By Vanessa Miller
AMES, Iowa — An officer was justified in using deadly force this week during a high-speed chase that ended with gunfire on the Iowa State University campus, authorities announced Thursday.
In a letter outlining his findings, Story County Attorney Stephen Holmes said the suspect — identified as Tyler Comstock, 19, of Boone — acted with "reckless disregard for the safety of all who were in his path" as he drove a stolen truck through red lights and onto campus at speeds nearing 70 mph.
Comstock endangered the lives of officers, motorists and pedestrians in a "heart stopping event" that lasted under four minutes, according to Holmes' letter.
Ames police officer Adam McPherson and other officers involved that morning "acted responsibly" after being placed "in an impossible situation," Holmes said.
"Had the officers not exited their vehicles to confront Comstock," he said, "we have only speculation as to where the matter would have gone and what might have happened."
The deadly pursuit began at 10:17 a.m. Monday when Ames police received a report of a stolen vehicle from a man who said his son had become upset and taken his pickup truck and trailer. According to a dispatch recording, the father and son were working together.
"The son got mad at his dad and took off with the truck," the dispatcher reported.
McPherson was the first to pursue the truck after spotting it at Grand Avenue and South 4th Street in Ames. He attempted a traffic stop, but Comstock instead sped up and at one point reversed and rammed McPherson's patrol car, according to authorities.
During the pursuit, Comstock's truck spilled debris onto the road, nearly hit other motorists and endangered pedestrians before driving onto an ISU campus lawn. McPherson and ISU police officer Tony Atilanto attempted to disable Comstock's truck by ramming it, according to Holmes' report.
When that failed, and with both patrol vehicles disabled, the officers exited their cars and McPherson fired seven times at the "back of the cab of the truck at the driver," according to Holmes. Comstock was hit twice -- once in the head and once in the chest, according to an autopsy report.
The officers had "every reason" to fear for their safety and the safety of others, Holmes said.
"Comstock gave no sign to either officer that he was going to cease the car chase and end the threat he posed," according to Holmes' letter.
And, Holmes added, the pursuing officers had little time to react.
"It becomes a very precarious exercise to attempt to pick apart split second decisions," Holmes wrote. "Much deference has to be given when questioning an officer's presence of mind and judgment in a life threatening situation."
Ames police Cmdr. Geoff Huff said the officers pursuing Comstock "proceeded with care," reducing their speeds through intersections and backing off when supervisors suggested doing so.
"At the point when a supervisor made the comment to back off, the officer had already backed off and reduced his speed," he said.
Officers continued following the truck with lights and sirens — but from a distance — as a warning to other drivers and pedestrians in the area, according to Huff.
"(Comstock) had not slowed down at all," Huff said. "We had."
When McPherson fired his gun, according to Huff, he was firing at Comstock in an attempt to "stop the threat." Huff said officers don't try to shoot out tires or at a vehicle engine.
"That doesn't work," Huff said. "You can still drive a car on flat tires. I've seen it many times."
Comstock was taken to Mary Greeley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Huff said Comstock did not have any weapons with him in the truck.
During Thursday's news conference, authorities played two dashboard camera videos. Both showed the stolen truck that Comstock was driving speeding through town and intersections — at one point backing up into the pursuing officer's squad car.
Supervisors, during the incident, advised McPherson to "back off," according to a dispatch recording from the incident. Footage from McPherson's dashboard camera indicates he did slow down, losing sight of him at one point.
McPherson remains on paid administrative leave, according to Huff, and there is no time table for when he might return to duty.
"He'll come back to work when he's ready," Huff said. "He needs some time off and some time away."
Comstock's criminal history in Iowa includes a handful of minor charges, including disorderly conduct, drug possession, curfew and driving violations.
A woman who identifies herself as Comstock's mother has questioned police action on her Facebook page — referencing the dispatch recording revealing commands to back off the pursuit.
"Maybe (the) officer didn't hear (the) dispatcher like perhaps my son didn't hear their commands over a revving engine," Shari Comstock wrote. "Please tell me this is not real."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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