The Linn County Attorney’s Office has completed an investigation into the May 30, 2020 shooting death of Joshua Lathrop, age 31, at the Sunset Village Mobile Home Park in Hiawatha. The investigation showed an initial confrontation between two people identified as Joshua Lathrop and Terrone Bell. During this initial confrontation, three others entered and the confrontation escalated, resulting in the shooting death of Lathrop.
Following thorough review of the investigative materials and the unique facts and circumstances of the case, which included physical evidence and eyewitness interviews gathered by investigators, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden concludes the facts show that Joshua Lathrop was the initial physical aggressor in the confrontation that ignited a larger conflict. Three of the five men involved in the conflict possessed handguns and fired a total of 25 shots. Those three men were identified as Terrone Bell, Truman Harris, and Chad Harris (no relation to Truman Harris). All three men voluntarily spoke to investigators about their role in the shooting incident and all three claimed they fired their weapons to defend themselves or to defend another person.
Iowa law on justification, otherwise known as self-defense, is set forth in Iowa Code Chapter 704. It provides that a person may use deadly force if it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one’s life or safety or the life or safety of another. Iowa law on self-defense does not require a person act with perfect judgment. A person acting in self-defense may be wrong in their estimation of danger or the force necessary to repel the danger as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief of the person and the person acts reasonably in response to that belief. A person acting in self- defense has no duty to retreat or seek an alternate course of action as long as they are not engaged in illegal activity.
If a person using deadly force is charged with a crime, the burden is on the State to prove the person was not acting in self-defense. Someone who asserts a valid claim of self-defense is immune from criminal or civil liability.
Having reviewed the facts and circumstances gathered by investigators, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden concludes that charges cannot be filed in the shooting death because the state could not disprove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the claims of self-defense asserted by Terrone Bell, Truman Harris, and Chad Harris.
The complete Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law memo (PDF) by the Linn County Attorney’s Office is available on the Linn County website at www.LinnCounty.org/Attorney.