IOWA CITY, Iowa — When a county prosecutor reviews an Iowa trooper's decision to shoot a suspect in Council Bluffs, the details of the case might seem familiar.
Pottwattamie County Attorney Matthew Wilber is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether trooper Tim Sieleman was justified in the Dec. 1 shooting of 28-year-old Michael B. Lee of Carter Lake.
Five years ago, Wilber concluded that Sieleman had used reasonable force when he shot another man in similar circumstances. In both cases, Sieleman opened fire at a suspect who was driving at him during a chase. Both suspects were wounded, and both shootings occurred in similar locations in Council Bluffs.
It is unusual for a member of the Iowa State Patrol to fire a service weapon at a suspect; a review of department press releases finds only one other trooper-involved shooting that has been investigated since 2010.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is expected to present the results of its investigation into Lee's shooting to Wilber next week, said DCI special agent in charge Mitch Mortvedt.
Sieleman, a 16-year patrol veteran who has often been in the news for dangerous pursuits and life-saving rescues, remains on paid leave during the investigation.
A criminal complaint against Lee, who is charged with second-degree theft and assault with a dangerous weapon, provides a glimpse of the trooper's version of events.
Sieleman, 44, tried to pull Lee over on a Sunday morning in Council Bluffs because he was driving a pickup truck that did not have license plates. Lee refused to stop and Sieleman pursued. It's not clear exactly what happened next, but Sieleman's car and Lee's truck were involved in an accident. Sieleman got out of his car to arrest Lee, who then sped toward Sieleman in an apparent attempt to escape.
"Trooper Sieleman fired several rounds from his service weapon toward the truck in defense of his life," according to the complaint.
With his car wrecked, Sieleman could not give chase, but two other troopers caught up with Lee on Veterans Memorial Highway, rammed his truck and caused it to roll across the median from the westbound to eastbound lanes.
Lee had been shot in the left arm. He was treated at an Omaha hospital and is now jailed on a $20,000 bond. Investigators say the truck had been stolen from an Omaha dealership.Comment on this story
Lee's attorney, William F. McGinn, said his client would plead not guilty at an upcoming hearing and that it was too soon for him to comment on Sieleman's actions. Sieleman's home phone number is unlisted, and a patrol spokesman did not respond to inquiries.
In the 2008 case, Matthew Loth led officers on a chase around Council Bluffs, ramming cars and swerving at an officer who was preparing to lay stop sticks in his path. After a collision with a minivan, Loth's vehicle ended up off the road. Sieleman ran at Loth's car while Loth was trying to turn it around. The suspect drove at Sieleman, missing him by inches.
Sieleman told investigators that he believed he was going to die when he fired twice — a belief that Wilber concluded was reasonable. Bullets struck Loth in the hand and grazed his forehead, leaving him with minor injuries.
Wilber will find at least one key difference in the two cases. This time, Sieleman tried to launch a GPS tracking projectile at the vehicle — technology designed to prevent dangerous pursuits. But his two attempts failed; one projectile failed to stick on the truck and the other missed altogether.