Government

Cedar Rapids woman gets $100K from state, said trooper used choke hold on son

State denies allegations but agrees to settlement: 'You never know what a jury's going to do'

DES MOINES — A state panel Tuesday approved a $100,000 settlement with a Cedar Rapids woman to resolve allegations that a state trooper used a chokehold to forcibly restrained her juvenile son during a “chaotic” arrest situation at a west-side residence in May 2018 — a contention the state disputes.

Members of the State Appeal Board agreed to pay $51,000 to Shashona Wright as conservator of her minor son, Lamonte O’Neal; $15,000 to her personally; and $34,000 in attorney fees to resolve a dispute about law officers storming her residence to arrest a fleeing suspect who had outstanding arrest warrants, according to Assistant Iowa Attorney General Jeffrey Peterzalek.

“We thought this was a fair and proper settlement for all involved,” he told State Appeal Board members Tuesday.

According to Peterzalek, three state troopers assisted Cedar Rapids police on May 25, 2018, when they reported the “urgent” pursuit of an individual with several outstanding warrants. The person, who was not identified, eventually left his car and fled into a home where a number of others lived and where, Peterzalek thought, the suspect also lived.

Wright, who was represented by attorney Alfredo Parrish, had threatened to bring a federal lawsuit alleging her African-American son’s constitutional rights were violated when Capt. Randy Jones of the Iowa State Patrol used excessive force around the neck area to restrain her son before he was taken into custody, Peterzalek told reporters after the board meeting.

“The dispute was whether it was a hold that involved the neck or not the neck,” Peterzalek said.

“We would absolutely deny that there was any sort of a chokehold involved,” he said. “Our position was that there were no serious injuries that came out of this incident and fortunately I think the facts back that up. But there is a claim for personal injury that would be related to the use of the force involved, but I’m not aware of there being any hospitalizations or medical treatment or anything like that.”

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Peterzalek said the state agreed to a settlement “several times” less than the amount initially requested because “you never know what a jury’s going to do” when a dispute goes to trial.

“We believe we had solid defenses. Obviously, if we thought there was a 100 percent chance of prevailing, we would not have settled the case,” he said. “And certainly if the people involved on the plaintiff side thought there was a 100 percent chance of winning, they wouldn’t have taken the amount that we offered to settle the case. That’s how settlements and negotiations work.”

Peterzalek said officers entering Wright’s home “encountered a number of other individuals in the home. It was a pretty chaotic scene.”

He said no weapons were involved, and there may have been video recorded by city law enforcement camera equipment but he had not seen it nor were the troopers involved equipped with body cameras.

Jones has since retired from the patrol, and no disciplinary action was taken against the other two troopers assisting police, the AG spokesman said.

“When law enforcement officers are involved in a chaotic scene like that they have to act quickly, they have to get the scene under control quickly to protect not only themselves but the other people in the residence,” he said. “They don’t know who else is in there, they don’t know if there are people who are armed or if there are weapons involved. They did that. They got the scene secured quickly and, as sometimes happens in the aftermath of that, there’s litigation.”

• Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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