ANCHORAGE — A jury decided Thursday not to award money to a boy shot in the head during a gunfight between his father and law enforcement officers in Homer in 2006.
Attorneys arguing on behalf of the boy, Jason Anderson Jr., said the city of Homer should pay more than $23 million for his medical bills, suffering and future care, among other claimed damages. By finding for the city, jurors made it clear they thought the city and its police officers were not negligent and not to blame. According to the jury's foreperson, all eight jurors agreed that the boy's father, Jason Anderson Sr., shot him.
"We were all unanimous from the beginning of deliberation that Jason Anderson was to blame for delivering this horrible shot to his son's face," Jennifer Smith, the foreperson, said in an email. "The Homer Police Department did not act negligently nor did they act outside of their duties and take excessive force in the attempted apprehension of this fugitive."
Jason Anderson Jr. was 2 years old and sitting in a car seat inside a Jeep at the Homer airport when city police officers and U.S. marshals moved in to arrest his fugitive, drug-dealer father, who was in the driver's seat. The father, 31-year-old Jason K. Anderson, pulled a gun and officers shot him before he turned the gun on himself. A bullet -- fired either by the officers or the boy's father -- hit the younger Anderson in the head. His 6-month-old sister, Darla, was also in the Jeep but was uninjured.
The boy's mother, Cherry Dietzmann, sued the U.S. Marshals Service, the police department and the City of Homer. The marshals settled out of court in 2011 for almost $3.5 million.
A month-long trial in federal district court ended Tuesday. Attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants argued about who fired the shot that left the boy brain-damaged, bedridden and kept alive by medical machinery, including a feeding tube and a ventilator.
Doctors who treated the boy after the shooting testified that the bullet hit the back of his head and exited through his face, proving the officers shot him, according to the attorneys for the boy and his mother. Experts hired by the defense team disagreed, saying marks on the boy's face indicated a close-range shot from his father.
Just after noon Thursday, the eight-person jury announced it had reached a verdict. Jurors said they had found for the city and the police department and against the boy and his mother. Afterward, the jurors hurried out of the federal courthouse downtown.
"They said the police are not to blame," Frank Koziol, an attorney representing the city, said after the verdict. "Juries can be unpredictable and this one did the right thing."
Phillip Weidner, one of the attorneys representing the boy and his mother, declined to comment.
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said he and his officers were pleased.
"I think it shows us that the jury did a good job of evaluating the facts and the evidence and making a decision that was based on those facts and the evidence, not on the emotional factors that the plaintiffs brought in," Robl said. "It was seven years ago that this terrible incident occurred and we've been dealing with it ever since. It's a relief to have it over with."
"I've been convinced for seven years that our officers didn't do anything wrong," he said.
Smith, the juror, said photos showing gunpowder residue and an imprint of the gun's muzzle on the boy's face convinced jurors that it was his father who fired the debilitating bullet.
"We took the time to make sure all eight of us looked through the evidence presented to us. It was not hard for us to reach an agreement. We talked through a lot of things; a few jurors had a hard time with sympathy but that couldn't play a part," Smith said. "Our hearts go out to J.A. Jr. and his mother Cherry for having to deal with such a tragedy but we cannot blame the Homer Police for something they did not do."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.