Graham: Shooting by Pleasant Hill officer was justified under Iowa law

Published 9/6/2023 3:08:25 PM

CORRECTION: The identity of Bradley Van Heeswyk's family member referred to in the statement has been corrected to stepfather. 

Polk County Attorney Kimberly Graham has determined that a fatal shooting by a Pleasant Hill police officer on Aug. 12 was justified.

Officer Steven Burroughs and other officers responded to reports of a man firing an assault rifle into a house in the 400 block of Pleasant Circle. Burroughs spotted the man in a back yard, raising an AK-47 above his head. The officer ordered the man to drop the rifle and then fired a single shot from his shotgun.

Bradley Van Heeswyk, 25, was killed by the single shot.

“Given all the circumstances, it was reasonable for Officer Burroughs to conclude that his life, the lives of other officers on scene, and the lives of everyone in the area were in imminent danger at the time the deadly force was used,” Graham wrote in a letter to Pleasant Hill Police Chief Al Pizzano. “Officer Burroughs’ action was necessary to save the lives of the officers and others in the neighborhood.”

In making her decision, Graham and a group of prosecutors from her office reviewed all the evidence produced by the Department of Criminal Investigation, including officers’ body camera footage from the scene.

In addition to the letter, County Attorney Graham released the following statement:

Dear Community:

I’ve spoken with Bradley Van Heeswyk’s stepfather and have his mother and stepfather's permission to discuss the information about their son contained in this statement.  

We extend our heartfelt condolences to Bradley’s family for their loss.  No parent should have to experience the loss of a child, whether young or as an adult.  Bradley struggled with serious mental illness for some time.  In the last several years, when he was doing well, he was working toward becoming a union plumber.  His family tried to get him the help and support he needed.  (It’s very important to note that mental illness varies widely and most people with mental illness are not a danger to others.)

Mr. Van Heeswyk legally purchased his weapons. Mr. Van Heeswyk’s mother and stepfather stated they wished he had been prohibited from owning or purchasing assault weapons.

I have also spoken with the family whose home was damaged and violated. Our hearts are with them. I extend condolences for the loss of their two dogs.  They will live with the traumatic memories of what happened at their home, when home should be a safe place for us all.  

We also feel for Officer Burroughs as he moves forward, and for the other officers on scene that day.

This was a traumatic and horrific event that will take support, processing, and time for everyone involved to come to terms with.

Bradley’s stepfather told me to please talk about the need for a red flag law and mental health services in the hopes that it might help prevent other tragedies in the future. The chances of this tragedy being prevented would have increased if Iowa had a red flag law. Red flag laws are about family and friends’ ability to keep their loved ones safer when they are struggling with mental illness.

There is nothing partisan or political about saving lives.  This is about common sense and safety. We can’t prevent all firearms-related deaths, but we can prevent some.  One life saved is worth enacting a red flag law.

I support legal and responsible gun ownership.  What I don’t support is the lack of any way to try to keep firearms from folks that should not have them.  We must change this. Iowa can and should be a leader in enacting a red flag law.

I look forward to our continued efforts ­— together as Iowans — to do all we can to prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future.  Demand that your legislators fund more mental health treatment facilities and support services. Demand that your legislators work to enact a red flag law. Register to vote and then vote. Lives depend on it.

Kimberly Graham
Polk County Attorney