Tyler Comstock was working with his father, James, and took off in a company truck in rebellion after his father would not buy him a pack of cigarettes. James called the police, reporting the vehicle stolen in an attempt at parenting his unruly child. What started out as tough love from a father, though, resulted in one of the worst calls of his life after the police killed his son during a pursuit.
Naturally, the Comstock family is baffled and devastated by the unexpected turn of events. This sense of confusion has not been alleviated by developments in the ongoing investigation into why Tyler ended up dead instead of in jail. The picture that is starting to emerge is a fairly disturbing one.
According to audio released that contains police communications during the event, the situation was handled poorly by both the teenaged Tyler and the police who responded to the call. After receiving the call, the dispatcher informed the officers about the situation, stating that the complaint was about a 19-year-old who had taken his father’s company truck out of anger. The dispatcher informed the police that the father had agreed to fill out a stolen vehicle report. At no point was there any indication from James or the dispatcher that Tyler was a danger. He simply needed to be picked up for taking the truck.
Officer Adam McPherson soon responded that he had found the vehicle and was going to turn around to pull him over. Tyler did not stop when signaled to and McPherson pursued him as he fled. Soon, McPherson, clearly panicked, reported his vehicle had been “rammed” by the suspect. Moments later he amended the report by saying that Tyler had “backed up” into the car.
McPherson’s reports continued to come in as Tyler ran a stop sign and drove recklessly enough to lose the trailer attached to the back of the truck. Both vehicles were headed directly into the Iowa State University campus. Upon reporting this change in location, McPherson was told by an unidentified officer, “If he’s that reckless and coming into the college area, why don’t you back off.”
Meanwhile, Tyler’s father, James, had no idea that his having called the police was about to result in his son being killed. Instead, he sat waiting to hear that his son had been arrested.
However, McPherson chose to ignore the suggestion that he back off and continue pursuit through campus. At one point someone on the radio asks about the pedestrians in the area, as the chase is now occurring in an area that would be heavy with foot traffic. This question is ignored and instead, it is reported that the kid was driving the wrong way on Morrill Road. While pedestrians leapt from the paths of the oncoming vehicles, McPherson was reported to have attempted to stop Tyler’s truck by ramming.
With the situation becoming increasingly dangerous to everyone involved, including innocent bystanders, another message came over the radio, “We know the suspect so, we can probably back it off.”
Again, the message is ignored. Instead the police chase Tyler through “central campus,” endangering more lives and ceases communication. They don’t report back in until shots have already been fired. “We got shots fired. He tried ramming us again. Shots fired.” Tyler was immediately reported as unresponsive.
He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Reports suggest that what happened in the interim between being told, for a second time, to back off and the shooting death of Tyler, was that Tyler drove into a grassy, wooded area. There he ignored orders to turn off his vehicle, instead choosing to rev the engine and rock the truck back and forth in an attempt to escape police. Feeling threatened by the young boy’s actions, McPherson allegedly opened fire, shooting six times into the truck. Two of the bullets hit Tyler, killing him.
Now the Comstock family are in utter shock and are left mourning Tyler. The family admits that Tyler had some problems leading up to his death, but insist that he was actively engaging in turning his life around. He was getting his GED and was good at fixing and building computers.
While no one is questioning that Tyler’s behavior was in poor judgment, or that there needed to be consequences for his actions, many are questioning the actions of the police involved. The family are struggling to come to terms with how an unarmed teenager whose identity was known and who was in an easily identifiable truck, could end up dead. The knowledge that the police were told more than once to stop pursuit compounds the mystery.
More importantly, there is a father who must now come to terms with the fact that his son was killed because he called the police. He must live with the guilt, even if calling the police was the right thing for him to do for a son who clearly needed some guidance.
By Vanessa Blanchard
Des Moines Register