The crime (among many): attempted murder. The weapon: a garbage truck.
For an Iowa woman named Katie, it was a mistake to allow a man she knew, Logan Shoemaker, stay in her home in September 2017, when he told her he had nowhere else to go. Eventually Katie had enough, and she told him to leave. When Shoemaker refused, she had to call the police to force him out. Over the following two weeks, he continued calling and texting her in a harassing manner, and she repeatedly called for police assistance. And then things got worse.
Later that month, Shoemaker stole a truck and used it as a battering ram in the early morning hours, purposefully crashing into vehicles parked near Katie's home. He also used an instrument to break vehicle windows. At one point, when she came outside to ask him to stop, he pummeled her. His rampage ended only after one of Katie's neighbors pointed a gun out of a nearby window and told him to leave. She called the police, but they were unable to immediately apprehend Shoemaker.
The police located the stolen truck the next morning and found Shoemaker sleeping inside. They ordered him out of the vehicle, but he sped away with a number of police cruisers giving chase. He continued to flee, eventually driving onto a gravel road where he crashed into the back of a stopped garbage truck, leaving the stolen truck inoperable. Shoemaker ran up to the garbage truck and ordered the driver to get out, threatening to shoot him if he did not do so. The driver obeyed, and Shoemaker continued to flee in the garbage truck, sometimes reaching speeds more than 70 miles per hour along roadways in and around Buffalo, Iowa, a small community along the Mississippi River. He and the truck performed remarkably well, successfully rounding corners and freely ignoring posted speed limits. At one point, when an officer ahead of him in the road deployed stop sticks, Shoemaker steered around them by swerving into a ditch for a short time before re-entering the road.
As the pursuit continued, Buffalo Police Chief Terry Behning located an intersection that Shoemaker had not yet reached. Behning parked his police vehicle in the opposite lane of the road on which Shoemaker was traveling, facing toward Shoemaker as he drove up. Behning activated the red and blue lights on the vehicle before getting out and standing behind it, intending to throw out stop sticks at the last second so Shoemaker would not be able to avoid hitting them.
Shoemaker crashed the garbage truck into Behning's vehicle. Just before impact, the truck was traveling 60 miles per hour. As Behning later related, his service vehicle "basically just exploded. I mean, it just came right at me and I had nowhere else to go." He suffered serious injuries as a result, and he was hospitalized for about five weeks, during which he underwent 15 surgeries.
Immediately after he crashed into Behning's vehicle, Shoemaker was arrested on 19 charges including attempted murder, leaving the scene of an accident, assault while displaying a weapon, criminal mischief, stalking, theft, eluding police, serious injury by vehicle and robbery. He pled guilty to two counts of theft, one count of stalking with a dangerous weapon, four counts of criminal mischief and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon. Following a jury trial in Scott County District Court, he was convicted of four other crimes, including attempted murder and willful injury. The police cars chasing Shoemaker were able to capture and record what occurred in front of them. Some of these recordings were admitted at Shoemaker’s trial and played for the jury.
One of the officers pursuing Shoemaker testified he was able to see Behning's vehicle about 11 seconds before Shoemaker crashed into it. The officer surmised that Shoemaker would have been able to see the vehicle sooner, as he was at the front of the chase and sitting higher in the garbage truck than the officer did in his squad vehicle.
The Iowa state trooper who completed the collision investigation testified that he found "no pre-impact roadway evidence at this scene." When asked what that meant, he stated, "Pre-impact evidence is indicative of evasive action, panic braking, swerving, anything that was an attempt to avoid a collision that was about to happen."
Shoemaker testified in his own defense. He admitted stealing multiple pickup trucks, purposefully ramming cars and smashing out windows near Katie's home while also stalking her, leading the police on a high-speed chase and threatening the life of the garbage truck driver before racing off in the garbage truck. However, he steadfastly denied intentionally hitting Behning's vehicle. He stated he had never driven a large truck nor driven from what is typically the passenger side of a vehicle, which he had done in the chase. He testified he had trouble driving the truck and "could not keep it in the lanes."
He admitted purposefully driving in the opposite lane—the lane in which Behning was parked—as he approached the intersection in order to avoid the rumble strips in the right-hand lane but that he intended to "come at the squad car” and then “around and take that right." When asked why he was not braking at the time he hit Behning's vehicle, Shoemaker testified he was "bracing himself for impact." He insisted that at the time he hit the service vehicle, he was not aware Behning was standing behind it. Shoemaker said he did not want to hit the police vehicle "[b]ecause [he] was trying to get away and hitting the squad car would have disabled the truck that [he] was in."
The court record does not disclose how quickly the jury deliberated before finding Shoemaker guilty of attempted murder and willfully causing serious injury for crashing the garbage truck into Behning's vehicle. The jury also found him guilty of robbery for taking and using the garbage truck and of eluding police officers. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
Shoemaker appealed his convictions for attempted murder, willful injury and robbery. He maintained that the prosecution failed to establish he had the specific intent to cause death or serious injury when he crashed the garbage truck into Behning’s police vehicle.
Generally, when an appeals court reviews claims that evidence was insufficient to convict, it will uphold a verdict when a jury, deliberating reasonably and considering the evidence produced, could have conceivably found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
To support his claim, Shoemaker relied on his own testimony that he did not intend to hit the police vehicle with the garbage truck and did not see Behning before the collision. He argued his testimony is corroborated by a recording made at the crash scene in which he can be heard asking the apprehending officers "What happened?" and "Did I hit him?" after they pointed out Behning to him. He also made the bizarre claim that, as someone who was taking drastic steps to elude police capture, it would not have made sense for him to crash his getaway vehicle on purpose.
“The jury was not required to find credible Shoemaker's testimony that the crash was unintentional,” said the three-judge appeals panel. “The testimony of the officer pursuing Shoemaker established that Shoemaker was able to see Chief Behning's service vehicle for several seconds before the collision. And the recording from the officer's squad car clearly shows Chief Behning standing outside near his service vehicle. Still, Shoemaker chose to intentionally drive in the left-hand land, directly at the service vehicle. * * * Moreover, from the video admitted at trial, it is apparent Shoemaker was not applying the brake at the time he hit Chief Behning's vehicle, and, according to the trooper who completed the technical collision investigation, there was no evidence Shoemaker took evasive action before impact. Whether it makes sense to intentionally crash a getaway car, Shoemaker established his willingness to use the vehicle he was driving as a battering ram several times during his two-day crime spree.”
Addressing only the convictions for attempted murder and willful injury, the appeals court found sufficient evidence to support the jury's conclusion that Shoemaker intended to kill or seriously injure Behning when he crashed the garbage truck into the service vehicle.
Barry Shanoff is a Bethesda, Md., attorney and general counsel of the Solid Waste Association of North America.