The three North Liberty police officers involved in a fatal shootout with a University of Iowa graduate student last month did not see it coming.
The officers had been called to the Holiday Mobile Home Court just before 6 p.m. March 10 about a domestic disturbance, and they did not have their weapons drawn when Taleb Salameh, 28, starting firing at them, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said Friday.
During a news conference at which Lyness announced the officers will not face criminal charges in the shooting that left Salameh dead, she said one officer tried to kick down Salameh’s door moments before he opened fire at them through it.
“The officers involved are very lucky to be alive,” Lyness said.
She identified the involved officers as Sgt. Adam Olson and officers Chris Shine and Cody Jacobsen. All three were struck by bullets during the shooting, and Lyness said the bullet-proof vests they were wearing saved their lives.
After Salameh opened fire on the officers from behind a closed door, Lyness said, the officers returned fire. But only one of the officers’ bullets hit Salameh, killing him, according to Lyness. She didn’t identify which officer fired the fatal shots, but she said none of the officers will face charges.
“The officers acted with reasonable force in returning fire after being shot and shots continuing to be fired at them,” Lyness said. “They had no lesser course of action available to them.”
In new details released about the shooting, Lyness said, North Liberty police received a call to the home at 5:51 p.m. March 10 from a person who had witnessed Salameh and his girlfriend fighting. The caller reported seeing them drive away in separate vehicles and then return quickly, at which point Salameh began jumping on the woman’s vehicle while yelling at her, according to Lyness.
The three North Liberty officers arrived at 238 Holiday Lodge Road at 5:53 p.m. and found the woman standing on a ramp that led to the trailer’s front door, Lyness said.
She was crying and said she just wanted to get her belongings, according to Lyness. Her face was red, and she appeared to have been injured, Lyness said. The officers asked the woman about weapons in the home, and she told them she thought Salameh had removed a gun earlier that day.
The woman also told officers Salameh was in the home alone, and so they approached the front door and knocked, according to Lyness. They looked in through a window and saw Salameh by the front door. Lyness said they directed him to open it, but he told the officers to talk to him through the door.
One officer pulled out his Taser, Lyness said, although no firearms were drawn at this point. The authorities again told Salameh to open the door or they would kick it in, but Lyness said Salameh didn’t comply.
One of the officers tried to kick in the door but failed, Lyness said. Salameh then shouted, “de-escalate, de-escalate” and could be seen running to the rear of the trailer before firing four shots through the door, according to Lyness.
An officer was hit on the left side of his chest and another was hit in his abdomen, Lyness said. Vests stopped both bullets from penetrating, Lyness said, and one of the officers backed down the ramp as he drew his weapon. The others leaned into a corner of the home’s front deck.
“They could feel the air from the bullets going past them,” she said.
During the shooting, the door opened and the officer who earlier had pulled his Taser saw Salameh and tried to hit him with the non-lethal device, Lyness said. But Salameh reportedly continued to shoot at the officers.
Eventually, an officer eyed Salameh from the home’s deck and fired multiple shots, hitting Salameh. The officer wasn’t confident, however, that he had killed the suspect, Lyness said, so the Johnson County Bomb Squad sent in a robot to find the body.
The officer who shot and killed Salameh was grazed by bullet on his chest and suffered shrapnel wounds to his hand. He is still receiving treatment, Lyness said.
An autopsy performed on Salameh revealed he had been struck seven times and died from those injuries. The Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet ruled on a cause and manner of death as the autopsy report is still being completed, Lyness said.
The woman involved in the dispute with Salameh told authorities that they have a child together and they moved into the mobile home in January, where they were living with two children.
On the day of the shooting, the woman said she was trying to move out and was getting more belongings when the argument erupted. Officers had been to the home several times in the last month, and Officer Shine had been there in the last two weeks, Lyness said.
According to the investigation, Salameh fired 10 shots at officers and hit them twice before they drew fire arms. Lyness said less than 20 seconds passed between the first and last shots, and officers later found more rounds of ammunition on the couch.
“The officers never entered the residence,” Lyness said. “Salameh fired all shots from within the residence.”
None of the officers investigated in this incident have been involved in previous on-duty shootings, said North Liberty Acting Police Chief Diane Venenga.
Olson, 34, is the most tenured of the three and has been with the department for 10 years and has been a sergeant for five years. Shine, 26, has been with the department for two years and has two years of experience before that, Venenga said. And Jacobsen, 26, joined the department in January 2012.
Venenga said the department is eager to have the officers back from paid administrative leave, but she said it's going to take some time until “they are comfortable” doing so.
“It was a very difficult and tragic event for the officers to be involved in,” she said. “They have some concerns coming back to work, as well as their family.”
Venenga said her department is going to conduct an additional internal review of the incident and look at its policies, procedures, training and equipment to make sure “we have in place the best practices.”
“We are very fortunate that three officers were not killed or severely injured,” she said.
Lyness said the shots delivered by Salameh easily could have been fatal and that all local agencies are going to review policies to make sure they are protected in situations like this one.
“I don’t think anyone expected it to end this way when they were called out,” she said.