A Des Moines police officer fired her service weapon through the rolled-up window of her patrol car on Tuesday night, fatally shooting an unarmed man said to be charging at her car, according to police.
Ryan Keith Bolinger, 28, of West Des Moines, died at the scene from a single gunshot to the torso. Police and witnesses said he led two officers on a slow chase through northwestern Des Moines Tuesday evening that ended with Bolinger exiting his vehicle and coming toward the squad car.
"He was walking with a purpose," Sgt. Jason Halifax of Des Moines Police said following a press conference Wednesday on the shooting.
Senior Police Officer Vanessa Miller, a seven-year veteran, fired the round that killed Bolinger. Miller was assisting Senior Police Officer Ian Lawler, also a seven-year veteran, in the pursuit of Bolinger's vehicle after a bizarre confrontation involving an unrelated vehicle stop that Bolinger interrupted.
Both officers are on administrative leave until the investigation, is completed, per the department policy. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation will assist in the investigation.
Halifax said he expects a grand jury ultimately will evaluate the case, though the department is also conducting its own internal investigation. Both Miller and Bolinger are white.
Interrupted traffic stop
Lawler's squad car was parked off the southbound lane of Merle Hay Road near Aurora Avenue after he pulled over a different driver at 10:07 p.m., Halifax said.
About 10 minutes later, Bolinger pulled up in a 2000 Lincoln Sedan alongside Lawler in his patrol car — so close that the officer couldn't open his door. Bolinger got out and started acting "erratically," Halifax said.
"It's been described as almost dancing in the street or making unusual movements in the street," Halifax said at the press conference. "I don't want it to be construed that he's doing a waltz in the middle of Merle Hay Road. ... He's outside of his vehicle. He's not making a directed motion.
"... It's odd, erratic behavior which begins by parking very close to the squad car that's already on a traffic stop and getting out of your vehicle to do whatever he was doing in the street."
Bolinger got back in his car and started driving. Lawler started to pursue Bolinger at about 35 miles per hour, traveling south down Merle Hay Road.
At Urbandale Avenue, about a mile south, Bolinger made a U-turn and stopped abruptly, Halifax said. Lawler pulled in front of Bolinger at an angle to stop him from continuing. Miller stopped a short distance behind Bolinger's car.
In a matter of seconds, Bolinger got out of his car and charged or "walked with a purpose" toward Miller's squad car, Halifax said.
After he was a short distance from Miller's driver's side window, she fired one round, shattering the rolled-up window and hitting Bolinger in the torso.
Police found no weapons on Bolinger or at the scene. It's unclear whether Miller thought he was carrying something at the time, Halifax said.
"He made a very quick advance toward her car," Halifax said.
Squad cars don't have bulletproof glass or reinforced side panels, Halifax said.
Officers do receive training at the law enforcement academy on how to fire shots from a seated position, such as a patrol vehicle, he confirmed.
"There's never any guarantee that your window's going to remain intact from any type of outside blow ... whether it's from a baseball bat or a rock," Halifax said.