Johnson County attorney finds Iowa City officer acted with ‘reasonable force’ in July shoplifting incident

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness has determined Iowa City Police Officer Michael Clark was justified when he fired his weapon at shoplifting suspect Cierra Lewis in July.


Roman Slabach

Iowa City police respond to the scene where an officer-involved shooting reportedly occurred near 11 Highway West on July 29, 2019.

Brooklyn Draisey, Managing Editor

After reviewing crime-scene materials and results from an investigation by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness has found Iowa City Police Officer Michael Clark was justified in firing his handgun at a shoplifting suspect.

According to Lyness’ report, at approximately 3:25 p.m. July 29, Clark responded to a report of shoplifting near Starbucks at 11 Highway 1 W., where he followed a woman carrying several bulky items. She was later identified as Cierra Lewis, 25.

Clark said he believed Lewis could have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs or have a mental illness due to her behavior. Lewis did not respond to Clark’s orders to stop and went to a bus stop shelter at 1200 S. Riverside Drive. She picked up a mobile power outlet stand, which Clark took away to prevent her from using it as a weapon, Lyness’ report said. He turned around after setting the stand down to find Lewis pointing a gun at him. Clark felt a shot hit his cheek and heard other shots fired. The weapon was later identified as a CO2 BB gun.

He then pulled out his own firearm and shot at Lewis five times, striking her once in the hand. Backup officers arrived almost immediately after, and they and Clark subdued Lewis. Clark found metal BB pellets in his mouth, which he spit out. Lewis and Clark were then both sent to the hospital.

At the request of Iowa City police, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation conducted an investigation into the incident and submitted its report to Lyness. When conducting her investigation, Lyness also analyzed the scene on the night of the incident; Clark’s body camera and squad car footage, report, interview, and Google Maps diagram of the scene; reports and body and squad car footage from Iowa City Officers Traishondus Bunch, Andy Farrell, Andrew Bratek, Alirio Arcenas, Dustin Carolan, Isaiah McNamee, and Sgt. Kevin Bailey; and reports from other witnesses.

“Officer Clark acted appropriately under the circumstances he confronted. He was justified in his use of force,” Lyness said in her report.

Lyness also commended Clark for his actions during the incident even after being shot.

“He had been shot in the face, yet acted to protect himself, other responding officers, and the public driving past,” she said in the report. “He then assisted another officer in subduing [Lewis]. His actions may have prevented [Lewis] from injuring herself, others or further harming him.”

Sixth District Judge Chad Kepros set a mental-competency hearing for Dec. 16 to determine whether Lewis is fit for trial. She is charged with willful injury resulting in serious injury, a Class-C felony, and assault on persons engaged in certain occupations with the intent to cause serious injury, a Class-D felony. She has waived her right to a speedy trial.

Lewis’ attorney Quint Meyerdirk has previously said in court documents that after speaking to Lewis and her mother, he determined Lewis won’t be able to assist in her defense or perform the reasoning necessary to consider pleas and make other decisions.