116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The mother of the man fatally shot by police Tuesday night near Martelle says her son, struggling with methamphetamine addiction and depression, may have wanted officers to kill him.
Five officers fired their guns at Jeremy Michael Berg, 45, who refused to drop a knife, investigators said. Berg died from “multiple gunshot wounds” on the rural property owned by his maternal grandparents, Jerry and Lavonne Pearson.
“They tried to get him to stop. My mom tried to go up there so she could get him to put the knife down, but they (officers) wouldn’t let her,” Berg’s mother, Margie Fensterman, of Colesburg, said Thursday. “I think he pushed the limit to get the officers to shoot him.”
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting, which involved two Jones County deputies and three Anamosa police officers. Those officers are on routine paid leave during the probe. A Linn County deputy who used non-lethal rounds has been allowed to take paid leave after the incident.
Berg, the oldest of four siblings, wrestled at Edgewood-Colesburg in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his mother said. He was a tree trimmer by trade, working for at least one Eastern Iowa tree service, but would drop everything when his family needed help.
When the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho tore through Jones County and toppled trees on his grandparents’ property, he took days off work to remove the debris, Fensterman said. Berg helped his sister put up Christmas lights and was the first to show up when anyone in the family had to move.
“Anybody he could help, he did,” his mother said. “He had a big heart.”
But Berg got hooked on methamphetamine early, Fensterman said. Iowa courts records show several criminal convictions in the distant past, including drunken driving, drug possession and criminal mischief. Berg also suffered from depression, his mother said.
He’d been off meth for about 10 years before the shooting and had some positive influences in his life, including a new girlfriend and a return to church, Fensterman said. But then he started using again, she said.
Berg was living with his grandparents at 23966 42nd St. near Martelle. While he was working on a car Tuesday night in a machine shop on the property, a fire started in the metal building, his mother said. She was not there at the time, but her mother, Lavonne Pearson, told her what happened.
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.
“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.
He also was holding a knife.
By that time, 11 agencies had sent officers or firefighters to the scene. Agencies included the Jones Sheriff’s Office, Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Anamosa Police, Mount Vernon Police, Monticello Police, 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.
Officers tried to get Berg to put down the knife so they could transport him to the hospital in an ambulance, Fensterman said. At one point, two officers tried to physically restrain Berg, but they were not successful, she said.
DCI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Rahn declined to answer questions Wednesday about whether Berg had threatened officers or someone else before the fatal shooting, and why so many law enforcement agencies were at the scene.
Fensterman doesn’t understand why officers fired on her son. Relatives who were at the scene said it sounded like a war movie.
“They knew who he was, why couldn’t they let him be?” she said. “He wasn’t going to hurt grandma. He’d helped her that night with setting the table.”
Berg’s autopsy was scheduled for Thursday in Des Moines. Fensterman said the family is not planning a funeral.
The Gazette has requested video footage from officers at the scene of the shooting. Several agencies have said they have been instructed by the DCI or their legal counsel not to release the police videos until the investigation is complete.
There have been several officer-involved shootings in Iowa this year.
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden determined in May the Feb. 20, fatal shooting of Arnell States, 39, was justified, noting States, a Black man, had a knife in his raised hand and was advancing on Cedar Rapids Officer Kyzer Moore when Moore fired his gun. The incident was captured on surveillance video
The Scott County Attorney’s Office ruled in May the fatal shooting of a Black man by a Bettendorf police officer Feb. 7 was justified, Iowa Public Radio reported. Officer Zachary Gish shot and killed Brian Gregory Scott, 49, early Feb. 7 after Scott shot at another officer.
Marcelino Alvarez-Victoriano, of Waterloo, was paralyzed from the waist down when he was shot by Waterloo police in April, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported. The incident still is under investigation, but officers allege Alvarez-Victoriano was pointing a weapon at a sheriff’s deputy.
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