Homer city officials are expressing relief over a jury’s verdict Thursday exonerating the actions of Homer Police Department officers during a 2006 shootout at the Homer Airport, although attorneys for the plaintiff have promised to appeal the case.
The eight-member jury ruled for the defendants on all counts Thursday, denying any financial compensation to Cherry Dietzmann, the mother of a two-year-old boy who was shot and seriously injured during the incident.
No one was perhaps more pleased with the verdict than Homer City Manager Walt Wrede.
"It's a relief," said Wrede. "This has been going on for seven years and so ... it's been a long time for (the police officers involved) to be ... carrying this with them and not being able to talk about it."
The case stems from a chaotic scene that unfolded at the airport when U.S. Marshals, working with Homer Police and Alaska State Troopers, attempted to apprehend 31-year-old Jason Anderson, Sr., a wanted drug felon from Minnesota who had fled to Homer.
The marshals lured Anderson to the airport after convincing him there was a problem with his rented Jeep Cherokee. When police cornered him, he pulled a handgun and three Homer Police officers returned fire. Anderson, Sr. was killed during the resulting shootout and his then-two-year-old son, Jason Anderson, Jr., was shot in the head. The boy lost sight in one eye and suffered brain damage that has required 24-hour medical care ever since.
All three Homer Police officers named in the lawsuit – Stacy Luck, William Hutt and Dave Shealy – still serve on the police force. Wrede says they did not know that Anderson’s children were in the vehicle until after the shooting, when Officer Hutt found that Anderson’ Junior had been shot and began performing CPR on the boy.
Wrede says he hopes the verdict erases any doubt in the minds of Homer’s citizens that the officers acted appropriately during the tragic incident.
Frank Koziol represented the city at trial. He says one of the main disputes in the trial was whether the bullet that struck Jason Anderson, Junior was fired by his father or by one of the Homer Police officers.
"The city's position has always been that (Jason Anderson, Sr.) took the .45 Ruger and put it against his son's ... left cheek and pulled the trigger."
Koziol says that was the same conclusion drawn by the State Medical Examiner Frank Fallico. The idea was backed up by evidence presented by forensic experts, including the pattern of the wound on the boy’s cheek and an imprint of the muzzle of the gun found on the boy’s cheek afterward.
Koziol presented two pathologists who confirmed the medical examiner’s findings, including Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a nationally renowned expert on gunshot wounds who has authored several books on the subject.
Another issue at trial was the training and procedures of the Homer Police Department and whether the officers acted recklessly when they opened fire on Anderson. Koziol maintains that the officers followed their training.
Dietzamnn settled a separate lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals in 2011 in the amount of $3.5 million dollars. Information about that settlement was not presented to the jury during the City of Homer trial.
Koziol says the total amount of damages that could have been awarded to Dietzmann if she had won the case would have been somewhere between $40-50 million dollars.
Phillip Weidner is the lead attorney for Dietzmann. He offered a brief statement on the outcome of the trial.
"All I can say is that we're extremely disappointed with the verdict and we definitely intend to appeal," said Weidner.
That appeal would be filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, headquartered in San Francisco.
Koziol says he will likely be filing a motion to recover court and attorney’s fees on behalf of the city. That matter would be decided by District Court Judge Robert Bryan, who presided over the trial