CEDAR RAPIDS — “This isn’t over,” Sarah Lathrop said after the Linn County Attorney’s Office decided last week not to file charges in her husband’s slaying.
“This is just the beginning. We’re not quitters,” she said. “We’re gonna fight till the end, and something’s going to change.
“My husband was murdered, and someone needs to be held accountable.”
Joshua Lathrop, 34, was killed May 30 at a mobile home park in Hiawatha when an argument involving five individuals — including Lathrop — escalated into a shootout.
After months of investigation, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden announced Friday e that no one would be criminally charged in Lathrop’s death, given Iowa’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law.
Vander Sanden said he believed Lathrop was the main aggressor in the fight that led to his death.
“I just don’t understand how the one person who was not armed is the one getting blamed,” said Lathrop’s brother, Martin Lathrop, 35, of Cedar Rapids. “And he’s the one who was killed.”
According to the investigation findings, officers were dispatched at 11:40 p.m. that day to the mobile home park in response to more than 20 emergency calls.
The altercation may have stemmed from Tyler and Terrone Bell — twin brothers — searching the mobile home park for two unknown men who allegedly attacked Tyler Bell’s girlfriend, the findings indicated.
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Witnesses said the brothers were searching the park, yelling they were “gonna get somebody,” and Terrone Bell was visibly armed.
The night her husband was killed, Sarah Lathrop, 33, said they were “hanging out and grilling” with family in their driveway — maybe four lots from where Lathrop would later die — when her husband received a call from a neighbor.
“The neighbor said ‘Hey, there’s these guys out here with guns walking around,’ and Josh’s thought was … ‘I should go talk to them and see what’s going on and try to fix the situation,’ ” Sarah said. “And it didn’t turn out that way.”
Sarah said her husband did a lot of maintenance in the mobile home park, and most of the people living there knew him. It was not uncommon, she said, that he would be called for help.
“That’s the only reason he left our yard that night, was because the neighbor had called and said, hey, something’s going on, can you come check this out,” she said.
In his report, Vander Sanden said witnesses described Lathrop as drunk and “in the mood for a fight,” when he confronted Terrone Bell and demanded to know what he was doing and why he was armed and ordered him to leave the park, while blocking Bell’s path back to his car.
By then, a small crowd — including park residents Chad Harris and Truman Harris, both armed — had gathered. Lathrop then allegedly punched Terrone Bell in the face, knocking him backward, and the shooting started.
Lathrop was pronounced dead at the scene, the report said, while Terrone Bell, Tyler Bell and Chad Harris each suffered multiple gunshot wounds.
In his report, Vander Sanden said Lathrop’s actions “ignited a larger conflict.”
“He deliberately confronted a person he knew to be armed, prevented that person from peacefully leaving the scene of the conflict and assaulted him by striking him in the face,” the county attorney said.
“The fact Lathrop was heavily intoxicated at the time may have played a factor in his course of conduct,” Vander Sanden said of Lathrop’s 0.21 blood-alcohol level.
Neither of the Bells were intoxicated, he said. Chad Harris’ blood-alcohol level was 0.162.
On Monday, reeling from the county attorney’s decision, Lathrop’s family said they felt blindsided by the decision and believe Vander Sanden’s portrayal of Lathrop and his actions were misrepresented and misconstrued.
“I feel like they just used the fact that my brother had been drinking as an excuse to blame him for what happened,” Martin Lathrop said.
“When really, it was a Saturday night, he was hanging out with his family in his own driveway, grilling. I mean, I’m willing to bet any person in Iowa, in that same situation on a Saturday night, would have been drinking. So to use it as a way to blame or discredit my brother is just appalling.”
Family members said they were flabbergasted to have Lathrop labeled as the aggressor.
“How could Josh be the violent catalyst, when two people left their trailer, and began walking down the street with guns looking to get someone,” Martin Lathrop said. “That’s the violent catalyst that caused this situation, not my brother. If you’re out looking for trouble, you’re looking to get someone … you’re not defending yourself in that situation, you’re causing the situation.”
The news that no one would be charged in Lathrop’s death was devastating.
“Overwhelming disappointment and anger would be, I think, the two biggest feelings I have about this situation,” Sarah Lathrop said. “He deserves better than this.”
Martin Lathrop said his brother was the youngest — “the baby” of six kids.
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“He could be a real pain sometimes,” Martin said. “He loved to joke around and give people a hard time. He was always pranking people or horsing around. He loved to talk — he would talk your ear off for hours — he never shut up. He was just a normal, funny, hardworking guy.”
“He would help anyone who needed it,” Lathrop’s mother, JoAnn Green, 61, said. “He would do anything to help someone — give anyone the shirt off his back.”
Lathrop ran his own construction business, where he focused mainly on renovation work, and worked full time as a driver for Waste Management, his wife said
“He worked really hard,” Sarah said. “He wanted to give his kids a better life, like we all do.”
Sarah said she and Lathrop had been together for about 20 years, and married for five years, adding that he was a very hands-on father to his four children, ranging in age from 4 to 17.
“He worked a job where he could go in very early in the morning so he’d be off in the afternoons, so he could pick them up from school every single day,” she said. “And I worked evenings, so he had them all night, every night.
“He’s the one that cooked dinner and did the baths and got them in bed. He did all those things with them every single day, and so not having that for them has been devastating.”
Green said her son loved to ride his motorcycle and was planning a ride for Sunday, the day after he was killed.
Huge Hole In Family
“He has left a huge hole in this family,” Sarah said. “And now we’re learning to live again, getting this decision (from the county attorney’s office) just kind of put salt in the wound.
“I don’t know about anyone else but since I got that decision I’ve kind of been in fight mode,” she said. “I’m not gonna let Josh die for no reason. Something has to change, whether it’s our laws, which allowed this to happen, or whether it’s going back through this case and reopening it and actually charging someone with murder.”
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