Advocates, officials to begin talks on racial justice agreement spurred on by Jerime Mitchell shooting
Officials, law enforcement hesitant to commit
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The shooting of a black man by a white police officer last winter in Cedar Rapids prompted anger, tension and — eventually — discussion among local officials and community members.
Out of these conversations, the Iowa Justice Alliance and the NAACP have extended a hand to local leaders to begin the process of developing a memorandum of understanding.
However, the fate of that memorandum is up in the air.
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, a representative for the Iowa Justice Alliance, said the memorandum is intended “to capture the spirit” of recent efforts among advocates and local officials the past several weeks.
It can “make official and make available for public presentation all of the work that these leaders have been doing,” Walker said. “It can serve as a document to hold everyone accountable because we can outline any promises made or any promises of reform within the different law enforcement agencies within government.”
The discussions came about after tensions arose following the Nov. 1, 2016, traffic-stop shooting of Jerime Mitchell by Cedar Rapids police officer Lucas Jones, which intensified the relations between law enforcement and communities of color in Cedar Rapids.
Jones was cleared of all charges in the traffic-stop shooting by a grand jury called by Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden. Jones since has returned to active duty.
Following the grand jury decision, the Justice Alliance and the NAACP this past February released a document titled “12 Steps for Addressing Justice in Cedar Rapids.” The steps include, among other items, diversity training for police officers and special prosecutors for officer-involved shooting cases.
Another one of the 12 steps calls for law enforcement and city officials to work with representatives from the Department of Justice “to develop and implement a memorandum of understanding around community policing strategies.”
A memorandum of understanding is a formal agreement between two or more parties and is not binding by law as are other documents, such as a consent decree.
About a dozen people — from the Justice Alliance, the NAACP, city officials, Linn County law enforcement leaders and Cedar Rapids residents — have been meeting every other week since July to discuss the 12 Steps.
Mayor Ron Corbett, who has been a participant in these meetings, said the city of Cedar Rapids often signs memorandums as it relates to development agreements, such as for the redevelopment of the Westdale Mall. The city also has memorandums that provide funding or with groups such as GO Cedar Rapids.
“Basically it lays out both parties come to the table in exchange for resources,” Corbett said. “This is a little different than the traditional MOUs that the city has worked on.”
As of the Oct. 11 meeting, the group has enlisted the help of an official from the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, an agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that serves as a “peacemaker” for community conflicts regarding race, color and origin, according to its website.
The Oct. 11 meeting was closed to the news media.
The Gazette obtained a document outlining a mediation process that was given to the Oct. 11 meeting attendees. It states that the process is not a legal action, but assists the development of “mutually acceptable solutions that benefit all parties.” It’s from this mediation process that a memorandum will be determined.
The Community Relations Service official, who remains anonymous due to federal regulation, will be present at upcoming meetings to serve as mediator. These meetings will be closed to the public and the media, according to the document.
Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP and who has attended the bi-weekly meetings, said she hoped the memorandum would be inclusive of these demands while leaving room for other issues the group deems necessary to fold in.
However, some city and law enforcement officials who’ve attended the meetings are on the fence whether to sign the memorandum.
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden and Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale both said they would not commit to the memorandum until its exact contents were determined.
While Vander Sanden said he has made a commitment to continue attending these meetings, he is in “a wait-and-see mode” on the memorandum itself.
McHale, who was unable to attend the Oct. 11 meeting, said he had a phone conversation with the Justice Department official who led the session. He recalled the official couldn’t give him a clear answer on what issues the group would be working through in the mediation process — which gives the police chief pause.
“Before I enter into any mediation on the behalf of the citizens of Marion, I need to know clearly what they expect us to mediate,” McHale said.
If the mediation would center on the 12 Steps — specific items on which McHale could act — he said he is willing to enter into the discussions.
“Those are things we’ve already talked about” throughout these meetings, McHale said. “So if they want to formally enter into an MOU about putting my policies online and things like that, you know what, I’m all in because I’m going to do it anyway.”
Chief Wayne Jerman of the Cedar Rapids Police Department declined to comment on the memorandum for this article. In March, Mitchell and his wife, Bracken, filed a lawsuit against Officer Jones and the city of Cedar Rapids for negligence, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium.
“We approached (these meetings) that the Mitchell case was the catalyst for immediate situations,” the NAACP’s Andrews said. “We do want justice for Jerime (Mitchell). And justice for Jerime means we put together some reform effort that allows justice not only for Jerime, but for other people of color.”
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