Black Hawk County Metro

Waterloo facing five excessive police force lawsuits

Multiple claims at the same time ununsual, experts say

WATERLOO — Waterloo is the target of five ongoing federal lawsuits asserting its police have used excessive force and violated civil rights, including one by a teenager who said he was “body slammed” when he couldn't tell officers who stabbed a friend of his, and another by a man who says he was shocked with a Taser after refusing to give his last name.

These two suits join three others involving people being shot outside a nightclub and a 13-year-old girl accusing an officer of pushing her to the ground after she yelled at him to slow down in his car as he passed her walking on the street last year.

At the same time, Dubuque currently faces two federal lawsuits asserting excessive force, both from women saying they suffered serious injuries even though they did not resist arrest.

Legal experts contacted by The Gazette said that while police misconduct lawsuits appear to be on the rise nationwide as technology allowing encounters to be recorded is spreading, it’s uncommon for one department to face multiple civil rights suits at the same time.

The allegations raise questions, they said, about excessive force policies and how they are followed, as well as how closely departments are tracking the officers who are most frequently the subject of complaints.

“Many folks in the African-American community would suggest the incidents have always been occurring. But now there is a better record to show the conduct,” said one of the experts contacted, Des Moines lawyer Guy Cook, who has handled several such cases. “Multi claims involving the same officers raises a troubling red flag.”

Waterloo Police Chief Daniel Trelka and spokesman Capt. Dave Mohlis didn’t return email or phone messages for comment.

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Court records attached to the two most recent federal cases against Waterloo say that internal investigations determined no rules or regulations were violated.

Waterloo lawyer Thomas Frerichs, who represents Malcolm Anderson, 17, and Justin Jones in the most recent suits as well as plaintiffs in the other pending cases, also declined to comment.

In his suit, Anderson asserts he was slammed face first onto the concrete outside a hospital. The incident was captured on video by a photographer who happened to be outside the hospital, according to the suit.

Anderson said he took a friend to the hospital after the friend was stabbed June 1, 2014. Police wanted to know who stabbed him, but Anderson said he didn’t know and refused to go with them to the police station until his mother arrived.

Officer Mark Nissen then said he would arrest the minor for possessing cigarettes and took him outside, throwing him on the concrete, the suit says. Anderson was charged with interference with official acts, but acquitted in a bench trial.

Officer Nissen also was named in a suit as the officer who shocked Justin Jones with a Taser. Jones had helped police clear a parking lot next to his house, but declined to give his full name when asked. He was then shocked, the suit said.

A charge against Jones of harassment of a public official was later dismissed.

The Dubuque suits were filed by Cedar Rapids lawyer David O’Brien, who said they allege constitutional violations. The two women involved in those cases assert they suffered injuries that resulted in facial scarring. Both have photos of the injuries attached to the lawsuits.

“We mostly have good police officers in Iowa, as opposed to other places,” O’Brien said in an interview. “But when they’re not doing their job or exceeding the law, we should hold them accountable.”

Dubuque Lt. Scott Baxter said his department couldn’t comment on pending suits.

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In one of the cases, Potter asserts she was arrested while trying to persuade officers to search a sex offender’s home after her 16-year-old daughter went missing in 2013.

Police searched the home of Carl Schlie Sr. but didn’t find the girl. When Potter kept insisting, Officer Jay Murray grabbed her and threw her into a pickup with “such force that the cab shook,” the suit says.

A neighbor told him that Schlie had a storage closet in the hall near his apartment, but Murray said it couldn’t be searched, the suit alleges.

The neighbor, not giving up her suspicion, called Potter and the landlord shortly thereafter. The closet was then searched by police and the girl was found inside.

Schiele was charged with harboring two runway girls in the closet, the Dubuque Telegraph reported.

Potter was arrested, too, on a burglary charge. But the case was dismissed.

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