and a police officer over a “conscience shocking and reckless” high-speed chase that two other officers had ceased out of safety concerns.
The lawsuit, filed last month by Sandra and Daniel Mormann, assert Manchester police Officer James L. Wessels’ decision on Dec. 10, 2020, to continue the chase of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, driven by Augustin Mormann, through the city of Manchester wasn’t justified for only a suspended license offense — a misdemeanor.
Iowa State Trooper Eric Payne initiated the pursuit of Mormann westbound on Highway 20 after Mormann was driving at high rate of speed — accelerating from 99 to 107 mph — and then fled after being pulled over. But the trooper ended the chase because it would be unsafe to continue within the city limits with increased traffic, the lawsuit and a search warrant affidavit states. A Delaware County sheriff’s deputy who also had joined the chase ended his pursuit for the same reasons.
However, Officer Wessels did choose to chase through town, the lawsuit asserts, contrary to any “legitimate law enforcement objective.” Any “legitimate” reason to continue the chase was outweighed by the fact that the suspect had been identified and was being sought only for a serious misdemeanor, the suit states.
Wessels’ police vehicle came into contact twice — on opposite sides — with the motorcycle, the suit states. The court action contends this leads to the “inescapable conclusion” that Wessels caused the crash, and as a result “intentionally killed Mormann.”
According to Wessels’ incident report filed Dec. 11, 2020, Mormann was traveling west on 165th Street when his motorcycle made “contact” with the passenger side mirror of Wessels’ police vehicle. Mormann then made contact with the rear driver’s side quarter panel of the police vehicle and “lost control,” leaving the roadway, entering the southbound ditch and “made contact with a fence to rest in a grass field,” according to the report.
Dave O’Brien, lawyer for Mormann’s parents, told The Gazette the officer’s account of the crash didn’t appear to make sense because Mormann was fleeing.
Mormann died as a result of the injuries Jan. 15. An autopsy states the cause of death was cervical trauma — spinal cord injuries — and manner of death was an accident.
There is also a note in the autopsy report that states Trooper Payne called in to report that he initiated the pursuit because Mormann had a suspended license. Payne said he was in the high-speed chase with Mormann but he terminated it — and the Manchester officer continued it.
Payne continued, stating the Manchester police vehicle “made contact with the decedent’s motorcycle which led to the motorcycle losing control, going off the highway and into a ditch,” according to the autopsy file.
During this call, Payne also said a toxicology report was obtained at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics after Mormann was flown to Iowa City after the crash. Mormann tested positive for amphetamines and alcohol. The toxicology was at the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Crime Lab for further testing, Payne stated.
O’Brien, the family’s lawyer, said he also found a photo posted on social media that was taken by one of the officers during the pursuit. He shared it with The Gazette but said he couldn’t determine which officer posted it. According to the time stamp, it was taken during the chase.
O’Brien said there should be video from the police vehicle’s camera of the crash but it’s still under investigation and authorities aren’t releasing it.
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