116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A lawyer representing parents who are suing Manchester police over a high-speed motorcycle chase that resulted in the death of their 31-year-old son last year said he is not accepting “at face value” the department’s statement that dashcam or body camera videos aren’t available because neither were activated.
“Not everything that smells is rotten, but this stinks to its core,” said David O’Brien, the Cedar Rapids lawyer representing Sandra and Daniel Mormann in their lawsuit over the death of their son, Augustin “Gus” Mormann of Colesburg. “I plan to get to the bottom of what happened. This is an outrageous excuse.”
O’Brien said typically, when a squad car’s lights and sirens are activated, the dashcam also is activated. He was told Manchester altered its police vehicles so the cameras aren’t activated when lights are activated. O’Brien said he had no idea why that was done.
O’Brien just learned about the lack of video last month when the Iowa State Patrol released its technical investigation and reconstruction report.
“That video would be the best evidence,” O’Brien said.
An Iowa State Patrol investigator, in the report provided by O’Brien to The Gazette on Monday, seemed to agree, stating his conclusion of the crash is “inconclusive, due to lack of video evidence, as to the circumstances surrounding the complete collision sequence, and how contact was made between the Manchester police vehicle driven by Lt. Jim Wessels, and the motorcycle, driven by Augustin Mormann.”
Manchester Police Chief Jim Hauschild said Monday he would forward the request for comment to the city’s attorney.
The lawsuit, filed in May, asserted Wessels’ decision on Dec. 10, 2020, to continue the chase of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, driven by Mormann, through the city of Manchester wasn’t justified for only a suspended license offense — a misdemeanor.
An Iowa State Patrol trooper initiated the pursuit of Mormann westbound on Highway 20 after Mormann was driving at high speed — accelerating from 99 to 107 mph — and then fled after being pulled over, according to the lawsuit. 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 stated.
A Delaware County sheriff’s deputy who also had joined the chase ended his pursuit for the same reasons.
The lawsuit stated that Wessels chose to continue the chase through town. 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 asserts.
The lawsuit noted that Wessels’ police vehicle came into contact twice — on opposite sides — with the motorcycle. The suit asserted this leads to the “inescapable conclusion” that Wessels caused the crash, and as a result “intentionally killed Mormann.”
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.
O’Brien previously told The Gazette the officer’s account of the crash didn’t appear to make sense because Mormann was fleeing from the officer.
Iowa State Patrol report
The summary of the collision in the state patrol report is similar to the lawsuit’s account of the crash.
In Wessels’ report, according to the state patrol investigation report, he said the motorcycle was “swerving violently” and appeared to be slowing. Wessels said he applied his brakes heavily and swerved to the westbound lane. Mormann then accelerated and passed Wessels on the right half of the roadway when Morman struck his passenger side mirror, Wessels said.
Wessels then said Mormann disappeared from his view, and he turned his patrol vehicle around and saw Mormann lying face down in the south ditch, according to the state patrol report.
The state patrol investigator contacted Hauschild, the Manchester police chief, who said the videos and reports from officers involved would be ready Jan. 12. The investigator obtained a CD disk with narratives, another Manchester officer’s squad and bodycam videos and radio traffic information on Jan. 14.
On Feb. 18, Hauschild was contacted again, asking for any dashcam or bodycam video from Wessels. Hauschild said, “Lt. Wessels did not have time to activate his patrol car video and he did not activate his bodycam.”
The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office sent state patrol a CD containing dashcam video from a deputy’s vehicle, who also initially was involved in the pursuit.
O’Brien said if Manchester police knew there was no video from Wessels’ bodycam and squad car, why did they wait until months later to tell the state patrol that, and why would they alter their vehicles in that way.
“It doesn’t change anything for us (the lawsuit), but I hope they are telling the truth. We are going to find out,” O’Brien said.
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