116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge has upheld the firing of former Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Lucas Jones, saying the termination was supported by evidence of dishonesty and violation of departmental policies.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns, in an Oct. 5 ruling, said Police Chief Wayne Jerman’s finding — that Jones was dishonest about an Oct. 30, 2016, traffic stop and that he had violated two departmental policies — is supported by substantial evidence and Iowa law.
The firing was later affirmed by the city’s Civil Service Commission after Jones appealed his termination.
According to Iowa law, police officers can be discharged for acts that violate “standard operating procedures” or that are “sufficient to show that the employee is unsuitable or unfit for employment,” Bruns said in the ruling.
Jones’ dishonesty violated the department’s code of conduct, and termination was within the range of punishments for such acts, he added.
Jones appealed the commissions’ decision based on several issues, but the judge found that only the issues regarding his termination for dishonesty should be considered because that alone justified his firing without the other policy violations.
Skylar Limkemann, Jones’ attorney, didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Wednesday.
Jones’ dishonesty was discovered during an internal investigation into the shooting of a Black motorist, Jerime Mitchell, 42. Jones shot Mitchell during a Nov. 1, 2016, traffic stop near Coe College after stopping Mitchell for having 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. Mitchell, who was paralyzed, settled a lawsuit against the city for $8 million in April.
During the investigation of the Mitchell shooting, a question came up about why Jones’ microphone didn’t record the encounter with Mitchell, the ruling stated.
Lt. Craig Furnish then looked back to see if there were other incidents where Jones’ microphone wasn’t working, and he discovered a similar incident Oct. 30, 2016 — two days before the Mitchell shooting.
Furnish, during an interview with Jones April 17, 2017, played a video of the Oct. 30, 2016, traffic stop several times for Jones. In the video, Jones can be seen making a phone call, and then he reaches into his pants pocket and the audio is almost simultaneously cut out.
Jones said he pulled over a woman for not having license plates on her vehicle and found out her father, the owner of the vehicle, is a tow-truck driver who worked regularly with the department. His daughter had a suspended license for a non-payment of a fine.
After Jones talked with her father, he made the decision to let the father come get the car instead of issuing a citation and impounding the vehicle.
During questioning about why Jones’ audio was turned off, he said he didn’t know or couldn’t recall why the microphone was off, the ruling states.
After the shooting and the April 2017 interview, Jones was approved to be a field training officer May 29, 2018, and then applied for promotion to sergeant, which he received Jan. 16, 2019, Bruns noted.
Furnish became concerned when Jones on Jan. 16, 2020, gave conflicting testimony about the Oct. 30 traffic stop during a deposition in the lawsuit filed by Mitchell and his wife, Bracken, according to the ruling.
Jones testified he intentionally turned off his microphone with the tow driver’s daughter to conceal he was violating policy by not arresting her and impounding the vehicle.
After comparing the interview with the deposition transcript, Furnish submitted a memo to the chief, and the chief gave the memo to professional standards to initiate an internal affairs investigation.
During an internal affairs interview with Lt. Ryan Abodeely, Jones again claimed he didn’t know or couldn’t recall why the microphone turned off. Abodeely was concerned Jones’ answer differed from his deposition in the lawsuit.
Abodeely said Jones was “evasive, meandering and nonresponsive” when he asked Jones why he gave different answers in the deposition.
Jones blamed it on trying to be “consistent and not contradictory” with what he had told Furnish; having been “berated” by Mitchell’s attorney for nine hours; not reviewing his interview transcript with Furnish before deposition; and Mitchell’s attorney “getting under his skin,” according to the ruling.
Jones also told Abodeely he didn’t lie to Furnish or during the deposition, but instead, misspoke and should have expanded his answers.
The internal investigation was independently reviewed by the disciplinary board, which recommended Jones be terminated.
The ultimate decision was up to Jerman, who after reviewing all the information and having a pre-disciplinary administrative hearing with Jones, determined on June 18, 2020, that Jones violated two policies — in-car audio/visual equipment directive and traffic enforcement and citations directive and the code of conduct when he admitted to continuously violating policy. Both violations warranted reprimand and a suspension.
Jerman also found Jones violated the code of conduct when he testified he “continuously violated policies,” which warranted a 40-hour suspension, and for untruthfulness, which is grounds for termination, according to the ruling.
The Civil Service Commission affirmed Jerman’s decision after a two-day hearing Sept. 22-23 and issued a written decision Dec. 4, 2020.
In his ruling, Bruns said Jones was terminated for his dishonesty because he made inconsistent statements about the Oct. 30, 2016, traffic stop.
“Either Jones was dishonest when he was interviewed in the internal investigations or he provided false answers under oath in his deposition,” Bruns said in the ruling.
“Even if the court were not required to give deference to the credibility findings of the commission, the court would find that Jones was dishonest and his attempts to explain his inconsistent statements were not credible,” Bruns stated.
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