Public Safety

Appeal of Lucas Jones' firing will be entirely online, Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission decides

Former police officer wants in-person hearing, his lawyer said

CEDAR RAPIDS — The city Civil Service Commission will hold the appeal hearing for fired Cedar Rapids police Officer Lucas Jones entirely online in August despite objections from his attorney, who argued the move threatens Jones’ right to due process.

Skylar Limkemann, the Cedar Rapids attorney representing Jones, told commissioners Friday — before they voted to hold the Aug. 18-19 hearing entirely online — that reasonable accommodations could be made to keep commissioners and other participants safe during in-person proceedings,

Jones — the white police officer who shot and paralyzed Jerime Mitchell, a Black Cedar Rapids resident, during a traffic stop in 2016 — is appealing his firing in June, saying the process violated his right to due process.

Limkemann told the three commissioners Jones has a “strong preference” for an in-person hearing.

“Obviously, there are implications, not only for his job, but he has a liberty interest and a property interest in his livelihood,” Limkemann said.

If the commission upholds Jones’ firing, he said, the Cedar Rapids Police Department could recommend the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy permanently decertify Jones as a law enforcement officer.

“The proceedings in this case have a large impact not only on Lucas’ employment, but on his future employment,” Limkemann said. “ ... That would call into question whether we even have the hearing on (Aug. 18 or 19), and whether Lucas would even consent to that at this point.”

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Jason Craig, one of the Des Moines attorneys representing the Cedar Rapids Police Department in the proceedings, advocated for a partially in-person hearing that the commissioners initially favored in a July 23 meeting.

Craig said commissioners could opt to participate virtually, but that Jones’ objection to the hearing format and due process concerns “creates potential appeal issues that concern me.”

Mo Sheronick, a former Cedar Rapids assistant city attorney who is representing the Civil Service Commission, said Iowa court proceedings have been held almost exclusively online since March because of coronavirus restrictions.

An online hearing, he said, is the safest and most secure way of protecting the public’s health while guaranteeing everyone’s access to proceedings.

He also disputed that any party involved has grounds to object to the format or scheduling the hearing in August.

Choosing not to participate, he said, would be at either party’s peril.

“This is the commission’s hearing, and the commission’s willing to, in good faith, accept evidence from both sides,” Sheronick said. “And if one party or another wants to default, that leaves the commission with very few options in terms of what its decisions are going to be.

“So, I don’t think threatening the commission with a boycott is probably the best way to change your minds.”

The three commissioners agreed an online hearing was the safest option from a legal and health standpoint.

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“I think this is the best for everybody without jumping major health hurdles, and I don’t think Linn County’s really been going in the right direction,” Commission Chairwoman Nancy Evans said, referring to the increase in coronavirus cases in the county.

In his appeal, filed July 2, Jones asserts an internal affairs “investigation, disciplinary process and punitive action taken by Chief Jerman and the CRPD” violates his rights under the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

Jones claims his firing was in retaliation for his memo to Lt. Ryan Abodeely — the commander of the department’s Professional Standards Division — detailing claims from two female officers about inappropriate conduct of a male patrol officer. He sent the memo before learning he was the subject of an internal affairs investigation.

A city document released in June contends Jones intentionally disabled a microphone that would have recorded his interactions with a driver during an Oct. 30, 2016, traffic stop and then lied to internal affairs investigators and again in a court deposition.

The traffic stop came two days before Jones shot Mitchell during a traffic stop early Nov. 1, 2016, on lower Coe Road NE.

City Finance Director Casey Drew said in a statement the legal costs for the commission and police department won’t be known until the proceedings are complete.

“There have been no billings related to these proceeding to date,” Drew said.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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