Iowan Tyler Comstock was pursued and killed Monday by police after his father called law enforcement to report Tyler had stolen his truck. The cause of young Comstock’s flight? His father’s refusal to buy him cigarettes.
James Comstock said he had denied Tyler’s request for a pack of
cigarettes, setting his son off.
“He took off with my truck. I call the police, and they kill him,” James Comstock told The Des Moines Register on Tuesday. “It was over a damn pack of cigarettes. I wouldn’t buy him none.”
“And I lose my son for that.”
The pursuit began on Monday morning, as Ames, Iowa Police Officer Adam McPherson trailed Tyler through red stoplights and flying debris from the truck’s lawn-equipment trailer onto the 33,000-student campus of Iowa State University.
Tyler and police vehicles rammed one another on a grassy expanse of the campus. This led to McPherson calling on Tyler to turn off the ignition. Tyler did not obey the order, revving the engine instead, resulting in McPherson firing seven rounds into the truck.
Comstock was hit in the head and chest, reports say, leading to his death. He was not armed.
Dispatch audio and a dashboard video from McPherson’s cruiser have surfaced since Monday. An unidentified police officer can be heard twice suggesting that McPherson should cease the chase, according to dispatcher audio obtained by the Register.
“If he’s that reckless coming into the college area, why don’t you back off,” the supervisor on the audio can be heard during the first suggestion.
As McPherson was exiting his car moments before firing, the dispatcher can be heard saying, “We know the suspect. We can probably back it off.”
Ames Police Commander Geoff Huff said it has yet to be determined whether McPherson heard the calls to halt the pursuit.
Upon interviewing McPherson and witnesses and reviewing three recordings of the incident, Story County Attorney Stephen Holmes said Thursday the police action was justified
“It is my conclusion that Officer McPherson acted reasonably under very difficult circumstances and McPherson’s use of deadly force was justified,” Holmes wrote in a letter to Ames Police Chief Charles Cychosz.
Video shows Comstock ramming McPherson’s car early in the chase. Comstock proceeded to race at speeds up to 70 miles per hour, “recklessly passing other vehicles,” according to Holmes. Comstock ran at least one red stoplight, narrowly missing other cars, on his way into the campus where the chase ended with Comstock, McPherson and one other officer trading collisions before Comstock stopped his vehicle. McPherson fires shortly after.
Holmes wrote that Comstock had multiple chances to end the confrontation with police.
“In conclusion, McPherson and (another officer) were compelled by Comstock’s actions, which occur under a very fast moving time line,” Holmes wrote. "In watching the videos I can't help but express my concern that it was only by sheer luck that no one else was seriously injured or killed by Mr. Comstock.”
Tyler’s family remained in shock when speaking with the Register Tuesday. His step-grandfather questioned why police had to pursue so vigorously when they knew the truck and who was in it.
“They’re professionals,” Gary Shepley said. “They’re trained to handle these situations. And if they panic before they even know what’s going on, then ask yourself: What if it was your child?”
And why did McPherson fire into the truck just because Tyler had not turned off the engine? Shepley asked.
“So he didn’t shut the damn truck off, so let’s fire six rounds at him? We’re confused, and we don’t understand,” Shepley said.
Tyler’s family said he had had minor run-ins with the law as a kid and was upset about a recent breakup with his girlfriend, but was attending Bible study and pursuing his General Education Development degree.
“He called me every night, trying to straighten his life out,” James Comstock said.
James added, "He was a smart kid. He made his own computers. He was interested in IT.”
Tyler’s mother, Shari Comstock, remained bewildered as to why McPherson didn’t listen to the dispatcher.
“I just heard the audio of the dispatch. They told (police) to back off,” she said. “Why? Why did they kill him?”