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Fort Madison Police Officer "Legally Justified" in Fatal Shooting

Sep 15, 2014

A Fort Madison police officer will not face criminal charges after fatally shooting a man in early August.

The Iowa Attorney General's Office reviewed the case at the request of the Lee County Attorney's office.

Special Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown said in a letter to Lee County Attorney Mike Short that FMPD Officer Karl Judd was legally justified under Iowa law in using deadly force against Ryan Swearingen, 29, of Clinton, .

"The actions of the officer were objectively reasonable under the circumstances," said Brown in the letter.

Swearingen was visiting his parents in Fort Madison when he left their home after 1:00 am on August 3.

Witnesses said Swearingen was puncturing tires in a nearby alley.  Police responded to the scene and pursued Swearingen, who fled to his parents' home. Officers then entered the home from different locations.

The letter from Brown stated that while in the home, Judd drew his weapon and began to open a closet door in a laundry room.

"No light was on in the closet.  Officer Judd drew his service weapon and had it in his left hand.  Officer Judd put his hand on the door and began to open it.  As he did so, Ryan (Swearingen) came out of the closet with a knife in his hand, holding it in a threatening manner near or above his right shoulder."

Judd fired three shots at Swearingen, who fell immediately to the ground.

A search found several knives in the closet.

Toxicology reports revealed Swearingen had a BAC of .170 and a level of THC, which indicates marijuana use.

The Iowa Attorney General's Office also addressed questions about police officers entering the home without a search warrant.

"Exigent circumstances and the fact officers were in 'hot pursuit' justified entry into the Swearingen home without a search warrant."

The letter said the death of Swearingen, although regrettable, is determined to be a justifiable homicide under the laws of the State of Iowa and no charges will be filed against any officer.  

It went on to state that the Iowa Attorney General's Office considers the criminal investigation into this matter closed.

Karl Judd was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation.  It's unclear when he will return to work.