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Deadly Hiawatha Shoot out a case of self-defense, County Attorney rules

Published: Jan. 29, 2021 at 3:09 PM CST
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HIAWATHA, Iowa (KCRG) - No one will be charged with the shooting death of a Hiawatha man in a shootout that wounded three other people after the Linn County Attorney ruled it a case of self-defense.

Joshua Lathrop died in a shooting on May 30th at the Sunset Village Mobile Home Park in Hiawatha.

Three other people were shot but survived in what Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden described as a “frenzied gun battle” involving 25 shots with bullets also hitting a trailer and vehicle in the area.

Lathrop’s family told KCRG-TV9 in September they were frustrated no one had been arrested since police knew the shooter who killed Lathrop was also wounded in the gun battle.

However, Vander Sanden said the shootout was justified under Iowa’s “Force-Reasonable or Deadly-Defenses” law and ruled no one will face charges directly related to the shooting.

According to Vander Sanden, two of the shooters, Tyler Bell and his brother Terrone Bell, came to the trailer park after hearing Tyler Bell’s girlfriend had been attacked by two men. Vander Sanden said both Bell brothers came armed with handguns and yelling something to the effect of “gonna get somebody.”

After being warned the Bells were in the area with guns, Joshua Lathrop confronted the Bells. Vander Sanden said Lathrop’s blood alcohol content was .212 and witnesses described him as “S*** faced” and “in the mood to fight.”

During the ensuing argument between Terrone Bell and Lathrop, Vander Sanden says Lathrop blocked Bell from leaving. Several residents also joined the argument, bringing with them bats and handguns.

The argument came to a head when Lathrop punched Bell. Terrone Bell said he believed one of Lathrop’s friends, Truman Harris, was going to shoot him. That’s when Bell pulled his gun and possibly fired a shot. That touched off what investigators determined was two volleys of gunfire.

In the end, Lathrop was fatally wounded with a bullet piercing his lungs and another in his arm. Ballistics determined Bell fired the fatal shot into Lathrop’s chest and Harris had fired the shot that hit Lathrop’s arm.

Terrone Bell suffered multiple gunshot wounds, Tyler Bell was shot four times and Lathrop’s friend, Chad Harris, was shot three times.

Vander Sanden said the investigation was plagued by conflicting witness statements, including an unclear picture of who shot first.

Vander Sanden ruled “without question, that Joshua Lathrop was the catalyst of this violent encounter.” He noted Lathrop was the initial physical aggressor, prevented Bell from leaving before punching him, which touched off the gun battle.

Vander Sanden said Terrone Bell fired in self-defense. He says Truman Harris also fired in self-defense, including shots that hit Lathrop, entered a nearby trailer and a parked vehicle. Vander Sanden found Chad Harris also fired in self-defense after the shooting started.

Tyler Bell will face one charge of carrying a firearm in public without a permit to carry.

According to the Linn County Attorney’s Office, the guns used by Terrone Bell, Truman Harris and Chad Harris in the shooting were all legally obtained and possessed. The gun in Tyler Bell’s possession was provided to him by his brother, Terrone Bell.

They said Tyler Bell never discharged this gun and placed it in his vehicle before the exchange of gunfire took place. That gun was legally purchased, but Tyler Bell did not have a legal permit to carry a firearm in a public place.

Read the full report from the Linn County Attorney here.

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