Tyler was a smart kid, and like a lot of smart kids he hit kind of a wall when the real world invaded his dreams of technology, computers and the normal smart kid obsessions. Tyler was the kind of kid who could take one look at your broken TV or computer, and know how to fix it. Or build you a new one. Tyler’s was an honor roll student for most of his school career, who got good grades when (according to his father) “he applied himself.”
High school isn’t easy for anyone who isn’t a cheerleader or football player (and oftentimes not for them either), and getting out of high school can be even worse. Especially when you get so sick of it that you throw your honor roll away to drop out early. By 19, Tyler had already gone through his fair share of rough patches, including recently breaking up with his girlfriend. But he was attending Des Moines Community College to get his GED, and had dreams of following it up with a career in IT.
(Tyler Comstock, School Picture)
In the meantime, though, Tyler had a couple of long nights, one of which resulted in his spending a few days in jail for disorderly conduct. He was pretty low…but working his way back up. He regularly talked to his father about his problems, trying to work his way out of them, and had begun attending a Bible study group in Boone.
On the morning of November 4th, Tyler asked his father for $5 and permission to use his company truck so he could run out for a pack a cigarettes. His father told him no, and an argument ensued. Tyler lost it; he took the keys to the truck and left…perhaps just to take a drive, feel the wind in his hair and blow off some steam. It’s nothing a million kids a year don’t do.
And Tyler’s father, James, made the mistake of doing something that a million parents before him had done. He decided to teach his son a lesson, calling the police to report his truck stolen so he could get it back. Comstock Sr. probably had visions of his youth, when the blue lights would come on, give you a scare, and the police would drag you by your ear home to Dad.
That’s what would have happened in Mayberry. That’s what might have happened in Iowa, back when police cars still said “To protect and serve.“ Back before “presumed innocence” and “community standards” had been replaced by “presumed compliance” and “at all costs.”
It’s hard to say what made Tyler panic. He had no history of violence…he was just scared. Like a rabbit with a wolf on its tail, Tyler did what any rabbit would do…he ran. The chase wasn’t initially at high speed; likely, the first acceleration away from the blue lights was more of a vague denial of reality, Tyler buying a bit of time to absorb the free air before the scene of his last incarceration was repeated.
Trust me…I speak from experience.
But as the numbness wore off and the terror sank in, Tyler accelerated, becoming ever more desperate to escape. He had no way of knowing his father would drop the charges, and he’d never spend more than a day in jail. All he saw was a life tenuously on the way back up, forever dashed down with the slamming of a cage door. And he ran.
The police ruthlessly chased the boy down, knowing full well that he was a kid with his Dad’s truck…not a dangerous criminal. Down crowded streets, weaving in and out of traffic, dodging pedestrians and running stoplights, the utterly pointless chase endangered hundreds of lives. (Remember again that they already knew who Tyler was, where he lived, where to pick him up, and that he was completely UNARMED aside from the truck.)
No doubt, they were shocked when he backed into the squad car with the trailer. But from that moment, the dogs became wolves, the fragile ego of “presumed compliance” had been offended, and the blood was the end game. Tyler’s panic redoubled.
You can see from the video what happened from there. Well, most of it. Tyler leads the police on a chase through a field at Iowa State University, and ultimately gets pinned next to a tree before giving up. What you can’t see in the video, just to the right of the frame, are the truck’s white reverse lights briefly flashing as he backs into the passenger side of the squad car (and possibly the tree next to it), and throws the truck into park.
The police officer on the left, Adam McPherson, leaps out of his car. According to him, he commands Tyler to shut the truck off and step out. According to the officer, Tyler refused to comply, and revved the engine. He then fired six shots through the back of the truck, killing Tyler almost instantly.
Before anything else, watch the last 15 seconds of the video, and count the seconds. Less than 8 seconds pass between when McPherson stops his car, takes aim at the truck and opens fire. Maybe you can hear him tell Tyler to turn the engine off, but this author can’t. Additionally, you can clearly see the truck (by the tailgate) rocking to a stop after hitting the squad car that last time…BEFORE the officer opens fire. The truck was already stopped, and wasn’t moving any further.
But those are all things that are up for discussion. This isn’t. This is the audio from dispatch that you can’t hear in the video, advising the police to call the chase off. Not once, but TWICE.
At 3:00, you can hear dispatch say,
“If he’s that reckless, coming into the college area…why don’t you back off?“
And again, at about 3:48, you can hear the voice of reason. Remember that these police officers KNOW that the suspect is a scared kid with no violent criminal history, they know he’s UNARMED, and they know he’s done nothing more than take off with his father’s truck. They also knew exactly where he lived.
“We know the suspect, so we can probably back it off.”
