CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission on Wednesday decided to delay the appeal hearing for fired police officer Lucas Jones until Sept. 22 and 23.
But commissioners warned the attorneys who asked to delay the online hearing that, despite their objections, they should still plan for entirely virtual proceedings.
Attorneys representing Jones and the Cedar Rapids Police Department asked the commission this week to delay Jones’ appeal until September in hopes it could be conducted in-person rather than online.
Jones’ attorney, Skylar Limkemann of Cedar Rapids, had raised concerns that an online-only hearing would violate Jones’ rights to due process.
Limkemann said the commissioners also should consider the cost burden that preparing for two potential hearing formats would carry, particularly for Jones.
“ ... He has a limited amount of resources to appeal this action, and so if this is going to be a virtual hearing versus an in-person hearing, how he presents his appeal to the commission is going to differ,” Limkemann said. “And to prepare the case both ways, just out of a simple matter of fairness, is going to cost him an extensive amount of additional funds that obviously were not accounted for previously.”
Jason Craig, one of the Des Moines attorneys representing the police department, said the driving force behind their request was “to see if the COVID situation improves as well as give us time to make arrangements to conduct this hearing in the safest way possible.”
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Civil Service Commission Chairwoman Nancy Evans said the commissioners could again revisit the hearing’s format but noted the uncertainty surrounding how schools reopening will affect the number of COVID-19 cases.
She again expressed that a partially in-person hearing could make the commission vulnerable to a lawsuit, should members of the public challenge the proceedings as a violation of Iowa’s open meetings law.
People could perceive it as unlawful that the hearing is safe enough for some commissioners, witnesses and others to attend while only allowing the public to view the proceedings online.
“There’s no problem continuing the hearing, but I’m not willing to stipulate at this time that it would be anything (other) than the way we have currently set it up, which is all virtual,” Evans said.
Mo Sheronick, the former assistant city attorney who is the commission’s lawyer, said he thinks there are ways to compose subpoenas to inform witnesses and others how to appear remotely and to work around other complications.
He said the attorneys should prepare accordingly for online proceedings, even though the commissioners decided that if “lightning strikes,” they could change the format to in-person.
“I understand Lucas Jones wants an in-person hearing. Anybody would,” Sheronick said. “That’s not the issue. The issue is would it responsible for this commission during what looks like at least round two of a non-ending pandemic to go that route?”
Jones — a white police officer who shot and paralyzed Jerime Mitchell, a Black Cedar Rapids resident, during a 2016 traffic stop — was fired June 18 after the police department investigated accusations he violated rules and policies during a different traffic stop on Oct. 30 of that year.
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A document released by the city in June contends Jones intentionally disabled a body-worn microphone that would have recorded his interactions with the driver during that 2016 traffic stop and then lied to internal affairs investigators and again in a court deposition.
That traffic stop came two days before Jones shot Mitchell, on Nov. 1, 2016, on lower Coe Road NE. Jones’ microphone was not working during the Mitchell traffic stop either, though authorities have yet to give a full account as to why it wasn’t.
In his appeal, filed July 2, Jones contended his firing was retaliation for writing a memo in January, before learning he was the subject of an internal affairs investigation, 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.
In the memo, a copy of which The Gazette reviewed, Jones stated he was approached by two female officers on Dec. 29, 2019, who detailed multiple instances of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct by a male patrol officer.
The appeal asserts the internal affairs “investigation, disciplinary process and punitive action taken by Chief Jerman and the CRPD … violates (Jones’) constitutional rights, including his right to procedural due process under both the United States and Iowa constitutions.”
Limkemann has said that if the commission upholds Jones’ dismissal, the Cedar Rapids Police Department could recommend the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy permanently decertify Jones as a law enforcement officer.
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