James Comstock never imagined that his attempt at tough love would end with his son in the morgue. Now the family of the Iowa teenager killed by police Monday are searching for answers as to why Tyler Comstock had to die.
The 19-year-old was a troubled kid, they say, but posed no threat to anyone. He was a computer whiz and was taking steps to get his life on track. But he made the mistake of taking a lawn-care truck without permission to go buy cigarettes.
Before he ever got out the truck again, police bullets to his head and chest killed him, on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
The shooting followed a wild chase that the family says was pointless because both the truck and its driver were easily identified. The driver could have been arrested later, which is what police procedure says should happen.
In fact, it was Comstock’s own father who called the cops on his son for stealing the truck, in hopes of teaching the teen a harsh life lesson.
The father and son had argued over James Comstock’s refusal to buy a pack of cigarettes for Tyler. The teen got angry and took the Spring-Green Lawn Care Services vehicle from a job site where the argument took place.
James Comstock called the cops to tell them his son had stolen the truck.
Soon six or seven police vehicles were chasing Tyler down. At one point, according to an audio recording of police communications obtained by the Des Moines Register newspaper, the younger Comstock backed the truck into a police car.
One officer can be heard on the recording (below) imploring other officers to back off the chase.
“We know the suspect, so we can probably back it off,” the officer says. But the chase continued, even though Ames police policy states that a chase should end “when the suspect’s identity has been established to the point that later apprehension can be accomplished.”
But the chase did not end — until Comstock crashed the truck into a tree on the ISU campus. Officers approached the vehicle, ordering Comstock out of the truck. Instead, Comstock revved the engine.
At that point, according to a police spokesperson, Officer Adam McPherson, an eight-year veteran of the Ames Police Department, opened fire, blasting six shots in Comstock’s direction on the busy campus.
Comstock was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
“So he didn’t shut the damn truck off, so let’s fire six rounds at him?” said Gary Shepley, the dead teen’s step-grandfather. “We’re confused, and we don’t understand.”
Tyler Comstock had served a brief time in jail on a disorderly conduct charge and was staying with a series of friends at the time leading up to his death.
But his family said he was taking steps to bring some order to his life. He was pursuing his GED at a community college and attending Bible study classes. He had been an honor roll student with an aptitude for computers before dropping out of high school, his family said.
He was not armed when he stole the lawn-care truck, according to his dad.