A fearful Des Moines cop who fatally shot an unarmed man through the window of her patrol car lied to investigators when she said she warned the victim before shooting. Court records reveal that video and audio recordings from inside her vehicle show in fact she never did issue such warning to 28-year-old Ryan Keith Bolinger. The officer, Vanessa Miller, was allowed to resign July of 2016 from the Des Moines Police Department.
Miller also claimed that the look on Bolinger’s face made her fear for her life as he approached the patrol vehicle. The look on his face made it clear that he intended to do her harm according to a deposition tied to a lawsuit against the city filed by Bolinger’s family.
“With the way that he came at me and the look that he had on his face, there was nothing else that he was going to do,” Miller said in her deposition. “It was just the fear of being shot, instantly being shot.”
The city has acknowledged that Miller falsely claimed to have warned Bolinger but still defender her actions in his death. Des Moines Police Sgt. Paul Parizek excused her false testimony saying, “”Cognitive distortions, including memory, are common in high-stress situations.” According to Parizek, Miller did not face ANY disciplinary actions as a result of her lie to investigators.
When confronted with evidence of her false testimony, Miller claimed to have been shocked that she hadn’t warned Bolinger prior to shooting like she said.
“I was very certain that I was yelling at him to get back, get back,” Miller said. “Obviously, in the audio, there’s not that. And my only explanation for that is that it either — I just physically could not get it out of my mouth. In my head, I was screaming at him to get back, to get back and get back. And I thought I did.”
Citing the recent revelation, attorneys for the family filed to amend the lawsuit to add Miller as a co-defendant. The judge denied their request claiming that decision could not only limit the scope of the lawsuit, but also any damages that the family might collect.
The Des Moines Register reports about the incident:
According to the police department, Officer Ian Lawler was handling a routine traffic stop at about 10 p.m. on June 9, 2015, when Bolinger pulled alongside Lawler’s patrol car, got out of his vehicle and began behaving “erratically.”
After Lawler told him to pull into a nearby parking lot, Bolinger drove off, with Lawler following and Miller joining the pursuit, which never exceeded 35 mph.
After making a U-turn, Bolinger stopped abruptly near Urbandale Avenue and Merle Hay Road. Lawler pulled in front of Bolinger’s car, and Miller pulled in behind.
Within a few seconds, Bolinger exited his car and began walking toward the driver’s side of Miller’s patrol car.
Miller drew her gun, leaned back and fatally shot Bolinger through the closed driver’s side window of her vehicle.
The police department’s Firearms Review Committee subsequently cleared Miller of any policy violations, and a grand jury found no basis for criminal charges against her.
Bolinger’s family requested access to the records of the police department’s Firearms Review Committee and its inquiry into the shooting but hit a roadblock with the city. The city fought to keep the records under wraps claiming that the records were attorney work-product prepared in anticipation of litigation and that disclosure would harm the department’s efforts at self-examination. Even police chief Dana Wingert gave a sworn statement saying, “the Firearms Review Committee investigations and the critical self-analysis of officers’ actions benefit the public in several ways by being kept confidential.”
Even limited disclosure in lawsuits, Wingert argued, would inhibit “the candid, frank and sometimes even harsh appraisals of police action by trained police professionals” because their judgment could be “second-guessed, misconstrued or interpreted by non-trained police professionals on a regular basis.”
In that respect, however, the judge disagreed stating that one of the commission members had already testified that their job was not to prepare for litigation but review every instance of an officer discharging his or her weapon in connection with work — even, the commission member conceded, if the officer walked into the woods alone and fired a weapon into the ground. The judge sided with the Bolinger family and ordered the city to hand over the records.