'12 steps' justice talks progressing: NAACP, Justice Alliance seeking mediation by DOJ

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Talks are progressing between local officials and advocates on Cedar Rapids law enforcement and judicial practices and are, officials say, likely to result in a formal agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Although no formal agreement was signed at a joint meeting Friday, “there was consensus across the group to enter into the mediation process,” said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, a member of the Iowa Justice Alliance.

For months, local officials — including area police chiefs, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett — have been meeting with representatives from the NAACP and the Iowa Justice Alliance to discuss law enforcement and judicial system policies.

The meetings were spurred by events following the officer-involved shooting of Jerime Mitchell, a black man, by a white Cedar Rapids police officer on Nov. 1, 2016. The incident, near Coe College, left Mitchell, who turns 39 this month, paralyzed. A grand jury exonerated the officer, but the process — which did not include an interview with Mitchell — left behind questions about how the case was handled by the county attorney and police.

Since then, officials have been in discussion with the NAACP and the Justice Alliance on whether to enter into mediation facilitated by the Community Relations Service, an agency within the Department of Justice.

At issue is “12 Steps for Addressing Justice in Cedar Rapids,” proposals that, for example, call for the appointment of independent investigators and prosecutors in officer-involved shootings.

A couple of those points — such as a meeting between the Mitchell family, Vander Sanden and Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman — are off the table, Walker said, but the majority of the 12 steps remain negotiable.

Advocates hope the mediation will lead to a memorandum of understanding, a formal agreement that, while not binding by law, would set out procedures and understandings.

While those at the Friday meeting are ready to enter mediation, Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said some attendees, including Corbett and Jerman, requested time to discuss the matter with their colleagues before signing an agreement.

“I can say we are moving forward on the process,” Gardner said.

A representative from the Department of Justice laid out ground rules at Friday’s meeting, which was closed to the media.

Walker said items that had proved to be a roadblock were clarified during the meeting at the local NAACP office.

The group’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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