But that didn’t happen. Instead of simply allowing Comstock to leave and picking him up at his house later, as any rational individual would do, the wolves instinctively ran him down in a chase that endangered the other drivers, endangered pedestrians and college students, endangered THEMSELVES, and ultimately resulted in Tyler’s completely unnecessary death.
Tyler’s father…his reaction was exactly what you’d expect of a man who expected Andy Griffith and a lesson for his son, but who got two wolves, Dirty Harry and a corpse. Rage, tempered with disbelief. His father said:
“He took off with my truck. I call the police, and they kill him.”
His step-grandfather, Gary Shepley, said:
“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.”
The police justified the murder, stating that it was a “difficult situation,“ and that Tyler had “endangered people.” They quoted a few college students who said they had to “dodge his truck” when it went through the campus. The police were silent about whether anyone had to dodge their patrol cars. So, that was the officers’ logic: They had to kill Tyler to keep him from hurting people during the unnecessary chase THAT THEY CAUSED. They had to kill him to protect themselves from the totally unnecessary danger THAT THEY PUT THEMSELVES IN. And they had to do it AFTER THE CHASE WAS OVER, when the boy’s only weapon (the truck) was pinned, disabled and stopped.
Tyler’s mother summed up the absurd frustration that many feel at the situation:
“Why the hell would they chase him into campus with all the people? Tyler would never hurt anybody, ever. He was just a scared child. He’s pretty rational when he calms down.”
Correction, Mom. He was. He was.
At this point, the crime-hawks are screaming that anybody who runs is a vile criminal who deserves to die, and it’s the police’s job to catch all criminals at all costs. First: No, it really isn’t. The police’s job is to serve the public, and sometimes that means letting one idiot kid drive away so you can pick him up later. It doesn’t mean CAUSING that same person to commit 40 more felonies by hunting him down like a dog, or CAUSING a danger to the public, or CAUSING a danger to yourselves.
When did all ends justify any means in Law Enforcement? When did enforcement of law become an end in itself, as opposed to a means of serving society?
And, more to the point…WHY would this dumb kid panic? Why would he act as though he were running for his life from merciless predators who routinely victimize the young, even before those same wolves endangered the public to gun him down like an animal? Was he a prophet, who knew that they would kill him for any non-compliance? Did he have reason to suspect that, merely by stopping, he was taking an undue risk to his person? Was he JUSTIFIED in running for his life, in panicking like a rabbit with wolves on its heels?
Aside from having spent some time with those amoral, hypocritical wolves pretty recently, it’s possible he had a few of these recent events on his mind. Maybe he had reason to fear the corrupt and violent inclinations of Iowa police officers. Particularly toward the young and defenseless.
- 3/09 — Iowa officer Sid Jackson charged with a DUI on duty. Jackson had scores of citizens complaints for verbal abuse, and had been formerly been reprimanded for abuse of power, public brutality, conduct inappropriate for a law officer, public indecency, sexual harassment, and professional misconduct.
- 8/08 — Iowa police chief James Christansen and assistant John Sickels drag a young bartender into the woods behind a country club and forcibly rape her.
- 9/07 — A Council bluffs police chief convicted of stealing cocaine from evidence locker, faces more than 10 years in prison.
- 8/07 — Teenagers in Southwest Iowa town accuse police officers of forcing them to commit sexual acts or face trumped-up charged for made-up crimes.
- 1/06 — A Marana, Iowa police officer who has been investigated at least once for domestic violence is placed on administrative leave for drunk driving and drunk on duty, and then was arrested again for criminal damage and domestic violence.
- 12/05 — A Des Moines officer was tased and arrested during a domestic violence dispute at his home.
- 10/05 — Polk county police Department investigated by the Department of Justice for racially profiling and targeting Hispanic drivers for constant harassment. 53% of one officers tickets went to Hispanics, in an area with a 10% Hispanic population.
- 9/05 — Mason City, Iowa police officer sentenced to two years in prison for assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.
- 9/05 — Another Iowa police officer brought up on charged of molesting children at a local abuse shelter.
- 07/05 — An Moline, Iowa police officer arrested for getting getting drunk on duty and sideswiping another car.
- 02/05 — An Iowa state trooper is charged with sexually assaulting a teenage girl in 1995, and then intimidating her into lying about it.
And those are just a few examples from a four-year time span, and just the ones that made the national news. Go county-by-county for longer than the lifespan of the average hamster, and it’s a wonder that Iowa police officers manage to issue a ticket without doing coke, getting drunk, raping and shooting somebody’s kid.
NOW say Tyler’s panic was “unreasonable.”
Next up, Part 3 and the Last of Today’s Gun-Justice Trifecta — Repealing Florida’s Stand Your Ground Laws