116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - Johnson County and Coralville have reached a $285,000 settlement with a Kalona lawyer who asserts his rights were violated when he was wrongfully arrested and prosecuted nearly three years ago.
Lawyer Raymond Tinnian filed a lawsuit in August 2016 against Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, another attorney in her office and two Coralville police officers, asserting he was wrongfully arrested for tampering with a juror and harassment when evidence existed that pointed to his innocence.
'It is my general impression that the prosecutors now realize they got played by the criminals,” Tinnian said in a statement. 'I believe the detectives remain delusional. It is unfortunate that police and prosecutors blew their chance to capture the actual criminals three years ago. They will not apologize to me, but I hope they at least say they're sorry to the other victims.”
Coralville City Attorney Kevin Olson said the city has insurance to cover its part of the settlement, and will pay only $3,000 - its deductible - from city coffers. Lyness did not return a message Monday afternoon seeking comment.
The settlement is the latest step in a long and winding 14-year saga Tinnian laid out in his lawsuit. The story he unfolded in the court documents includes ethics violations, slashed tires, an attack on his reputation and two arrests, including the one that prompted his lawsuit.
According to his 28-page lawsuit:
In May 2003, Tinnian began working with Dennis Bjorklund at the Bjorklund Law Firm. Tinnian said that during his time there, he learned Bjorklund and a substance abuse evaluation counselor, Thomas Harbit, set up a bogus substance abuse evaluation program that overcharged clients and provided them with 'favorable and fraudulent” evaluations.
Tinnian left the Bjorklund Law Firm in January 2004 and reported the violations to the Iowa Board of Substance Abuse Certification and Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board. Harbit's license was revoked in 2005 and Bjorklund was disbarred in 2006 and indicted in 2010 on 11 counts of mail fraud and three counts of making and making a false tax return in another scheme.
Bjorklund went on the lam and landed on the FBI's 'Most Wanted” list. He finally was captured in Colorado in April 2015. Bjorklund entered into a plea agreement in that case in March 2017.
In his lawsuit, Tinnian asserts that after reporting the violations, he was the subject of ongoing harassment at the hands of Bjorklund and Harbit.
Tinnian's tires were slashed and his car was spray-painted with obscenities. The men filed 10 'frivolous lawsuits” against him, claiming sexual misconduct, sexual abuse and pedophilia, among other things.
The lawsuits all were dismissed but the following day, 'hundreds of mailings” were sent to Kalona residents claiming that Tinnian was facing 20 ethics complaints and other allegations. Tinnian said in the lawsuit he believes Harbit or Bjorklund or both were behind the mailings.
Harbit also filed an additional 16 ethics complaints against Tinnian, all which were dismissed. Tinnian said the men also 'sought out and created” lawyer rating websites 'specifically to destroy (his) reputation.” Tinnian said in the lawsuit the men impersonated his friends, family and clients and claimed Tinnian engaged in immoral activities.
In early 2014, Tinnian was accused of disorderly conduct by the Coralville Police Department following a fight. A jury found him guilty in March 2014. Following his conviction, the victim in the case had his tires slashed and received a threatening note.
Six jurors in the case also had their tires slashed and received letters - claiming to be from Tinnian - asking them to overturn their verdict. One of the jurors contacted the Johnson County District Court, and the court administrator filed a formal complaint alleging Tinnian had contacted the juror.
On June 25, 2014, that juror discovered someone had spray-painted the words 'JUSTICE” and 'GUILTY” on her garage and left a threatening, typed note. In August, the victim in the disorderly conduct case and another witness both had their tires slashed and homes vandalized.
One of the vandalism victims went to Tinnian's home and accused him of the acts, prompting Tinnian to go to Coralville police with a 'nearly two inch thick” stack of documents that detailed Bjorklund and Harbit's alleged acts toward him, which mirrored what was happening to those affiliated with his disorderly conduct case.
Nonetheless, Tinnian was arrested on charges of witness tampering and harassment on Aug. 22, 2014. He initially was held for 16 days on a cash-only bail before it was reduced to $10,000.
Tinnian asserted that two Coralville police officers and members of the Johnson County Attorney's Office did not tell a judge who issued warrants in the case of evidence, taken from cellphone tower transmissions, that showed he was not in the vicinity of a vandalism victim when those acts occurred.
They also did not provide the judge with the documents Tinnian had given them that implicated Harbit and Bjorklund.
On Dec. 1, 2014, the FBI contacted Coralville police and told them Harbit potentially could be a suspect in the case. On Dec. 9, 2014, police searched Harbit's residence, though that information was kept from Tinnian and his defense attorney until just before his April 2015 jury trial.
In February 2015, Harbit entered a pleading in the case in which he asserted Tinnian and others were trying to frame him. Tinnian was ultimately acquitted of the jury tampering charges.
In August 2015, an Iowa District Court judge in a ruling on the warrants issued for Tinnian's home said the state relied on indirect evidence in pursuing its case against Tinnian.
'It appears that the state was so convinced that Tinnian had, in fact, committed these acts that they bypassed investigating whether they had actual evidence against Tinnian until after they had obtained the search warrant and filed charges,” the ruling stated. 'Their belief in Tinnian's guilt was so strong that they took indirect, general, second hand statements and morphed that into a hard fact which they presented to a judge.
'The state's belief in their theory that Tinnian committed these crimes led them to be reckless and present as a fact that which was merely an assumption and a wrong one at that,” the ruling stated.
While Tinnian's lawsuit alleges acts of harassment and vandalism against Harbit and Bjorklund, it does not appear either man has been arrested in connection with the accusations.
Tinnian said in an interview that it bothers him those who accused him of the crime won't formally apologize for his actions. And Tinnian said stories of his arrest and the false accusations are still visible online.
'I don't know how to get my mug shot off the internet,” he said. 'I don't see how I'm ever going to be made whole.”
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