• Seven year old case ends finally, allowing the officers to move on
By Naomi Klouda
Three Homer police officers accused of wrong-doing in the case of shooting an accused drug trafficker seven years ago were found innocent by a jury in U.S. District Court today.
The shooting occurred in the early evening of March 1, 2006 when Homer Police cruisers and U.S. marshals surrounded Anderson in his rented Jeep just outside the Homer Airport. Anderson was wanted on a federal warrant as a fugitive from justice when he fled Duluth, Minn., to hide out on the Kenai Peninsula.
The 8-member jury issued a unanimous verdict of not guilty on three main legal points, said defense attorney Frank Koziol. In Cherry Dietzmann vs City of Homer-Homer Police, the jury was asked to decide on three types of claims: A fourth amendment unreasonable seizure claim, a 14th amendment lack of due process of law claim and a state negligent claim.
“On all of these claims, the jury found no violations, no negligence,” Koziol said.
The lead plaintiff attorney, Phil Weidner, represented Cherry Dietzmann whose son was shot in the head. The plaintiff’s argued that Homer Police had shot the boy, who is now 9 years old and is permanently disabled. They were asking for a total of $40-50 million in damages when all the alleged damages were added together, Koziol said.
But in order for the jury to have awarded monetary damages, they would have had to find the officers at fault. Sgts. William Hutt, David Shealy and Stacy Luck were those accused of wrong doing, along with federal marshals who were in charge of the case. Homer Police were called in as backup for the attempted arrest of Anderson.
The jury trial before visiting U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan lasted five weeks. Jurors came from the Kenai Peninsula, northern Alaska and Anchorage for a broad range.
“It took a long time because we had a lot of experts, the facts were extensive and the law was complex,” Koziol said. It is a relief to have the seven year old case finally resolved.
“The officers were in agony all these years and they couldn’t talk about it because of the litigation,” Koziol said. :These officers over the years were accused of shooting Jason (Anderson) in the head. We believe the evidence showed it was the father who shot Jason and he was about to shoot Darla, the (six-month old) daughter when he was prevented from doing that by the police officers’ bullets. We believe he would have killed the daughter if they hadn’t intervened.”
Anderson’s priority was to kill the children, Koziol argued in court. “Within 1-2 seconds, he shot the son. He reacted that quickly. His shooting of his son saved officers’ lives and they in turn saved Darla’s life,” he said.
No bullet was recovered to verify who shot young Jason, 2 years old at the time. There were four cartridges from Anderson’s gun in the area of the boy.
“He fired four shots. We believe the first one that catastrophically injured Jason went out the window,” Koziol said. “There was no downstream bullet in the car that could be related to the Homer police.”
The main evidence for the father having shot Jason was the wound analysis. A muzzle imprint on the boy’s cheek indicated the result of a contact wound made when Anderson put his .45 Ruger to the boy’s left check. A star-fish shaped contact wound was proof of a close range shot.
The boy was seated in the right rear back seat, immediately behind his dad. Officers saw Anderson had turned immediately, rear-ward facing as they approached the Jeep.
The next gunshot Anderson fired was aimed at law enforcement officers.
A third shot Anderson fired went through the roof of the vehicle. A fourth one went through Anderson’s head and out the window, ballistics were able to show, Koziol said.
City Manager Walt Wrede made a public statement on the police men’s behalf for the first time in the past seven years. “The City of Homer is very pleased with this decisive verdict and is relieved that the trial is finally over. The City considers this verdict to be complete vindication for the Homer Police Department and for the officers involved in the case,” he wrote. “The City is also relieved that finally, after seven years, the facts about what occurred that night are available to the public and are part of the public record. The City declined to comment on this case while in litigation in order to maintain the integrity of the judicial process and protect the rights of all involved. This often provided the public with a misleading and one- sided version of what occurred that night.”
The City believed all along that the officers involved acted in a professional, reasonable, and responsible manner given the circumstances surrounding this incident, Wrede said.
“What happened to young Jason and his family is tragic, to say the least. However, the facts and the evidence brought forward at trial make it clear that the responsibility for what occurred rests primarily with the father, Jason Anderson Sr., and not with the Homer Police Department. The federal marshals, who planned this attempted arrest and were in charge at the scene, settled the claims against them several years ago,” Wrede wrote.
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 place Anderson under arrest. At the Homer Airport, 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 presided over this jury trial as well.
Anderson, also known as Brandon Deitzmann, 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 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.
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.
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