Linn County Metro

Grand jury to decide Cedar Rapids officer-involved shooting

Linn County Attorney: 'This is just the best thing to do under the circumstances'

Avery Cassell of Hiawatha, a friend of Jerime Mitchell, hugs Cedar Rapids council member Susie Weinacht after a city council meeting at City Hall in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Friends and members of the Iowa City chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice attended Tuesday’s meeting to advocate for Jerime “Danky” Mitchell, 37, who was shot by CR Police Officer Lucas Jones during a traffic stop on Nov. 1. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Avery Cassell of Hiawatha, a friend of Jerime Mitchell, hugs Cedar Rapids council member Susie Weinacht after a city council meeting at City Hall in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Friends and members of the Iowa City chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice attended Tuesday’s meeting to advocate for Jerime “Danky” Mitchell, 37, who was shot by CR Police Officer Lucas Jones during a traffic stop on Nov. 1. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A grand jury is to be convened to determine whether a Cedar Rapids police officer was justified in shooting 38-year-old Jerime Mitchell during a traffic stop on Nov. 1.

The move was announced Friday by Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden and comes after calls this week for an independent investigation into the shooting.

Vander Sanden said Friday his decision to have a grand jury decide an officer-involved shooting — a first during his six years as county attorney — was not influenced by public pressure.

“I think the public would have more confidence in a decision that would be made by an independent and impartial body,” he said. “I can accept why some are distrustful of prosecutors and the police. I don’t think it’s a reflection of what we do here locally ... I think this is just the best thing to do under the circumstances.”

In a statement, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said the Cedar Rapids Police Department, “continues to cooperate fully with the Linn County Attorney’s Office.”

Vander Sanden said he received the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s investigative file into the shooting of Mitchell by Officer Lucas Jones for review on Wednesday. He has since requested investigators obtain unspecified “supplemental information.” The DCI was tapped to investigate the shooting, which is a standard practice in these cases.

Vander Sanden said he couldn’t go into detail about what additional information he has requested.

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“There was just some follow up I asked the DCI to conduct,” he said. “They’re in the process of doing that. I feel confident they’ll have that done by the time we make a presentation to the grand jury.”

Mitchell was pulled over by Jones around 1:15 a.m. Nov. 1 — a Tuesday — on the Lower part of Coe Road NE. Cedar Rapids police and the DCI have said an altercation ensued and Jones fired his service weapon at Mitchell.

Mitchell was shot in the neck and is now paralyzed, his family has said.

Authorities said Mitchell drove on from the scene of the shooting and crashed into an unmarked Cedar Rapids police SUV before hitting a parked car in a Coe College parking lot. Neither Jones nor the officer in the SUV were seriously injured, police said.

Citing the ongoing investigation, authorities have not answered several questions about the incident, including why Mitchell was pulled over and what circumstances led to the altercation between Jones and Mitchell.

In the days since the shooting, Mitchell’s family and friends, community members and organizations such as the ACLU of Iowa have called for the release of dash camera footage of the incident. City officials have said any evidence — including dash camera video — is to remain confidential, citing concerns about compromising the investigation.

“Early release of evidence, video footage, witness statements, etc. could jeopardize the integrity of the investigation of this incident,” city officials said in a statement earlier this week.

A group of Mitchell’s family, friends, community members and the Iowa City chapter of Stand Up for Racial Justice attended Tuesday’s Cedar Rapids City Council meeting to call for the release of the dash camera footage. Their other demands included disciplinary action for Jones and an independent investigation — one that did not involve the DCI or Linn County Attorney’s Office — into the shooting.

The grand jury is to consist of seven randomly drawn members of the community. The grand jury is to be presented with the DCI’s case and has the ability to summon witnesses and subpoena records. It would take a vote of five members of the panel to return an indictment. Deliberations are to immediately follow the presenting of witnesses and evidence.

The deliberations are private, but the decision is to be public.

“It’s either going to be what we call a ‘no bill,’ where they conclude no criminal charges should be filed or they will return an indictment with charges they believe would apply,” Vander Sanden said. “So, it’s going to be one or the other — nothing or charges.”

Vander Sanden said a grand jury is impaneled every year in Linn County to serve a one-year term. He said he couldn’t recall the last time a grand jury was called in to consider charges, but said it has happened during his administration.

“It happens,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often.”

Assembling a grand jury is expected to “take some time,” but Vander Sanden said it could happen before the end of the year.

Jones remains on paid administrative leave.

Since 2013, there have been five officer-involved shootings, including the one involving Mitchell.

Jones also was involved in an incident on Oct. 20, 2015, during which police fatally shot 21-year-old Jonathan T. Gossman. Authorities said police stopped the vehicle Gossman was in as part of a narcotics investigation. He ran from police and pointed a gun at them and the officers — including Jones — returned fire, killing him.

Other officer-involved shootings are as follows:

— Then 17-year-old Matthew T. Johnson, of Cedar Rapids, was shot by an officer on Sept. 21, 2013, at Advance Auto Parts. Authorities said Johnson had been seen kicking a car in the parking lot and then forced his way into the business with the intent to commit a burglary or theft. He was shot by a responding Cedar Rapids police officer.

— Kyle Orth, 28, was shot by police on March 29, 2015, after a late night, high-speed chase. Police fired at Orth after he hit a utility pole in an alley and then accelerated toward two police officers. Orth later admitted to being intoxicated during the incident and was sentenced to a five-year suspended prison sentence, three years of probation and six months in jail.

— Markell L Bivins, 25, died from injuries he sustained in an officer-involved shooting on Sept. 12. Authorities said Bivins attacked an ex with a knife and refused officers’ orders to stop stabbing the woman, prompting police to use deadly force.

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All of the previous cases were investigated by the DCI and determined to be justifiable uses of force, with the exception of the Bivins shooting, which was investigated by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office due to a conflict of interest in the Linn County Attorney’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office found the officers’ actions were justified in that case.

 

TIMELINE

— Nov. 1: The officer-involved shooting occurs and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is immediately called into investigate.

— Nov. 14: Supporters of Jerime Mitchell appear at a Cedar Rapids City Council meeting and call for the release of dash camera footage, disciplinary action against Jones and an independent investigation into the officer-involved shooting.

— Nov. 16: Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden receives the DCI’s investigative report.

— Nov. 18: Vander Sanden announces a grand jury will be impaneled to decide whether criminal charges are appropriate in the investigation.

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