The officer who fired the shot that killed Troy Petersen — a suspect in two murders that shot at local police and deputies — will not be charged, Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said during a press conference Monday morning.
Given the evidence and the circumstances surrounding the shooting, Wilber said he felt Council Bluffs Police Officer Paul Damrow was justified in taking the shot.
The officer fired after Petersen, 28, of Essex and an alleged accomplice-turned-hostage, April Montello-Roberts, 44, of Shenandoah, led multiple officers on two separate pursuits, crashed the pickup they were using and talked to a negotiator for an extended period of time, Wilber said.
After the pickup tipped over and stopped in front of 1443 Indian Hills Road, Petersen could be seen pointing an assault-style rifle at April Montello-Roberts. A negotiator was called in and used a public address system in one of the cruisers to talk to Petersen. He did convince him to turn over one gun – a Ruger mini-rifle.
Damrow, assigned to serve as a sniper, began by just observing the situation, Wilber said. He has 9 ½ years of experience on the police force and 5 ½ years on the Emergency Services Team, commonly known as a SWAT team. He set up his rifle in the shadow of a squad car and used the scope to multiply the pair by about 12 times so he could see their facial expressions.
At first, it was not clear whether it was a “legitimate” hostage situation, Wilber said.
“Sometimes, they appeared to be joking with each other,” he said.
Petersen stuck his tongue out at a drone used to digitally record much of the incident, Wilber said. Montello-Roberts also appeared to caress Petersen's head at one point and they smoked cigarettes together. At that time, Wilber said, he didn’t look particularly afraid.
Damrow also had the responsibility of overwatch -- protecting the other officers at the scene, Wilber said.
“The thin sheet metal through the top of the roof of the truck would have been no match for what appeared to be an AK-47-type rifle. He said it could have been an SKS -- it ultimately was an SKS,” Wilber said. “He wanted to make sure that gun never got pointed outward where other officers could be in danger.”
Damrow’s third job was threat elimination, Wilber said. About 45 minutes after Damrow got set up, Petersen pulled out a revolver and held it to Montello-Roberts’ head. It was then Petersen said something to Montello-Roberts about whether she was "willing to die" for him.
“The look on her face became one of fear,” Wilber said.
That’s when Damrow pulled the trigger -- but the round did not fire, Wilber said. He ejected the shell, moved another into place and tried again. This time, the round fired, pierced the windshield of the pickup and struck Petersen in the head.
During the investigation of whether the officer’s use of deadly force was justified, Damrow was asked why he decided to fire his weapon, Wilber said.
“His specific quote was, ‘I felt he was going to kill her right there. If I didn’t do anything, she was going to die.’”
Council Bluffs Police Chief Tim Carmody said Damrow was on administrative leave but would likely return to duty soon.
Police reports said Montello-Roberts was driving a green 1997 Dodge Ram pickup truck near County Road L34 and Juniper Road when Deputy Ryan Olderog attempted to stop the vehicle for suspicious activity and minor traffic violations. The truck’s headlights were off, and it failed to stop at a stop sign. Olderog turned on his lights and siren, but the truck again failed to stop at a stop sign at 205th Street.
Olderog was in pursuit when, according to an affidavit, the passenger began firing shots at Olderog. The deputy said he saw “numerous” muzzle flashes and heard “crackling sounds” on both sides of his police vehicle. Olderog radioed in that shots had been fired, but he lost sight of the pickup truck shortly after the call.
About 25 minutes later, Council Bluffs police officers were on patrol, searching for the suspect vehicle when Officer Colby McCord spotted it on Railroad Highway headed toward Highway 6 in Council Bluffs. McCord gave chase. The passenger of the vehicle, later determined to be Petersen, opened fire again, shooting at McCord several times. McCord’s police cruiser was hit at least three times, as bullet casings were recovered from the radiator and skid plate.
Another Bluffs police officer, Anthony Fletcher, joined the pursuit and stated that he saw about five more muzzle flashes as they trailed Montello-Roberts and Petersen.
The truck crashed in the 1400 block of Indian Hills Road, where McCord and Fletcher were eventually joined by other officers in surrounding the vehicle. The standoff ensued.
Montello-Roberts is facing two counts of first degree murder for her role in the slayings of Jerrot Clark on Aug. 4 and Steven Carlson on Aug. 7. She is also being charged with robbery and burglary related to Clark and Carlson killings, as well as the attempted murders of Pottawattamie County Sheriff Deputy Ryan Olderog and Council Bluffs Police Officer Colby McCord. Her bond has been set at $2.2 million.
The charges and bond amounts were as follows:
Count I: Murder, first-degree, $1 million; Count II: burglary, first-degree, $50,000; Count III: murder, first-degree, $1 million; Count IV: Robbery, first-degree, $50,000; Count V: attempted murder of a peace officer, $50,000; Count V: attempted murder of a peace officer, $50,000.
Petersen was convicted of misdemeanor drug charges in 2012 in Page County. He served a 12-month prison sentence for federal weapons charges. On July 17, he was arrested in Mills County for misdemeanor operating while intoxicated, unlawful possession of prescription drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.
After the standoff, police interviewed Montello-Roberts. First thought of as a potential victim of Petersen, investigators now believe she played an equal role in the robbery and murder of Clark at his 2103 Sixth Avenue residence. Police reports say Clark died of a gunshot wound. His phone, wallet, cell phone and keys were missing from the home.
A neighbor of Clark’s said she witnessed a male and female carrying items out of Clark’s home at about noon last Sunday. The description of the female matched that of Montello-Roberts, reports stated.
During interviews, Montello-Roberts revealed that she and Petersen discussed robbing and killing Clark the day before the alleged murder took place, it stated in an affidavit. A credit card with Clark’s name was reportedly found in the vehicle the pair were driving.
In another affidavit, it said that Montello-Roberts and Petersen allegedly murdered Carlson in the short time frame between Olderog losing sight of the pickup and McCord observed it heading into Council Bluffs.
The affidavit said that Montello-Roberts and Petersen were both armed when they approached Carlson’s residence on Yellow Pole Road. While breaking into the home, Petersen reportedly fired a rifle round through the window into the house, striking Carlson. The man and woman then entered the home looking for hostages, the affidavit said.
After finding no one else at the residence, the two suspects fled. The pursuit began soon after.