Attorneys are in the U.S. District Court in Anchorage for the third week, arguing Homer police were not responsible for the harm that occurred 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 boy, who was 2 years old 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 argue.
The long and twisty case, Cherry Dietzmann, et al., v. the City of Homer and the Homer Police Department, is now before an Anchorage jury. Plaintiffs are nearly finished wrapping up their portion, said Phillip Weidner, the lead attorney for Cherry Dietzman, the boy's mother.
This week, the defense will call 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 lost last year. It has now landed on a jury to decide.
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 the country and engaged in a lengthy process, working with Alaska State Troopers and Homer Police, to bring Anderson to justice.
At the Homer Airport early one 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.
Two years ago, 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. Marshals Service. Originally, the lawsuit asked 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 said he expects it will take about two or three more weeks before the case is handed to the jury.
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. 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 was found not to have fired any shots. Instead, officers William Hutt, Dave Shealy and Stacy Luck 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.
Naomi Klouda is a reporter with the Homer Tribune, where the preceding story was first published. Used with permission.