116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Two police officers who wrongly arrested a Coralville man for being an impaired driver without any evidence and locking him up in jail for nearly three months didn’t lose their jobs or face any consequences that were made public.
Former Iowa City Officer Travis Graves resigned from the department on Oct. 15, 2018, and was hired four days later as a conservation officer with Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and former Coralville Officer Jeff Reinhard resigned and became an Iowa City officer in April 2019, according to both departments.
Both were hired for their new positions after the wrongful charge against Anthony Watson was dismissed April 9, 2018, but before a lawsuit by Watson was filed in September 2019.
The Iowa City and Coralville city councils approved a $390,000 payout to settle the lawsuit from Watson, which accused the cities and Graves and Reinhard of negligence resulting in personal injury, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution.
Typically, when civil settlements are reached before trial, the defendants don’t admit to any guilt or wrongdoing — it is rather a compromise of a disputed claim.
Police departments consider personnel matters to be confidential and exempt from public records requests, so neither department would answer questions about whether either officer faced any reprimands because of the incident. They also wouldn’t answer questions raised by social media video or news reports involving Graves and Reinhard alleging unreasonable use of force.
One incident involving Graves led to a policy change in July 2015.
Graves forced a 15-year-old Black male to the ground during an arrest at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center in Iowa City. Some viewed it as discrimination based on a video posted on social media, and it started an online petition calling for the “end of discrimination against Black youth.”
That incident led to the Iowa City Police Department modifying its arrest procedures and policies and to use more “de-escalation techniques” before using force.
Graves also was under investigation after being employed by the Iowa DNR for a 2019 arrest following a fight between two women, one Black and the other white, in Des Moines, according to news reports. A video posted on social media showed Graves, who was identified in court records as the officer who gave the Black woman two elbow blows to the head while she grabbed the other woman’s hair. In the video, Graves pepper-sprays the Black woman while the other woman is allowed to walk away. But both were booked into jail, according to news reports.
Graves and another conservation officer were placed on administrative leave during an investigation but cleared of any wrongdoing a few weeks later, according to the Des Moines Register.
A video was posted last month involving Reinhard during an arrest of an intoxicated woman, Daria Brown, 22, which still is under review Friday by the Iowa City department. The June 3 video posted on social media appeared to show Reinhard, one of three officers at the scene, punching a combative Brown as she is put into a police vehicle. However, Iowa City police released a video later that showed the arrest from other angles, including one that shows Brown trying to grab a Taser off an officer’s belt.
Cedar Rapids lawyer Pressley Henningsen, who was one of the lawyers for Jerime Mitchell, the Black motorist who was shot three times and paralyzed by a white former Cedar Rapids police officer during a traffic stop in 2016, said personnel matters and discipline being kept confidential is typical in Iowa because there are no police misconduct record laws in the state.
That fact isn’t unique to Iowa. A 2021 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting analysis of police misconduct record laws in all 50 states shows the majority have “mostly closed or restrictive” records, according to a report by the Associated Press. Only 15 states were found to have these records “mostly public.” Iowa’s records were deemed “mostly closed.”
The analysis found law enforcement personnel records in Iowa are closed but in cases where officers are fired, that information should be partially accessible to the public, according to Iowa Code 22.7.
Randy Evans, executive director of Iowa Freedom of Information Council in Des Moines, noted the law doesn’t just cover law enforcement personnel records but personnel records for all government employees.
“The documented reasons and rationale must be released when any government employee is fired or demoted or when he/she resigns in lieu of termination,” Evans told The Gazette. “The problem though is when an employee resigns but officials claim they were not going to fire the person.”
Henningsen agreed that’s a common problem — the agencies are policing themselves and there’s this “underlying code of silence.”
“But it’s difficult to get all the facts (in an internal investigation) because they don’t want to point fingers at each other,” Henningsen added. “Bottom line — there’s not a whole lot of accountability.”
The use of police body cameras has helped determine what happens in these cases and helped lead to large settlements when someone is shot by police. But in some cases, the cameras are shut off or not working. In the Mitchell shooting in Cedar Rapids, Officer Lucas Jones didn’t have audio of the encounter outside his squad car, so most of the exchange between him and Mitchell was not captured.
The city of Cedar Rapids’ insurance carrier agreed to settle the case last year a day before it went to trial, paying Jerime Mitchell and his wife, Bracken Mitchell, $8 million — without acknowledging fault or liability. Jones was later fired from the department after an investigation into a different incident.
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