Public Safety

Linn County Attorney expresses regret over wrongful jailing

Jerry Vander Sanden says he relied on victim's identification of robber

Jerry Vander Sanden
Jerry Vander Sanden

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said Thursday no prosecutor wants to see an innocent person in jail, and he regrets that an Arizona man was charged with a robbery and spent 68 days behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.

Vander Sanden told The Gazette, a day after the county settled a wrongful arrest lawsuit for $285,000, that when he filed a first-degree robbery charge against Joseph Rosco McBride he had “relied on the statement of the victim who positively identified the man.”

The federal lawsuit said that McBride, who was arrested Aug. 24, 2017, in Arizona, sat nearly two months in jail before a witness told police he wasn’t involved in a Jan 1, 2017, robbery in Cedar Rapids. McBride said he hadn’t lived in Iowa for about five years.

“As soon as the defense attorney provided an alibi and we asked police to follow up and we confirmed he was incorrectly identified as the robber, we dismissed the charges” on Oct. 31, Vander Sanden said. “It’s regretful that Mr. McBride spent that time in jail but this wasn’t done out of malice. This was the information that the victim provided.”

Vander Sanden said there were earlier attempts to contact McBride, which were unsuccessful. His mother said McBride was living here at the time of the robbery, but it wasn’t until later authorities discovered that wasn’t true, Vander Sanden said.

Linn County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Harris declined to comment Wednesday but in an email to a resident Thursday said Vander Sanden relied on the victim’s identification of McBride but that identification was “clearly in error and Mr. McBride was clearly damaged.”

“We regret this incident, and are reviewing our processes to ensure that an incident like this will not happen again,” Harris added.

Harris, asked by The Gazette where the settlement dollars come from, said the county has a self-retained insurance fund to cover liability claims, which is paid for by tax dollars.

Tom Frerichs, McBride’s lawyer, said Thursday he appreciated how the prosecutor, Bob Hruska, had handled the settlement in a “professional” way.

According to the lawsuit, the mix-up dates to a Jan. 1, 2017, robbery:

Tristian Hermanson told Cedar Rapids police he was at 6014 Dean Rd. SW when two men pushed their way inside, attacked him and stole money and his cellphone. He couldn’t identify the robbers.

But he later did his own investigation using Facebook and gave police a man’s name as one of the robbers. He was 90 percent sure that this was the man who attacked him, but it wasn’t McBride, the lawsuit stated.

The suit alleged police couldn’t find the man Hermanson had identified but ran a Facebook search of their own and came up with McBride.

Hermanson then told police, according to the suit, that McBride was the second robber.

McBride was arrested in Arizona in late August. The an trip to Cedar Rapids took nearly 30 days — including jail stopovers in Nevada, Colorado and Missouri, the suit said. McBride then spent an additional 30 days in custody before being released.

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