WATERLOO, Iowa --- A local grand jury has declined to charge a Waterloo police officer in the shooting death of a man in November.
Officer Kyle Law shot and killed 22-year-old Derrick Ambrose Jr. following a fight outside the New World Lounge on Nov. 18. Authorities said Ambrose had displayed a gun during the fight, ignored Law’s orders to drop the weapon and ran off.
The incident met with public protests, and local civil rights groups called for a federal review.
This morning, Black Hawk County Attorney Thomas Ferguson released the results of a secret grand jury investigation into the shooting.
“Following the grand jury’s independent review and deliberation of the evidence, they returned a no bill — refusing to file an indictment,” Ferguson said. He said the grand jury met for five days over a two-week period.
Ferguson said Law wasn’t aware that Ambrose had disposed of his pistol after running down a dark street. Ambrose turned to look back toward Law, who, because of his training, felt Ambrose was drawing the gun and thought his life was in danger, Ferguson said. Law fired two shots, killing Ambrose.
Ferguson’s office released a summary of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation probe, which lasted from the day of the shooting until March and interviewed about 70 lay witnesses in addition to experts.
According to the synopsis provided by the Black Hawk County Attorney’s Office:
Ambrose and his acquaintances had been involved in an argument with others inside New World that night. Ambrose, his friends and the other party were removed from the nightclub. Outside, another altercation started, and Ambrose went to his car, which was parked on Riehl Street, to retrieve his 9mm Taurus.
Across the street, Officer Law was in the area watching the nightclub when he saw a number of people leaving the establishment and a fight start to break out. The fight moved from the parking lot to the middle of Broadway Street, and Law pulled his squad car closer and radioed what was happening.
Meanwhile, one witness called 911 and told dispatchers “You guys have a guy out here with a gun, I believe, and there’s a pretty big fight going on.”
Law left his vehicle and saw Ambrose waving or pointing a handgun at people in front of him, according to the synopsis provided by the County Attorney’s Office. Ambrose’s back was to Law, who approached, drew his duty pistol and ordered Ambrose to drop his gun.
Ambrose saw Law and ran, still holding the pistol. He headed down the 500 block of Riehl Street and went to the south sidewalk, which was “extremely poorly lit,” the synopsis states. The path took him past a 6-foot high privacy fence, where the Taurus was later found, indicating, according to the synopsis, he likely threw the gun while fleeing.
Ambrose continued on and tripped or lost his footing and went to the ground, his head away from Law. The officer ordered Ambrose to stay down, but Ambrose began to rise, and turned his head toward Law. Law believed his life was in danger and fired two rapid shots. Ambrose was struck in the right leg and the rear right of the head — it couldn’t be determined which shot came first — and died at the scene.
Law’s spent shell casings were about 40 feet away from Ambrose’s body.
Law was placed on administrative leave following the shooting and had since returned to duty. Waterloo director of safety services Dan Trelka declined a Courier request to release a photo of Law, citing concerns for his safety. The Courier was unable to obtain community reaction to the report for Thursday’s print edition due to the timing of the release of the information.
Here is a summary of other findings of the Division of Criminal Investigation probe:
— Shots fired: Initial reports said officers were sent to New World Lounge for a report of a fight with shots fired. The investigation showed that dispatchers received a report of a fight and a man with a gun. But Officer Kyle Law was in the area and noticed the fight independent of the 911 call and approached after radioing dispatch. The evidence points to only shots being fired by Law’s weapon at the end of the incident. Ambrose’s gun had 17 rounds in the magazine and none in the chamber. Law’s weapon had 13 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber, consistent with having fired two shots. Some witnesses reported hearing more than two shots, but there was no evidence of any other gunshots.
— License to Carry: The investigation showed that Ambrose had purchased his gun, a 9mm Taurus, in November and had obtained a permit to carry Nov. 13, five days before the shooting. The County Attorney’s Office synopsis said Ambrose’s license to carry would have been invalid at the time of the shooting because he was intoxicated. His blood-alcohol level was .065, which is under the legal limit, but he also had THC — marijuana’s active ingredient — in both his blood and urine. The presence of drugs in his system would have nullified the permit under Iowa law.
— Recordings: Law didn’t activate his squad car’s top lights, a move that would have started his dashboard camera, and he didn’t turn on his body microphone.
— Stop: Witnesses reported hearing Law direct Ambrose to drop his gun, stop or get down before the shooting.
— Ditched gun: Ambrose’s pistol was found inside a privacy fence in the yard of a Riehl Street home, making it likely he tossed the weapon during the foot pursuit. It was found about 10 feet into the yard and about 29 feet from the location where Ambrose was shot. Ferguson said neither Law nor any other witnesses saw Ambrose dispose of the gun, so the officer thought Ambrose was still armed.
— Injuries: Ambrose had two gunshot wounds. One to the right side of his right leg near the knee, and the bullet lodged in his leg. The other was to the right rear of this head with an exit wound through the left forehead. It couldn’t be determined which injury came first. Ambrose also had scrapes on an arm, possibly from falling during the foot chase.