The City of Homer is fighting one of the biggest court battles in its history – a $75 million lawsuit brought by the mother of a two-year-old boy who was seriously injured during a 2006 shootout between police and a wanted fugitive at the Homer Airport. The case went to a jury trial this week in Anchorage.
The 2006 Homer Airport shootout was the end result of a plan by the U.S. Marshals to apprehend Jason Anderson, a fugitive wanted on drug charges out of Duluth, Minn. On March 1st, 2006, marshals – working with Alaska State Troopers and the Homer Police Department – lured Anderson to the airport after convincing him there was a problem with his rented Jeep Cherokee.
When police cornered Anderson, he pulled a handgun and chaos ensued, with three Homer Police officers returning fire. When the dust cleared, Anderson was dead and his then two-year-old son, Jason Anderson, Jr., who was seated in the back seat of the vehicle, had been shot in the head. The boy lost sight in one eye and suffered brain damage that has required 24-hour medical care ever since.
The original complaint in the case was brought by the Jason Anderson, Jr.’s mother, Cherry Dietzmann. It was filed in January of 2009. In the complaint, Dietzmann’s attorneys allege that law enforcement officials were warned that Anderson was carrying a gun and had threatened to harm his own children if cornered.
Dietzmann’s attorneys say that the manner in which police officers attempted to apprehend Anderson, including the fact that they used their vehicles to block him in the airport parking lot, put the lives of the children and bystanders at risk. The words “negligent” and reckless” are used repeatedly in the complaint.
The complaint also accuses law enforcement officers with conducting a shoddy investigation following the shooting, including failure to properly collect physical evidence and failure to interview witnesses in a timely fashion.
The trial began Monday in Anchorage.
Thomas Klinkner is the Homer City Attorney. While he is not representing the city at this trial, he is familiar with the several years’ worth of back-and-forth that has gone on in recent years between the two sides.
Klinkner says the trial is expected to last about four weeks before it is turned over to the jury.
If the list of exhibits the plaintiffs plan to introduce in the case is any indication, the trial will be filled with minute detail. The exhibit list is 12 pages long and includes 275 items. It covers everything from the training records and personnel files of the police officers involved, reports and recordings from the shooting incident itself, medical records of the victim and forensic evidence from the scene, like bullet casings and pieces of the Jeep Cherokee that Anderson was driving at the time.
Klinkner says the city is insured in case the trial does not go its way.
"The city does have liability insurance that would be available to pay a judgement up to the insurance policy limits," said Klinkner.
That limit, however, is only $10 million. So, if the city were to lose the $75 million lawsuit, would it be on the hook for the rest of the money?
Klinkner says "maybe."
"It depends on a number of other circumstances," said Klinkner. "The attorney representing the city has been very confident that any verdict against the city would not exceed the policy limits."
Klinkner says the City of Homer tried over the years to have parts of the case dismissed and also to reach a settlement with Dietzmann but to no avail.
In 2011, Dietzmann settled a separate lawsuit with the federal government for $3.5 million.
Frank Koziol is the attorney representing the city while Dietzmann’s lead attorney is Phillip Weidner of Anchorage. The trial is taking place at the U.S. District Court in Anchorage with Judge Robert Bryan presiding.