False arrest demands outside review

A view of downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, showing Veteran's Memorial Hall, the Linn County Courthouse and the Linn County Jail in an aerial photograph on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A view of downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, showing Veteran's Memorial Hall, the Linn County Courthouse and the Linn County Jail in an aerial photograph on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A mistake so costly demands a much better explanation.

Linn County officials agreed to a $285,000 settlement in a wrongful arrest lawsuit. An Arizona man was stuck in police custody for nearly two months after local authorities charged him with a robbery which took place years after he moved away from Iowa.

That embarrassing and expensive mistake stemmed from a January 2017 home invasion in Cedar Rapids. Investigators relied in part on Facebook research conducted by police and the victim, who incorrectly identified Joseph McBride as one of the intruders.

“As soon as the defense attorney provided an alibi and we asked police to follow up and we confirmed he was incorrectly identified as the robber, we dismissed the charges. It’s regretful that Mr. McBride spent that time in jail but this wasn’t done out of malice. This was the information that the victim provided,” County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden told The Gazette last week.

Malicious or not, Linn County taxpayers deserve a much more thorough explanation of why we’re on the hook for the local government’s missteps. The situation calls for an outside, independent review.

County attorneys are elected officials who ultimately answer only to the voters.

Iowans don’t have many options when our politicians make mistakes. Short of a criminal offense, other legal officers, such as the state attorney general, have no authority to get involved.

If the county attorney and his staff are confident they acted appropriately, they could ask a neighboring county attorney to take a closer look at the facts and report their findings. Or another Linn County office, such as the auditor or supervisors, could ask the state ombudsman to investigate.

Sadly, this is not the first time Linn County authorities have attracted controversy in cases involving black men. Advocates criticized the response to the 2016 shooting of Jerime Mitchell by a Cedar Rapids police officer.

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Most elected officials have to defend their records, but Vander Sanden never has faced a competitive election, appointed to the job in 2010, and winning uncontested Democratic primaries and general elections in 2010 and 2014.

Voters instill enormous trust in our county’s chief law enforcement officer. When that trust is threatened, we expect a thorough examination.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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