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$8 million settlement reached in Jerime Mitchell suit against city of Cedar Rapids
CEDAR RAPIDS — A day before a lawsuit asserting a white police officer recklessly shot and paralyzed a Black motorist in 2016 was to go to trial, an insurance carrier for the city of Cedar Rapids agreed Monday to pay motorist Jerime Mitchell and his wife $8 million.
The city maintained it was prepared to go to trial and defend the actions of the officer involved in the shooting, Lucas Jones, even though the police department since has fired him. But insurance carrier States Insurance agreed to the deal, without acknowledging fault or liability on the part of the defendants. The settlement is subject to approval by the City Council, which is set to next meet on April 27.
“This case has been divisive to our community and it is our hope that we can continue to enhance relationships that build trust between our community and our Police Department,” the city said in a statement. “We all share the desire for a safe community.”
The settlement was announced the same day a Minneapolis jury began deliberating the fate of Derek Chauvin, the former the Minnesota police officer accused of murdering 46-year-old George Floyd by kneeling on his neck. In the wake of Floyd’s killing, Mitchell and his family appeared last summer at a Black Lives Matter protest in Cedar Rapids to demand police reforms.
Mitchell’s attorneys said they believe the $8 million deal with Cedar Rapids is a “record settlement for a police-involved shooting case in Iowa.” In comparison, a federal lawsuit brought by the estate of Autumn Steele, who accidentally was shot and killed by a Burlington police officer in 2015, was settled for $2 million.
Mitchell was shot in the early morning of Nov. 1, 2016, near Coe College. Authorities said Jones stopped Mitchell after spotting a light out on his pickup truck's license plate.
The two struggled and Mitchell, according to police, drove away with Jones caught on the door. Jones shot Mitchell three times to make him stop, and Mitchell soon crashed.
Police later said Mitchell was in possession of marijuana, a scale and cash, but no charges were filed. Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden brought the shooting to a grand jury, which cleared Jones of any wrongdoing.
In a statement Monday, Mitchell accused Vander Sanden of protecting Jones and brushing the truth under the rug. He called for Vander Sanden’s ouster in the next election.
“County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden protected Lucas Jones by presenting the case to the grand jury without my testimony,” Mitchell said. “I was in the hospital and he closed the case and found the shooting justified. He failed to investigate what really happened and failed to uncover Lucas Jones’ lies. Vander Sanden needs to be terminated by the voters. He needs to go! He is not who our county needs as County Attorney.”
In an email to The Gazette, Vander Sanden disputed Mitchell’s claims, stating the incident was investigated by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and, as part of the process, “they made a multitude of efforts to interview Jerime Mitchell and were turned away every time.”
“The DCI investigators continued efforts to interview Jerime Mitchell even after the grand jury had met and Mitchell refused to talk to them,” the county attorney said.
On the other hand, Vander Sanden said, Jones “consented to be interviewed by DCI investigators and readily agreed to testify before the grand jury.”
Video of the incident from Jones’ police vehicle dashboard camera also was presented to the panel.
“It was a fair and impartial grand jury who reviewed the evidence and found the officer’s use of force was reasonable,” Vander Sanden told The Gazette.
“What happened to Jerime Mitchell is truly tragic,” the county attorney concluded. “There isn’t anyone who doesn’t feel sympathy for his current situation and I wish him well.”
Mitchell, 42, and his wife, Bracken Mitchell, filed the suit in 2017. In it, they alleged among other things that Jones had stopped Mitchell only on a “pretext” and that it was Jones who was the aggressor — at one point, the suit alleged, instructing his police dog to attack Mitchell.
Last summer, Jones was fired after the police department said an internal investigation revealed he had violated policy during a traffic stop on Oct. 30, 2016 — just two days before the incident with Mitchell — and then lied about it.
In the October traffic stop in question, Jones had pulled over a woman in a sport utility vehicle. A check of her record showed she had a suspended license. But instead of arresting her and impounding the SUV as required, Jones let her go, the department said.
Jones testified in September during a two-day hearing before the city’s Civil Service Commission to appeal his termination that the woman had no outstanding arrest warrants or significant criminal history, and he didn’t see her as a threat to the community.
The traffic stop, however, was further called into question when Jones' body-worn microphone cut out, making it impossible to hear what transpired during part of the stop.
Similarly, Jones' body-worn microphone also cut out during the traffic stop with Mitchell — calling into question whether it malfunctioned or was deliberately turned off. Because there was no body microphone audio of the traffic stop, only bits and pieces of the confrontation between Jones and Mitchell were captured on the dashcam recording presented to the grand jury.
According to the police department, Jones initially denied knowing why his microphone failed in that Oct. 30, 2016, stop. But in January 2020 — more than three years later — he testified in a deposition in the Mitchell case that he had knowingly turned it off — triggering the police department’s internal investigation and later the termination.
Jones appealed his firing to the city’s Public Service Commission last fall, which ruled in December to uphold the termination. Jones has since filed an appeal over the firing in Linn County District Court but a judge has not ruled.
One of Mitchell’s attorneys, Larry Rogers Jr., said in a statement Monday that the most significant result of the litigation was the firing of Jones from the force.
“With Lucas Jones’ termination, the citizens of Cedar Rapids are safer and an overly aggressive officer … should never again wear a badge,” Rogers added.
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