Public Safety

Jerime Mitchell's lawsuit won't be heard any time soon

Suit alleges Cedar Rapids and police officer negligent in 2016 shooting

Jerime Mitchell (right) talks with friends after a Nov. 17, 2017, event to show support for him hosted by Iowa-Nebraska NAACP at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids. Mitchell was paralyzed in a 2016 officer-involved shooting. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Jerime Mitchell (right) talks with friends after a Nov. 17, 2017, event to show support for him hosted by Iowa-Nebraska NAACP at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids. Mitchell was paralyzed in a 2016 officer-involved shooting. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A lawsuit accusing the city of Cedar Rapids of negligence, filed after a police officer shot and paralyzed a motorist two years ago, likely won’t be heard by a jury anytime soon while a dispute continues over keeping potential evidence secret.

Jerime Mitchell, 41, of Cedar Rapids, filed the suit in February 2017 in Linn County District Court after he was shot and injured during a traffic stop early Nov. 1, 2016, near Coe College.

Officer Lucas Jones, who authorities said was snagged by the door of Mitchell’s pickup truck as Mitchell tried to flee, fired three rounds. One bullet pierced Mitchell’s spinal cord, paralyzing him from the neck down.

The lawsuit has been on hold for almost a year as the parties wait for the Iowa Supreme Court to decide whether Mitchell and his attorney can access certain police reports on the shooting and on the officer involved.

For now, the civil trial has been bumped to Aug. 11, 2020 — nearly four years after the shooting.

Pressley Henningsen, Mitchell’s Cedar Rapids attorney, said depositions haven’t been taken and won’t be until the issue before the state’s high court is resolved.

“Jerime continues to work hard at his recovery and he’s thankful for the love and support of his family,” Henningsen said. “But, unfortunately, he is paralyzed so he faces the same significant challenges experienced by all folks with severe spinal cord injuries and he will for life.”

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The defendants — the city and Officer Jones — are asking justices to review a ruling by 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady.

In November 2017, Grady ruled the city must turn over to Mitchell’s attorneys any requested law enforcement investigative reports, including electronic recordings and phone communications and interviews or conversations with law enforcement at the scene that are related to the shooting.

Mitchell’s attorneys also asked to access documents from the city and the police department over Jones’ involvement in another incident — a 2015 fatal shooting that is the subject of a separate lawsuit in federal court.

The city’s attorney argues that some of the documents related to Mitchell’s shooting and the 2015 shooting shouldn’t be available to the public and should remain confidential. The documents involve Jones’ employment, the 2015 shooting, internal reviews and Mitchell’s medical records.

Mitchell’s attorneys argue the police department is funded with taxpayer money — and so the public has a right to know how it’s being run.

The city also is asking the state justices to consider previous conduct by another Mitchell attorney, Larry Rogers Jr., of Chicago, who they believe will give confidential records to the press.

Rogers, the city argues in court documents, already has made comments to the media about the case that “have had or could have a substantial likelihood of prejudicing” the proceedings.

The city states Rogers has made detailed comments about Mitchell’s injuries and his rehabilitation. It also cites comments Rogers made about Jones — that “he is off the charts with respect to how frequently (officer-involved shootings) happen, even in metropolitan areas.”

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Grady, in his ruling, said the city must turn over any investigative reports or electronic communications generated or filed within 96 hours of the Mitchell shooting. But he stopped short of requiring the city to turn over any reports or memos used solely for a police internal review.

The city asked Grady to reconsider his ruling, arguing the documents are considered confidential under Iowa open records laws. Grady denied the motion, and the city filed an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Jones shot Mitchell early that morning after he pulled over Mitchell’s pickup on Coe Road NE.

The stated reason for the stop: the truck’s license plate lights were not working, according to Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, who released the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation report of the incident a year ago.

A police car dashboard camera video later released by police shows Jones, who is white, was in his squad car some distance away from the pickup when he accelerated to catch up to Mitchell, who is black.

After Jones pulled over the truck, things escalated to an altercation between the two.

Mitchell tried to drive away, and Jones became stuck in the pickup’s open driver’s door. The officer fired three times as Mitchell drove away.

Though the video captured what happened, Jones’ body microphone was not functioning. So audio of most of what he and Mitchell said was not recorded.

Police later found a pound of marijuana, scales and cash in a backpack inside Mitchell’s truck, indicating he was on the verge of making a marijuana deal, Vander Sanden said.

Vander Sanden convened a grand jury to consider the case following the DCI investigation. The grand jury found Jones was justified in the shooting.

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That decision and its timing were criticized by community members because investigators had not interviewed Mitchell, and he did not appear before the grand jury.

Neither he nor the officer faced charges.

Mitchell, in a statement to The Gazette later, gave a different account of events than authorities. He said Jones was the aggressor and attacked him “without provocation.”

“I was frightened, and decided it was in my best interest to get back in my truck,” Mitchell said. “At that point, Officer Jones got even more aggressive toward me and slammed me against the truck, then without provocation from me, he tackled me to the ground and released his dog who started attacking me.”

In February 2017, Mitchell and his wife, Bracken, sued Jones and the city, asserting he was negligent in his decision to stop Mitchell’s truck and in his handling of the incident by using excessive force, assaulting Mitchell and acting illegally. The Mitchells also allege the city was negligent in allowing Jones to continue as a police officer because it knows he has a “propensity toward violence” as an officer.

Jones and the city denied the claims.

In court motions, Jones denied any negligence, saying he acted within his duty as an officer and acted in self-defense. Any injury was the result of Jerime Mitchell’s “willful or negligent acts,” he said. Jones also said he is entitled to complete or qualified immunity.

ANOTHER LAWSUIT

The city, its police department and Jones — along with seven named officers and five unidentified officers — face a lawsuit filed last November in U.S. District Court by the family of Jonathan Tyler Gossman, 21, of Cedar Rapids.

The suit asserts Gossman was “fleeing from unlawful arrest” when he was shot following an Oct. 20, 2015, traffic stop.

Gossman was a passenger when a car was stopped in the area of 29th Street NW and Ravenwood Terrace NW.

Officers pulled Gossman from the car and he was chased by three officers, along with Jones and his K-9 dog, when he started to run, according to the lawsuit.

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The police dog was directed by Jones to “attack” Gossman, which stopped him and caused him to lose his balance.

The suit states officers “erroneously” decided Gossman had fired a gun at them and they fatally shot him, discharging 25 times from two firearms.

Gossman didn’t threaten any of the officers with his gun or fire it, the suit alleges.

Vander Sanden, in a January 2016 review of the shooting, said a police officer believed he saw and heard a gun being fired in his direction, which prompted police to open fire on Gossman.

Vander Sanden acknowledged he had no evidence Gossman had fired a weapon at the officers. But he said the shooting was justified because guns were found in the car and because the traffic stop involved drug-related activity, “heightening the sense of danger.”

Attorneys for Gossman’s family have until Jan. 23 to respond to a motion from the defendants that the court issue a summary judgment in their favor.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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