Public Safety

Pandemic a 'significant factor' for unusually violent year in Cedar Rapids

City data shows 2020 was one of most violent years in a decade

A Cedar Rapids police car blocks traffic April 22 W near 15th Street and Hinkley Avenue NW as officers investigate the s
A Cedar Rapids police car blocks traffic April 22 W near 15th Street and Hinkley Avenue NW as officers investigate the shooting death of Judeah Dawson, 16. No arrests have been made in the homicide. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Though for the better part of the year people were encouraged to stay close to home and keep their distance from others, 2020 proved to be one of the most violent years Cedar Rapids has seen in a decade as homicides and gunfire incidents in particular soared.

According to data from the Cedar Rapids Police Department, there were 415 incidents of violent crime in 2020 — the highest number recorded since 2008 when 448 incidents were reported.

Included in the 2020 count were nearly twice as many homicides as the year before, with 12 slayings — the highest number of killings recorded in a 12-month period in at least 60 years.

Ten of the 12 homicides were the result of gun violence, police said. One victim was stabbed and another beaten.

Five of the 12 homicides so far have resulted in arrests while others under investigation.

The second-highest number of homicides recorded in a year was in 2014 when eight people were killed in six homicide incidents, public safety spokesperson Greg Buelow told The Gazette.

Incidents of gunfire increased significantly in 2020, with 163 verified shots-fired incidents, the highest recorded.

Police said the shots-fired incidents in 2020 impacted a total of 50 victims, including 40 who were wounded and the 10 who were killed.

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The department’s clearance rate for shots- fired incidents in which there was a victim struck by gunfire is 42 percent.

“By all accounts, 2020 is certainly a year that I’m glad is behind us,” police Chief Wayne Jerman said.

In analyzing the data, Jerman said, police found that crimes where an offender would likely come into contact with a stranger — such as robbery or burglary — were “generally lower.”

Crimes where offenders commonly victimize people in their close social circles — like murders or assaults _ were higher. So were crimes where the offender would not come into close contact with strangers — like motor vehicle thefts.

Additionally, the analysis found many of the crimes where offenders were in prolonged close contact with their victims — like domestic abuse — tended to see spikes in March and April when the pandemic restrictions began and remained steady for several months.

Cedar Rapids was not alone in seeing an increase in violence.

“A majority of large or medium-sized cities — which Cedar Rapids falls under — saw increases in violent crime in 2020,” the chief said.

According to a report last month by National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, homicides, aggravated assaults and gun assaults rose significantly across the country beginning in late May and June.

The research — which studied weekly changes in 10 criminal offenses across 28 cities from January 2017 through October — found that homicide rates increased by 42 percent during the summer and 34 percent in the fall when compared with similar periods in 2019.

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Additionally, aggravated assaults went up by 15 percent in the summer and 13 percent in the fall, while gun assaults increased by 15 percent and percent during the same time periods.

“We believe the pandemic was a significant factor in the increases we saw last year,” Jerman said. “You know, the uncertainty and fear caused by the pandemic were added stresses and then on top of that, you have to consider job losses, food shortages and the loss of a sense of normalcy or security.”

Additionally, in the early months of the pandemic, courthouses closed, jails and prisons across the state released some inmates in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks and offenders who were arrested were either released on their own recognizance or given “very low” bail amounts, the chief said.

Jerman said police conducted an analysis of offenders with multiple arrests and found that 26.4 percent of individuals arrested had been arrested two or more times — 956 out of 3,618 total arrests. Of those arrested multiple times, two were arrested 30 or more times and 13 were arrested between 10 and 19 times.

Another concerning statistic, Jerman said, is the number of guns stolen from vehicles in 2020.

The data shows there was a total of 708 thefts from vehicles, with 36 resulting in firearms being stolen from the vehicles.

“There were 36 handguns and five rifles or long guns stolen from vehicles,” the chief said. “So that’s 41 deadly weapons that are now out in the community that should not be out in the community.”

With so many of the department’s resources directed at taking illegal guns off the streets, Jerman said he’s particularly frustrated that some gun owners are so irresponsible.

“I don’t understand the thought processes that leads to these people feeling that it’s OK or acceptable to leave a deadly weapon in a car, and then they make it worse by leaving that car unlocked,” he said.

The police department seized 184 firearms in 2020, 34 of which were taken by the Police Community Action Team (also known as PCAT).

Additionally, officers made 36 arrests of felons who illegally possessed guns, a 125 percent jump.

“You know, 2020 was a particularly unusual and difficult year,” Jerman said. “But the police department continues to focus on reducing gun violence and especially getting illegal guns off the street.”

2020 Homicides in Cedar Rapids

Jan. 24

Andrew Gaston, 18, was shot in the parking lot at 3217 Agin Court NE, in what police said was an attempted drug robbery. Gaston died early the next morning. Kyler D. Carson, 17, was arrested on charges of voluntary manslaughter, delivery of a controlled substance, carrying weapons and obstructing prosecution. Tyrell J. Gaston, 16, was arrested on charges of first-degree robbery, conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, carrying weapons and obstructing prosecution.

Jan. 28

Eduardo Millan-Ramirez, 22, was shot in the parking lot of Ashton Place Apartments, 634 Ashton Place NE. Little information has been released about the investigation. No arrests have been made.

March 4

Tremaine V. Williams, 35, was fatally stabbed at a residence in the 700 block of Eighth Avenue SW. Williams’ girlfriend, Jacqueline M. Holmes, 36, was arrested. She faces a count of first-degree murder and multiple unrelated charges.

March 12

Jordan D. Haynes, 27, was found dead in a car in a wooded area off northbound Interstate 380. An autopsy ruled the death a homicide, but the cause was not released. No arrests.

April 22

Judeah Dawson, 16, was shot and killed in the 200 block of 15th Street NW. Officers found Dawson down on the street with gunshot wounds. No arrests made.

May 1

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Asia Grice, 25, was shot and killed at an apartment at 1610 30th St. NW. Grice was pregnant at the time. A second woman — also 25 — was also shot but survived. Johnnie Osborne IV, 26, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, nonconsensual termination of a pregnancy, attempted murder and willful injury causing serious injury.

May 22

Daniel J. Spangler, 69, was found dead inside a residence at 508 B Ave. NW. An autopsy found the cause of death was a gunshot wound. No arrests.

June 18

Malik J. Sheets, 20, was fatally shot at a residence in the 1000 block of Regent Street NE. Police said Sheets was at a party when an argument broke out. Marshawn Jeffries, 16, is charged with first-degree murder and obstructing prosecution. Christian Dider Emedi, 17, is charged with first-degree murder and obstructing prosecution. Miguel Antonio Ruiz, 24, was charged with accessory after the fact and obstructing prosecution. And a 17-year old female was arrested for accessory after the fact and obstructing prosecution.

July 12

Keyshawn Allers, 19, was found with multiple gunshot wounds at the Summit View Village in the 100 block of Curtis Street SW. No arrests.

July 23

Elsie Mae Deason, 71, was found beaten July 1 in her home at 808 18th Ave. She died July 23. Her son, George Alan Deason, 49, is charged with first-degree murder, assault on a police officer with a dangerous weapon and interference with official acts with a dangerous weapon.

Nov. 30

Charles James Griffin, 24, was shot at a residence in the 400 block of F Avenue NW. No arrests have been made.

Dec. 22

Marisa Doolin, 18, was found fatally shot in an apartment at 2110 Westdale Drive SW. She died several days later. No arrests.

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

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