County Attorney: Narcotics Agent 'Justified' in Fatal Shooting in Iowa City

By Vanessa Miller and Mark Carlson, Reporters

Caption: Johnson County Attourney Janet Lyness looks over the scene of an officer involved shooting with investigators from the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation at the Breckenridge Estates mobile home park Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 just east of Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)


By Ellen Kurt

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- In 23 years with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, agent Daniel Stepleton never fired his weapon while on duty until the night of Aug. 16 during an undercover operation near Iowa City.

With a gun to his head, facing off against three armed men, Stepleton reached behind his back and pulled out a weapon he had tucked into his waistband. He fired four shots, according to Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness. They went into the chest and arm of Ivan Carl Hardemon, 24, killing him.

“The Johnson County Attorney and the Attorney General’s Office determined that agent Stepleton acted with reasonable force and was justified in his actions,” Lyness announced Friday, about a week after the fatal shooting erupted in the Breckenridge Estates mobile home park at 4494 Taft Ave. SE in Johnson County.

Stepleton, operating as an undercover narcotics agent, had made arraignments to buy drugs at the mobile home park on Aug. 16, and he showed up at trailer C7 just before 7 p.m. with another undercover narcotics agent, who hasn't been identified.

When they arrived, Hardemon met them outside and brought Stepleton and the second undercover agent inside, where two additional men emerged with their faces covered, wearing hats and holding clubs or rods, according to Lyness.

Hardemon pulled a handgun from his backpack, Lyness reported, and he told his two cohorts to pat down Stepleton and the other agents and to check their pockets. Lyness said Stepleton had a handgun tucked behind his back, in the waistband of his pants under his shirt.

When one of the suspects felt the gun during the pat down, Stepleton leaned against a wall to keep him from removing it, Lyness reported. Hardemon then aimed his gun at Stepleton, actually touching Stepleton’s head with the barrel, and made comments about shooting the undercover agents, according to Lyness.

Stepleton reached for Hardemon’s gun, trying to push it away from his head, and then he removed his weapon from his waistband and fired four shots, Lyness reported. He hit Hardemon in the chest and in the arm, according to Lyness.

Demarco Dudley, 22, who police have identified as one of the two masked men, also was shot twice in the arm, Lyness reported. Because the investigation is ongoing, it’s unknown whether anyone other than Stepleton fired a gun and whether the officers were fired upon during the incident.

The agents were not harmed, according to Lyness, and Hardemon and the two other men ran from the trailer after the shooting and fled across the street and through an empty lot. Hardemon died in the back of the vacant lot, and Dudley and the other man fled the scene, she reported.

Investigators previously reported that Norman Dudley, 20, picked up his brother, Demarco Dudley, and drove him to the entrance of a nearby mobile home park in Iowa City, where he was spotted and picked up by an ambulance and rushed to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Lyness and officials with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have said that both Norman Dudley and John Mulbah, 22, are accused of having been at or near the shooting. The second masked man has not been identified, and Lyness said the investigation is ongoing.

Demarco Dudley, after receiving medical treatment, was booked into the Johnson County Jail on Friday night on suspicion of first-degree robbery. He’s being held on a $100,000 bond.

Mulbah also was arrested Friday night after a four-hour standoff at his apartment on the west side of Iowa City that ended with officers firing teargas into his window. He faces a felony controlled substance violation on accusations he met with an undercover officer Aug. 13, three days before the shooting, and sold him cocaine for $850.

He’s being held on a $50,000 bond.

Norman Dudley turned himself into authorities Sunday on suspicion of a felony controlled substance violation on allegations that he met with a narcotics agent on Aug. 14 and sold him cocaine for $950. He’s being held on a $25,000 bond.

Bill Kietzman, special agent with the Division of Criminal Investigation, said both the narcotics violations and the shooting are under investigation, and prosecutors haven’t decided whether additional charges will be filed against any of the men.

“That’s certainly a possibility,” Kietzman said.

Stepleton, 49, has been with the Iowa Department of Public Safety for 27 years and with the narcotics division for 23 of those years.

He had never before been involved in an on-duty shooting, Kietzman said. State records, in fact, show that it’s rare for the state’s narcotics officers to use force of any kind.

In the 2012 budget year, which ended June 30, narcotics agents used force twice, including non-lethal methods with hands, feet and batons, according to Department of Safety spokeswoman Jessica Lown. In each of the two budget years before that, narcotics agents used force just three times, Lown said.

Shootings involving state officers have been even more uncommon in recent years. From the 2010 to the 2012 budget years, there were just three shootings involving state agents or troopers – one per year, according to Lown.

It is almost unheard of for officers involved in on-duty shootings in Iowa to face criminal charges.
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