Public Safety

Fatal Hiawatha shootout declared self-defense

Gunfire at mobile home park left 3 wounded. 1 dead

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A shootout last year at the Sunset Village Mobile Home Park in Hiawatha that left three men injured and a fourth man dead will not lead to major criminal charges.

After authorities investigated the chaotic events around the May 30, 2020, gunfight, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden announced Friday the killing of Joshua Lathrop, 31, was justified under Iowa’s “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Only one charge — of illegally carrying a gun — will be filed against one of the combatants.

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 — who are twins — searching the mobile home park for two unknown mem who allegedly attacked Tyler Bell’s girlfriend, the findings indicated.

Witnesses said the brothers were searching the park, yelling they were “gonna get somebody,” and Terrone Bell was visibly armed.

Another witness reported that Lathrop — described as highly intoxicated and “in the mood for a fight” — confronted Terrone Bell, demanding to know what he was doing and why he was armed.

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Witnesses said Lathrop ordered Bell to leave the park, but also prevented Bell from making it back to his car.

Several people, including Chad Harris and Truman Harris (no relation), who lived in the park, came to Lathrop’s aid, according to the investigation. Both the Harrises were armed.

Hearing the commotion, Tyler Bell came to his brother’s aid.

Witnesses told police the argument continued to escalate and that’s when Lathrop punched Terrone Bell in the face, nearly knocking Bell backward onto a vehicle.

It was then that the shooting started.

According to the investigation findings, witness accounts become confusing at this point.

Terrone Bell said he saw Truman Harris running toward him and believed Harris was going to shoot him.

Truman Harris said he saw Terrone Bell shoot Lathrop and then Bell began to shoot at him.

Chad Harris said he was approaching Terrone Bell from behind when he was shot — possibly by Truman Harris.

And Tyler Bell said he was approaching the scene when Lathrop punched his brother and gunfire just erupted, hitting him immediately.

Investigators said a total of 25 shots were fired. All three handguns were recovered from the scene, investigators said.

When Hiawatha Police Officer Chad Breidinger responded the night to the mobile home park, he found four people with gunshot wounds.

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Lathrop was dead on arrival, the findings show. An autopsy later showed he was shot twice. The fatal bullet entered his chest, perforating his heart and lungs, while a second bullet struck his left hand and became lodged in his right forearm.

Toxicology testing showed Lathrop had a blood alcohol level of 0.21, more than 2.5 times the legal limit to drive.

Also found injured were Terrone Bell, Tyler Bell and Chad Harris.

Terrone Bell was shot several times in the chest, abdomen, arms and legs, investigators said. He was rushed to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where he spent three weeks recovering. Medical records indicate there was no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system at the time of the shooting, investigators said.

Tyler Bell was shot four times — once in the right shoulder, once in the right hip, once in the right elbow and once in the left hand. He was also found to be clear of alcohol or drugs at the time.

Chad Harris was shot three times — once in the right shoulder, once in the right side of his buttocks and again in the left thigh. He had a blood alcohol level of .162, roughly twice the legal limit to drive.

“All four principle participants in the altercation, Terrone and Tyler Bell, Truman Harris and Chad Harris, freely and voluntarily spoke to investigators about their role in the shooting incident,” Vander Sanden said in his findings. “None of them requested the assistance of an attorney. The three who fired weapons, Terrone Bell, Truman Harris and Chad Harris, adamantly claimed they did so to defend themselves or to defend another person.”

Claims, Vander Sanden said, authorities were unable to disprove.

Vander Sanden said he concluded that Lathrop was the initial aggressor in the fight. And though the others may not have exercised good judgment, either, he 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.”

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According to the findings, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation determined the bullet entering Lathrop’s chest was fired from Terrone Bell’s gun. The bullet in Lathrop’s arm was fired from the gun used by Truman Harris — who had fired 14 times, the findings reported.

Vander Sanden wrote that “Iowa law on self-defense does not require a person act with perfect judgment. A person acting in self-defense may be wrong in their estimation of danger — or the force necessary to repel the danger — as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief … and the person acts reasonably in response to that belief. A person acting in self- defense has no duty to retreat or seek an alternate course of action as long as they are not engaged in illegal activity.”

The only individual who will be charged in connection with the incident is Tyler Bell, accused of carrying a firearm in a public place without a legal permit.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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