IOWA CITY (AP) — A bright but troubled University of Iowa graduate student opened fire on police responding to a domestic disturbance at a trailer park, injuring three officers before he was killed by gunfire, a sheriff said Monday.
Taleb Hussein Yousef Salameh, 28, was killed Sunday evening after North Liberty police officers responded to a 911 call at a mobile home at about 6 p.m., Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said. Officers made contact with Salameh and a female victim, and “gunshots were exchanged between officers and Salameh,” who was killed at the scene, he said.
Three North Liberty police officers were struck by Salameh’s gunfire and transported to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for care. All three were treated and released. The female victim was not harmed in the shootout, and nobody else was home at the time.
The sheriff said the shooting remained under investigation and an autopsy on Salameh would be conducted by a deputy state medical examiner at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
University officials said Salameh was a graduate research assistant in mechanical engineering. Doctoral student Mohsen Ghamari, a classmate who shared an office with Salameh, said he was stunned by the death, calling him a smart and hard-working student who was about to begin a career in the field.
The shooting happened days after a judge lifted an order that Salameh have no contact with a woman who lived at the mobile home, court records show. The woman had sought the order Feb. 11 after she claimed Salameh had domestically abused her, but it was rescinded after she failed to show up for a court hearing March 1. Under the order, the woman had temporary possession of the home and custody of their daughter, who is expected to turn one next week.
A box was checked on the order warning police to have caution because Salameh owned firearms.
The university released records Monday showing that a top administrator warned the sheriff in 2010 that he had concerns about whether Salameh should be allowed to own a gun. Salameh had applied for a handgun permit at the sheriff’s office, which then had leeway under Iowa law to conduct background checks on applicants.
After learning of Salemeh’s application, university officials met with Salameh to discuss the matter and insisted he sign a waiver allowing them to speak with his psychologist and psychiatrist, according to a Feb. 26 letter from Associate Vice President for Student Services David Grady. He asked Pulkrabek to delay a decision until the university could “conduct a full review of this situation.”
In a follow-up letter three weeks later, Grady told Pulkrabek that he had “serious reservations” about Salameh’s application, noting he had been convicted of numerous alcohol-related offenses and was involved in an assault on a student that took place out-of-state in 2009. He said Salameh was scheduled to graduate in December 2010, and asked that his application not be considered “until 2011 at the earliest.” Pulkrabek didn’t return a message on how his office ultimately handled the application.
Ghamari said that Salameh took longer to graduate than expected, but was close to finishing his master’s degree after four years in the program, where he performed experiments on combustion under the supervision of professor Albert Ratner. He said Salameh was supposed to defend his thesis and graduate this spring and then take a good-paying job in the private sector.
“He was very busy these days. I see some homework on his desk. He was supposed to grade them,” he said. “He was very good at doing his job as a teaching assistant. He was always on time.”
Ghamari said that Salemeh had been working as a teaching assistant to support his family, which included a longtime girlfriend and a 1-year-old daughter that he adored. He said he saw the three at a party last summer, and they appeared to be a happy family.
Salameh did have some problems, Ghamari said, including serving a short jail term for what he called “a bar fight” and quitting school for a semester after getting depression. But he said those problems did not seem major for Salameh, who he described as very smart and friendly.
“As far as I know, he was a fine guy,” he said. “I’m shocked.”
The three officers have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard under the department’s policy, Pulkrabek said.
North Liberty is a fast-growing city of about 13,000 just north of Iowa City, and many university employees live there. The shooting happened at the Holiday Mobile Home Court, where residents were ordered to evacuate for several hours while officers from several agencies responded to the shooting.
Salameh had long lived in the Iowa City area, and he earned an undergraduate degree from Iowa in mechanical engineering in 2005, with a minor in German. Salameh identified as Jordanian-American because his mother was American and his father was from Jordan, Ghamari said.