CEDAR RAPIDS — A federal judge has ruled against the family of a man fatally shot by police in 2015.
U.S. District Chief Judge Leonard Strand, in a summary judgment on Friday, found in favor of the City of Cedar Rapids and four officers, ruling the officers didn’t violate constitutional rights or use excessive force against Jonathan Gossman, who ran from officers during a traffic stop involving drugs and was fatally shot Oct. 20, 2015.
A lawsuit, filed by Twyla McElree, Gossman’s mother, and his wife, Mikaela Gossman, claimed officers fired 25 times at Jonathan Gossman as he was “fleeing from an unlawful arrest” following a traffic stop. The suit also claimed the officers lacked probable cause to stop the vehicle and used excessive force as Gossman was fleeing from police.
According to the ruling, the medical examiner’s report showed Gossman was shot 24 times and had methamphetamine in his system. Gossman’s weapon — a 9 mm handgun — was loaded but had not been fired, the ruling states.
According to Strand’s ruling, officers Brandon Boesenberg and Bryson Garringer set up surveillance in the parking lot of Walgreens, 3325 16th Ave. SW, on Oct. 20, 2015, to monitor purchases of pseudoephedrine, a drug that can be used to make methamphetamine. The officers watched a group, including Gossman, in a Ford F-150 pickup, go into the store at different times and buy pseudoephedrine. The officers also had information that some members of the group were involved in making or using methamphetamine.
When the truck left the parking lot, Boesenberg and Garringer followed and contacted another officer, Nathan Juilfs, to help make a traffic stop. Juilfs asked for a K-9 unit — officer Lucas Jones and his dog, Bane — to respond with them, according to the ruling.
During the stop, officers found the driver had a knife, meth pipe and prescription bottle, which he gave to officers.
The driver told officers there was a shotgun in the back seat, so Juilfs told Gossman, who was in the back seat, to get out of the truck, the ruling states. Gossman, who didn’t fully cooperate, had a lanyard around his neck that contained a knife, which Juilfs removed before again asking Gossman to get out of the truck. Gossman yelled “no,” then Garringer drew his gun.
Boesenberg testified that he wanted to get Gossman out of the truck and away from the shotgun, according to the ruling. He said he drew his gun for safety then opened the backdoor, positioning himself inside the door, and told Gossman to get out, which he did.
Boesenberg began to holster his gun so he could search Gossman, the ruling states, but Gossman began to run.
Jones, his dog and Garringer chased Gossman, yelling at him to stop, according to the ruling. The officers said Gossman kept holding the front of his waistband while he was running, and they believed he might be armed. The dog caught up with Gossman, bit him on his left elbow and Gossman fell down.
As he fell, Garringer said Gossman pulled a firearm from his waistband, the ruling states. Garringer yelled “gun” and thought he heard a “clap and saw a flash of light,” believing Gossman fired at him, according to the ruling. Garringer started firing.
Jones said he heard Garringer yell, then saw Gossman holding a gun and thought Garringer may have been shot, so he started firing, the ruling states.
Gossman was already dead when another officer approached him and removed the gun, according to the ruling.
Strand said, for the most part, he agreed with the city’s statement of material facts, which support the record evidence, but said he didn’t rely on McElree’s “flawed and improper” statement of facts to determine the disputed facts.
McElree’s lawyer submitted “unauthenticated” transcripts of radio traffic and other audio files that were not provided to defendants and other unproven arguments, which Strand didn’t consider, according to the ruling.
Strand, in the ruling, said there was probable cause for the traffic stop and to detain Gossman for possible arrest after finding a knife on him and learning there was a shotgun in the back seat.
Garringer thought he heard a gunshot, and Jones thought Garringer had been shot, Strand said. Under these circumstances, it was reasonable to believe “Gossman posed a serious threat to their safety,” he said.
Strand said it didn’t matter that Gossman didn’t fire his gun, according to the ruling.
“The issue is not whether the officers accurately perceived the events as they unfolded, but whether their perception was reasonable,” Strand said.
The fatal shooting was investigated by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and reviewed by Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, who ruled the use of deadly force was justified.
This is the second lawsuit filed against the city and police department over an officer-involved shooting. Jerime Mitchell and his wife filed a suit last year after Jones shot him during a traffic stop in November 2016. The shooting left Mitchell paralyzed. That suit is pending and trial is set for Aug. 11, 2020.
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