Home Vehicle Accidents Lawsuit: Manchester police bungled video that could have caught fatal motorcycle crash

Lawsuit: Manchester police bungled video that could have caught fatal motorcycle crash

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The parents of a Colesburg man who died in a high-speed motorcycle police chase claim in a lawsuit that a forensic video expert determined Manchester police manipulated or backdated sealed evidence in an attempt to cover up missing video of the incident from a squad car dashboard camera.

The recording device removed from Manchester Lt. Jim Wessels’ cruiser after it collided Dec. 10, 2020, with a motorcycle driven by Augustin “Gus” Mormann, 31, was put into an evidence bag after the crash. The bag was sealed and dated. But the device has up to three months of recorded video after the bag was supposedly sealed, according to the lawsuit.

Augustin Mormann (submitted photo)

“This is absolutely impossible unless the recorder was sealed three months after the (incident) and the seal was backdated,” Dave O’Brien, the Cedar Rapids lawyer representing parents Sandra and Daniel Mormann, stated in the lawsuit. “Or, the bag was opened, the recording device used and then resealed, without documenting the use.”

In a supplemental report, the video expert said if the recorder and memory card from Wessels’ vehicle had been kept in use and overwritten for a month or less, the video of the Mormann crash would likely have been recoverable.

“Keeping the video and memory card in service for three months assured that any video taken on Dec. 10, 2020, would not be recoverable,” the expert stated.

O’Brien told The Gazette on Thursday he didn’t know what explanation the city might have for what happened.

It took Manchester police two months before they told his clients there was no video of the incident, he said. Then, earlier this year, O’Brien found the video recording device wasn’t taken out of service until several months after the fatal crash.

“It’s hard to fathom the justification for any of this,” O’Brien said.

Douglas Phillips, one of the Sioux City lawyers for the city of Manchester, didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Mormann died as a result of the injuries Jan. 15, 2021. An autopsy found the cause of death was cervical trauma — spinal cord injuries — and manner of death was an accident, according to the lawsuit.

Accident reconstruction

The latest court filing in the lawsuit also cites a crash reconstructionist who reviewed the wreck, and said Wessels “recklessly, if not intentionally” ran Mormann off the road.

The reconstructionist concluded Wessels’ account that Mormann ran into his police vehicle was “impossible,” according to the lawsuit. The police vehicle came into contact twice — on opposite sides — with the motorcycle, they said.

The reconstructionist is identified as working for Great Lakes Collision Experts of Beaver Dam, Wis. Primeau Forensics in Rochester Hill, Mich., reviewed the police video.

The Iowa State Patrol investigation report stated that Wessels said the motorcycle was “swerving violently” and appeared to be slowing. Wessels said he applied his brakes heavily and swerved to the westbound lane. Mormann then accelerated and passed Wessels on the right half of the roadway when Mormann struck his passenger side mirror, Wessels said.

Wessels said Mormann disappeared from his view, and he turned his patrol vehicle around and saw Mormann face down in the south ditch, according to the State Patrol report.

The reconstructionist stated Wessels’ account also said Mormann intentionally rammed the rear of his patrol car. Given the physical evidence, such a collision would have resulted in the motorcycle hitting the side of the vehicle and the motorcycle capsizing and falling to the ground within a “very short” distance after impact.

The lack of evidence found in the road indicates the collision between the motorcycle and vehicle occurred within only a few feet of the south edge of the road, as the motorcycle was being forced off the road, the reconstructionist stated.

The pursuit

According to the lawsuit and police, an Iowa State Patrol trooper initiated the pursuit of Mormann on Highway 20 after Mormann was driving at high speed — accelerating from 99 to 107 mph — and then fled after being pulled over for a suspended license.

The trooper ended the chase because of safety concerns within the Manchester city limits, according to reports and the lawsuit. A Delaware County sheriff’s deputy who had joined the chase also ended his pursuit for the same reasons.

The lawsuit asserted Wessels chose to continue the chase through town. Any “legitimate” reason to continue the chase, the suit said, was outweighed by the fact that the suspect had been identified and was being sought only for a serious misdemeanor.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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