GUTHRIE CENTER, Iowa — The Guthrie County Attorney ruled Tuesday the actions of a Panora Police Department officer “were reasonable under all the facts and circumstances involved” when the officer shot a knife-wielding suspect July 1 in a Panora apartment house.
In a written statement, Guthrie County Attorney Mary Benton said she issued her opinion after reviewing “virtually all of the relevant information” in the investigation into the death of Joshua Blake Reed, 26, of New Virginia, Iowa.
The Guthrie County Attorney’s five-page statement left no room for doubt: “This case isn’t even close,” Benton said.
“Officer Armstrong was not only justified in using deadly force in this situation, but he could well have been criticized had he not,” she said. “In this case, not only was the assailant seen charging at the police officer, knife in hand, he also announced over and over that he had the knife and intended to kill as many officers as necessary until one of them shot him.”
Benton’s statement synthesized interviews with several witnesses and included a detailed account of the events leading up to the shooting of Reed, who died after charging down a narrow hallway at Armstrong while brandishing an 11-inch butcher knife.
According to Benton’s statement, along with Armstrong, witnesses to the events in the apartment house included Gary Freeland, a Lake Panorama security officer and Reserve Guthrie County Sheriff’s Deputy, and Jordan Kohler, the friend of Reed who lived in the apartment building at 502 W. Market St. in Panora.
Kohler picked up Reed in Des Moines Saturday, June 30 and brought him to Kohler’s Panora residence. He said Reed told him Saturday that “he wanted to jump off the freeway bridge into traffic, and on the trip from Des Moines to Panora, Reed told Kohler he just wanted to kill himself.”
Kohler said Reed was “violent” on Sunday, “having threatened Kohler with a knife and thrown him down on his couch and was, in Kohler’s words, ‘going crazy.'” Kohler made a 911 call to the Guthrie County Sheriff’s office at 7:17 p.m. Sunday and said someone had “pulled a knife” on him and threatened to kill and stab him as well as threatening his neighbor with a knife.
Armstrong, an 18-year veteran of the Panora Police Department and a firearms instructor, responded and found Kohler waiting for him outside the apartment house. They entered the building and went to Kohler’s apartment, where Reed had locked himself in, and knocked on the door.
Benton’s statement said both Armstrong and Kohler recalled “that Armstrong attempted, using a calm voice, to reassure Reed and convey to him, ‘I just wanna talk.’ Reed, from behind the door, continued to shout threats and use profanity as Armstrong made another plea to ‘Let’s just talk.'”
According to Benton’s statement, Reed “then engaged in a loud tirade from behind the door, shouting obscenities and threats.” Reed was heard to say, “You guys better have your guns out,” and “You better have your gun drawn when I open this door because I have a knife, and I’m man enough to use ’em so you better be man enough to pull that trigger on me,” and “If you don’t’ shoot me, I’ll get to the next guy.”
Kohler said Armstrong “took a few steps backward to about the middle of the length of the hallway as the shouts and threats continued to come from inside the apartment.” He said Armstrong was still trying “to attempt to de-escalate Reed by saying things like, ‘I just want to talk,’ and ‘We don’t need to do this.'”
By this time, according to Benton’s statement, Freeland had entered the apartment building and was at the top of the stairs at the opposite end of the hallway, but neither Armstrong nor Kohler was aware of his presence.
Reed opened the door and peeked around the frame of the door before rushing Armstrong.
According to Benton’s statement, “Freeland reported hearing Reed say things like, ‘You better shoot,’ ‘You better shoot now.’ Freeland and Armstrong both observed Reed charge at Armstrong very fast, and Armstrong remembers shouting commands to ‘Put the knife down.’ ‘Put the knife down.’ ‘Drop the knife.’ Armstrong recalled Reed charging at him down the hallway with the large butcher knife in his hand. Kohler recalled watching as his friend Josh Reed came charging out with the knife and kept screaming at Armstrong as he did. Armstrong, who had drawn his weapon as the threats continued, then fired upon Reed as he charged at him down the hallway. He fired three quick, successive rounds from his gun, and Reed fell forward to the ground. Freeland also saw Reed charging down the hallway and watched as Armstrong fired on him.”
The Iowa State Medical Examiner in Ankeny ruled the cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death as homicide after concluding an autopsy July 3.
Benton’s statement discussed the bearing of Iowa law on Armstrong’s actions, including the Iowa Legislature’s 2017 additions to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
Benton noted that Iowa Code section 704.1 defines “reasonable force” as “that force and no more which a reasonable person, in like circumstances, would judge to be necessary to prevent an injury or loss and can include 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, or it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat.”
In Benton’s opinion, Reed’s actions left Armstrong with “no choice but to use deadly force to protect both himself and any others in Reed’s way” and “that in this instance Armstrong was justified under the law both before and after the enactment of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ provisions.”
The Guthrie County Attorney said that under “the newly passed Chapter 704 provisions Armstrong had no duty at all to retreat,” but “Armstrong did indeed retreat as he walked backward down the hallway shouting commands to drop the knife.”
She said that “Armstrong could not have safely turned his back on his assailant to retreat further. Had he done so, he would have insured injury or death to himself and those behind him.”
The Panora Police Department was assisted in this investigation by agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Crime Scene Team from the DCI Criminalistics Laboratory, the Guthrie County Sheriff’s office and the Iowa State Patrol.