Linn County Attorney, supervisor at odds over implicit bias training

Vander Sanden, Walker exchange words at Board of Supervisors meeting

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A conflict has arisen between two Linn County elected officials over the status of proposed funding from the Linn County Board of Supervisors for implicit bias training.

The disagreement between Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden and Supervisor Stacey Walker reached a head this week after Walker, at the Oct. 4 Board of Supervisors meeting, proposed a budget allocation of $6,000 for the County Attorney’s Office staff to undergo implicit bias training.

Implicit bias is the attitude or stereotype that affects understanding, actions or decisions of an individual in an unconscious manner, particularly regarding other people based on race or ethnicity, according to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University.

The $6,000 would come from the county’s consulting budget to fund expenses for Evelyn Carter, a California-based social psychologist with expertise in identifying implicit bias in law enforcement agencies, to host two half-day sessions, Walker said.

Carter is the granddaughter of the late Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris, prominent Cedar Rapids activists.

The motion was tabled after an email exchange initiated by Vander Sanden the evening of Oct. 3, the day before the motion was to be discussed. According to emails obtained by The Gazette, Vander Sanden informed the Board of Supervisors he instead planned to attend the Iowa County Attorney’s Association’s fall conference in November, which would include two presentations on implicit bias.

These presentations would be given by an assistant district attorney from Mecklenburg County in North Carolina and a professor of law at Rutgers Law School, according to the conference agenda.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Vander Sanden further said he felt he was not kept in the loop regarding Walker’s efforts.

“I was disappointed that Supervisor Walker took it upon himself to place implicit bias training on the Board’s agenda last week for discussion and a decision without having any communication with me whatsoever about it,” Vander Sanden told The Gazette following Tuesday’s meeting.

Walker said he feels Vander Sanden had been informed through a series of meetings they both have been attending with the Iowa Justice Alliance, which Walker represents. The meetings between the Iowa Justice Alliance, the NAACP, local law enforcement and city officials were created to discuss advocates’ demands following the shooting of Jerime Mitchell, a black man, by a Cedar Rapids police officer in November 2016.

Since July, attendees have been discussing issues surrounding the police-involved shooting, including racial profiling and implicit bias.

“Out of these meetings, there have been strong recommendations that many law enforcement agencies in Linn County receive implicit bias training,” Walker said. “At the conclusion of one of these meetings, it was suggested that everyone in (Vander Sanden’s) office receive implicit bias training.”

Walker said the county attorney had indicated during these meetings he would be open to this training if “the county would provide the resources.”

Not only that, Walker said Vander Sanden “prejudged” the expert he obtained — Walker found Carter through recommendations from Cedar Rapids residents — when Vander Sanden informed the Board of Supervisors of his decision to attended the upcoming fall conference.

Vander Sanden said a main concern of his is funding an event that his staff may not be able to attend, given their busy schedules and large caseloads of his assistants.

“It’s difficult for my staff to attend training on fixed dates,” he said. “We’re timed to the court’s schedule.”

Walker countered that other local officials also are busy, but still make an effort for these programs.

“I imagine the (Cedar Rapids) Chief of Police (Wayne Jerman) is pretty busy, too, but in addition to the implicit bias training, he has gone above and beyond the call of duty and has paid for a training for his police leadership and other leaders in the community,” Walker said.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department is sponsoring implicit bias training Nov. 15 and 16 led by former Madison, Wis., Police Chief Noble Wray.

The conflict between Walker and Vander Sanden is a piece of an underlying issue that arose after Mitchell was shot by officer Lucas Jones during a traffic stop. Vander Sanden convened a grand jury to investigate and the grand jury found Jones did not break the law when he shot Mitchell. Mitchell survived and he and his wife are suing Jones and the city. The incident led to the formation of the Iowa Justice Alliance.

“The origin of these meetings is because many folks in the community believe that your office has mishandled some rather high profile cases in the community, mainly a case involving an unarmed black man being shot three times by a police officer,” Walker said to Vander Sanden during Tuesday’s meeting.

The Board of Supervisors can’t mandate any sort of training for the County Attorney’s Office. However, Vander Sanden said he is “agreeable” if the Board of Supervisors feels additional training is necessary.

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

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