Public Safety

Cedar Rapids panel upholds firing of Officer Lucas Jones

Officer became lightning rod after Jerime Mitchell shooting

Former Cedar Rapids Police Officer Lucas Jones testifies in September during a virtual hearing before the Cedar Rapids C
Former Cedar Rapids Police Officer Lucas Jones testifies in September during a virtual hearing before the Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission. The panel voted Monday to uphold his termination. (Screen capture)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Ousted Cedar Rapids Police Officer Lucas Jones will not be reinstated, the city’s Civil Service Commission agreed Monday, though his lawyer said Jones would appeal.

The three-person commission heard Jones make his case in September and then considered legal briefs over the last several weeks. In a virtual meeting Monday, the panel voted unanimously to deny Jones’ case and uphold the police department’s earlier decision to terminate him for rules violations.

Jones’ attorney, Skylar Limkemann, said afterward his client will appeal in court.

“We’ll see what a judge says about that (decision),” he said.

Jones has 30 days to appeal to District Court.

Jones was fired June 18 after the department said an internal investigation revealed he had violated policy during a traffic stop on Oct. 30, 2016, and lied about it.

He was a patrol sergeant earning $95,907.98 at the time of his firing.

Jones became a lightning rod for the department after a different traffic stop two days later where he and motorist Jerime Mitchell got into an altercation that ended with Jones shooting Mitchell, paralyzing him.

In the Oct. 30, 2016, traffic stop at the heart of Jones’ termination, the officer had pulled over a woman in a Ford sport utility vehicle. A check of her record showed she had a suspended license.

But instead of arresting her and impounding the SUV, Jones opted to allow the woman’s father to pick up the vehicle.

Jones testified in September during a two-day hearing to appeal his termination that the woman had no outstanding arrest warrants or significant criminal history and he didn’t see her as a threat to the community.

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The traffic stop, however, was called into question when Jones’ body-worn microphone cut out, making it impossible to hear what transpired during part of the stop. That raised the question of whether it malfunctioned or was deliberately shut off, contrary to policy.

Roughly 36 hours later — in the early morning of Nov. 1, 2016 — Jones shot Mitchell in a stop near Coe College.

Authorities said Jones, who is white, stopped Mitchell, who is Black, after spotting a light out on the pickup truck’s license plate. A fight ensued and Mitchell got into his truck and drove away with Jones caught on the door. Jones shot Mitchell three times and he crashed.

Although police later said Mitchell was in possession of marijuana, a scale and cash, he was not charged. A grand jury looking into the shooting cleared Jones.

Jones’ body-worn microphone, however, did not record during the stop with Mitchell — much like it didn’t record two days earlier with that female driver.

That microphone and what the department called inconsistencies in Jones’ statements about why it did not work that night were at the heart of its internal investigation.

The termination letter outlines several violations, most significantly that Jones lied during an internal affairs investigation and also under oath during a deposition over the Mitchell shooting.

According to the police department, Jones initially denied knowing why his microphone did not record in that Oct, 30, 2016 stop. But in January — more than three years later — he testified in a disposition regarding the Mitchell shooting that he had knowingly turned off his microphone.

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Jones’ statements during that deposition are what triggered the internal investigation and ultimately Jones’ firing, the department said.

The department said Jones also violated policy by not arresting the driver with a suspended license and impounding the SUV, a decision the department said Jones did not have the discretion to make.

Last summer, protesters who took to local streets after Minnesota man George Floyd was killed by police there called for Jones’ ouster because of the Mitchell shooting.

The former officer asserted he was let go to appease protesters and city leaders and that, in effect, accusations made against him by internal affairs were just a smoke screen.

Police Chief Wayne Jerman testified during the September hearing that Jones’ termination had nothing to do with the Mitchell case, and the department’s timeline says the investigation into Jones began well before Floyd’s death.

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

Jones and the city have denied the claims.

The trial is one of many stalled by the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, the trial is set to begin April 19. But that could change as the pandemic delayed months of jury trials, and civil trials are less of a priority than criminal trials.

The city and the police department declined to comment on the commission’s decision Monday, citing the litigation.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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