By Naomi Klouda
Attorneys are in the U.S. District Court in Anchorage for the third week, arguing Homer police were not responsible for harm when an infant was shot in an airport arrest gone-wrong nearly seven years ago.
The case involves the shooting of infant “J.A.,” who was caught in the crossfire as police sought to arrest his father, Jason Anderson, at the Homer airport in 2006. At issue is whether the officers share blame in shooting the 2-year-old boy, at the time.
The suspect, a drug trafficker and fugitive from justice, was shot and killed by his own bullet, law enforcement officers have said. He also was responsible for shooting the boy, they have argued.
The case is now before a jury in Anchorage, Cherry Dietzmann, et al., v. the City of Homer and the Homer Police Department. The plaintiffs have just about finished wrapping up their portion, calling on witnesses appearing in person or televised, said Phillip Weidner, the lead attorney for Dietzman.
This week, the defense is calling its witnesses to the seven-year-old case.
Some parts of the case are already decided. U.S. Federal Court issued a $3.5 million settlement to the boy and his mother in July 2011. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan, in deciding the case on other merits, denied the claims of immunity by the City of Homer, Sgts. David Shealy and William Hutt, and Stacy Luck. They appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and last year lost. It has now landed on a jury to decide.
The case has traveled a long and twisty road. Attorney Weidner, arguing on behalf of Cherry Dietzmann, the boy’s mother, points to evidence it was actually Homer police who shot J.A. Now 9 years old, the boy lives in a medical foster home in Duluth, Minn., and remains deeply disabled, said his aunt, Colleen Murray. He requires 24-hour care.
In early 2006, Jason Anderson was wanted by federal officials on drug trafficking charges. He fled to Alaska and hid on the Kenai Peninsula under an assumed name. Law officials traveled across country and engaged in a lengthy process working with Alaska State Troopers and Homer Police to bring Anderson to justice. At the Homer Airport, in the early morning, Anderson was driving a rented Jeep and had the two children in the back seat. U.S. Marshals, backed by Homer Police, were attempting to arrest Anderson.
According to testimony at the time, Anderson drew his gun as officers approached, and started the shootout.
The injured boy’s sister, six-month old Darla, was not injured in the shooting.
Cherry Dietzmann, et al., v. U.S.A., et al., reached an initial settlement after lengthy litigation with the federal government and the U.S. Marshal Service in July 2011. Originally, the lawsuit was asking for $12 million, but Judge Robert Bryan cut the settlement to $3.5 million. Judge Bryan is presiding over this jury trial as well. Weidner expects it will take about two or three more weeks before the case is handed to the jury.
The case outlined how U.S. marshals and Homer police officers, on the evening of March 1, 2006, were pursuing an arrest of Jason Karlo Jacob Anderson, a fugitive wanted on drug trafficking charges. Anderson, also known as Brandon Deitzman, 31, of Duluth, Minn., was wanted for selling methanphetimine and other drugs out of Duluth. He was identified as one of the top most wanted fugitives in Alaska by federal officials.
In testimony gathered at the time, Anderson’s girlfriend, Dietzmann, said she had fled from him days before the shooting. She had described a long history of violence and intimidation at her boyfriend’s hands. With cooperation from U.S. marshals, she was attempting to win her children’s safety at the time of her escape.
U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan issued a 49-page reiteration of the case and conclusions granting or dismissing a variety of claims by the plaintiffs and defendants in November 2010 that allowed the federal lawsuit to move forward.
He stated that “there is evidence from which a jury could conclude that the Homer officers acted with reckless indifference to the children’s interest.”
The judge added that any punitive claims against the city should be dismissed, however. He also found that any claims against Chief Mark Robl and Sgt. Lary Kuhns should be dismissed. Kuhns had not fired any shots. Officers William Hutt, Dave Shealy and Stacy Luck had each fired shots into the vehicle.
The children’s mother, Dietzmann, was not present during the shooting. She had cooperated with officials as they sought to apprehend Anderson. She told the officers she had tried numerous times to leave Anderson, but he had prevented her from doing so. She had become involved with him three years earlier at the age of 16. He had harmed her on several occasions, including burning and beating her, she told the officers. He had several prior convictions for armed kidnapping, assault and domestic violence.
Comments are closed