CEDAR RAPIDS — The civil service hearing for fired Cedar Rapids police Officer Lucas Jones is set for August, with plans to limit the hearing to those directly involved with Jones’ appeal of his dismissal.
Those wanting to view the high-profile hearing before the Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission will be able to do so on Facebook Live.
Jones — the white officer who shot and paralyzed Jerime Mitchell, who is Black, during a traffic stop in 2016 — is appealing his firing in June, saying it violated his right to due process.
The city’s three civil service commissioners on Thursday — with input from attorneys representing Jones, the police department and the commission — agreed to begin the hearing at 9 a.m. Aug. 18 and 19.
Because of coronavirus concerns, only the attorneys, witnesses and commissioners will be allowed at the hearing.
The hearing location will be determined later, given the technology needs to stream the proceedings. A public notice of the hearing will be provided before the hearing.
There was some discussion Thursday over how members of the public would perceive a decision to hold the hearing in a partially virtual fashion.
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Jones’ attorney, Skylar Limkemann of Cedar Rapids, said he conferred with Jason Craig and Aaron Hilligas, Des Moines attorneys representing the police department, and they backed the partially virtual hearing.
Limkemann said a recent civil service hearing held virtually in Des Moines County had worked well for all parties and had gained an OK from the Iowa Public Information Board.
Craig said the police department and Chief Wayne Jerman also preferred a partially virtual hearing.
Mo Sheronick, a former assistant Cedar Rapids city attorney who is the commission’s lawyer, said the safest legal option would be for the hearing to take place entirely online.
“Once this is announced — that there are going to be some people in person and the rest are going to have to fend for themselves online — I think it’s incumbent upon the attorneys in this case to take the lead in explaining to the public that this is the system that they’ve requested and that they are in agreement with, because I’d hate to see the Civil Service Commission get criticized for the wishes of two attorneys,” Sheronick said.
“When it gets sticky — and I have a feeling it will — ... we’re going to expect the attorneys to be the ones explaining and defending this process.”
Commission Chairwoman Nancy Evans, a former Cedar Rapids City Council member, said she was willing to deal with any public uproar over the hearing format. But she urged fellow commissioners and other parties to communicate with the public and listen to feedback.
Evans said she initially favored giving parties the option of attending in-person or online but wanted to leave it open if there is an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in Cedar Rapids.
“There’s going to be significant public interest in this case. I don’t doubt that for a minute,” Evans said, agreeing to confer with Sheronick outside the meeting about options.
Commissioner Greg Reed said he didn’t see how the decision could upset the public.
He and Commissioner Kory Kazimour expressed wariness about being at a hearing with a large number of people in attendance.
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“As long as we’re providing opportunities for everyone to see it, I don’t see why you think there’d be that great of an uproar,” Reed said.
Rachelle Stewart, an assistant human resources director for the city, said the commission will likely provide a written decision on Jones’ appeal “after hearing testimony and reviewing evidence.”
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 said he was retaliated against 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.
A document released by the city 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. Those protesting for police reform and racial justice in Cedar Rapids after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer have celebrated Jones’ ouster from the department.
Authorities said Jones pulled Mitchell over because he saw that the license plate lights on Mitchell’s pickup truck were out. An altercation ensued between the men before Mitchell drove off with Jones hanging on the driver’s side door. Jones shot Mitchell three times, and he crashed his pickup.
Police later said Mitchell was in possession of marijuana, a scale and cash, though he was not charged. A grand jury looked into the shooting cleared Jones. Mitchell and his wife are suing the city.
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.
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