The Iowa Attorney General's Office says police were justified in gunning down a suicidal man. But questions remain over how they did it and whose lives they risked in the process.
On April 17th, police in Iowa Falls were called to a home on College Avenue on a report of a suicidal man. Five police officers later opened fire on that man, shooting 68-rounds, killing him.
Photos released Tuesday show 25-year-old Leighton Fitz holding a handgun and wearing body armor. In a second photo you can see a knife tucked into the body armor.
The Attorney General's Office says Fitz had assaulted his girlfriend. She ran from the house and called police, warning them that Fitz had several guns in the house and may be suicidal.
After police arrived, Fitz posted on Facebook, "Let it be known, as of right (expletive) now I am barricaded (in) my house. Tired of being (expletive) over. Any officer will meet a heavily armed and armored man. I'm done."
It's because of that comment, Fitz displaying a gun, and refusing to comply with officers orders, the Attorney General's Office has ruled that the shooting was justified.
But now there are questions about the way police handled the situation and whether cops put other cops lives at risk.
Officers say Fitz came out this door with a gun in one hand, so they were forced to shoot him.
But apparently he wasn`t the only one who was armed and dangerous.
Cell phone video
Cell phone video shows state troopers and Iowa Falls police opening fire on Fitz. Police say Fitz never fired a shot at them rounds can be hitting near the officers` feet. Rounds also struck the building behind state troopers.
The video shows cops shooting at cops, missing each other by, in some cases, inches.
Andrew Bonin shot the cell phone video and saw Fitz get gunned down.
“He was like this because I know he threw his cell phone at police and he had his hands in like this and he was digging for something I think and the police said ‘pull your hands out so he goes like this and his hands get to right about here and then they start shooting him,” Bonin recounts.
Devan Miranda also witnessed the shooting.
“He was smoking a cigarette. They told him when he got done with his cigarette and threw his phone at them, and they told him to pull his hands out of his pockets. Put his hands up and they fired at him. I would guess after just a couple rounds he went down and they continued firing,” Miranda says.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, there were three officers positioned near a pick-up truck, six across the street from Fitz and another four behind the home and, witnesses say on the stairs between the home and garage. So when police opened fire, they were essentially shooting at each other with Fitz caught in the middle.
“There were shots coming from both directions, firing at each other really. I don`t know what they were thinking but...” Miranda adds.
Officers 'are lucky to be alive'
Combat veteran and NRA firearms instructor Zac Fox doesn`t know what they were thinking either.
“You could have cops shooting up other cops. I saw a couple rounds that were near hits so, I mean they`re lucky. They`re lucky to be alive,” the Fox Shooting Sports CEO said after viewing the footage.
Fox says when state police noticed other officers coming up the stairs, they should have spread out so there was no chance of officers hitting officers.
“That`s what your main goal is, is safety. You have to know your target and what`s beyond it. If you don`t it all goes out the window.”
Fox says the number of shots fired by police is also disturbing. The video shows Fitz getting hit and falling to the ground. But police continue firing a full six seconds after Fitz is down. In total, 68 rounds were shot.
Family members tell us Fitz was struck 17-times.
“After they shot him, the cops were running around, they were high fiving, congratulating each other. It was like a party,” Miranda says.
Bradley Mayland is Fitz`s stepbrother. He has the keychain Fitz had in his pocket when he was shot. It has at least three bullet holes in it.
“He was on the ground when they were still firing on him. That doesn`t make sense to me. He`s on the ground, why are you still firing?” Mayland asks.
'Pretty much a firing squad'
“This ain`t a video game. They can just, `hey we can unload our weapons on this. We finally get a situation to unload all of our weapons.’ It just doesn`t make sense. Why does it have to be my brother that`s laying there on the cold concrete?”
With officers just feet from his brother, Mayland wonders why they didn`t use some none lethal way of arresting Fitz like a Taser or tackling him.
“That`s less than 15 feet. There`s two there, there`s three on the steps. His attention was pointed towards the road. What`s it take for those five officers to come up, grab him, take him to the ground?” Mayland asks.
Instead, Mayland says his brother wasn’t just gunned down, but murdered, he says, by police.
“It was pretty much a firing squad.”
After Fitz was shot, police say they found a loaded rifle by his front door and a high powered rifle upstairs near a window. Investigators believe Fitz may have been planning a gun battle with police.