Public Safety

Police: Many attempts made to get statement from man shot by Cedar Rapids officer

Dash cam video of incident to be released Thursday

People listen from balconies above as Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden announces that a grand jury returned a decision not to indict Cedar Rapids Police Officer Lucas Jones in the November traffic stop shooting of Jerime Mitchell, during a press conference at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.  (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
People listen from balconies above as Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden announces that a grand jury returned a decision not to indict Cedar Rapids Police Officer Lucas Jones in the November traffic stop shooting of Jerime Mitchell, during a press conference at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — An agent for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said attempts to obtain Jerime Mitchell’s side of the story after he was shot by a Cedar Rapids police officer on Nov. 1 began right away and continued for weeks.

In the end, they agreed on a date to get the statement — Dec. 13.

But it was too late.

A Linn County grand jury ruled Monday that Officer Lucas Jones was justified in shooting Mitchell, who is now paralyzed and receiving treatment in an out-of-state facility. They reached that decision without ever hearing from Mitchell.

Paula Roby, Mitchell’s attorney contends her client wasn’t allowed to submit a statement, despite desperately wanting to do so and he wasn’t even able to physically speak, due to his injuries, until late November. In the wake of the grand jury ruling, many members of the community also expressed frustration that Mitchell’s account had not been considered.

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden on Wednesday provided additional details about the efforts made to connect with Mitchell to get his statement. He shared an email sent Saturday, Dec. 3, to Roby by DCI Agent Jaget Sandhu that includes a log of efforts made by DCI investigators to interview Mitchell.

In that email, Sandhu tells Roby that DCI attempted to interview Mitchell from “day one of this investigation.” He then lays out the following timeline:

• Nov. 1, 4, 7 and 9-11 — Various contact is made with Bracken Mitchell, Jerime’s wife, asking when Jerime might be available for an interview. On several occasions, Bracken Mitchell informs investigators the family has hired an attorney and at one point tells them Roby is going to call to set up an interview.

• Nov. 14 — Sandhu calls Roby and leaves a message asking for a return call.

• Nov. 19 — Sandhu calls Roby and she returns the call. She says she’ll call the week of Nov. 21-25 to set up an interview time with Mitchell.

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• Nov. 21 — Roby calls DCI to request that Mitchell’s cell and wallet, which police confiscated, be released.

• Nov. 28 — Roby’s assistant Peter Nielsen calls Sandhu to request additional items by released. Neilsen and Sandhu discuss a possible interview with Mitchell the week of Dec. 5-9, but Sandhu has a conflict that week. They settle on Dec. 13 as the date for the interview.

Sandhu’s Dec. 3 email came in response to an email sent by Roby to Sandhu on Friday, Dec. 2, during which she expresses disappointment in learning that DCI already has completed its investigation and delivered its report to Vander Sanden, despite agreeing to the Dec. 13 interview with Mitchell.

“When you and I spoke, we discussed our shared interest in working together and the need for both sides of the story to be heard and considered,” she wrote in the email. “I am disappointed to say the very least, to learn the Mr. Mitchell’s statement will apparently not figure into the DCI’s consideration of the propriety of Officer Jones’ actions.”

On Tuesday, in an interview with The Gazette, Roby also pointed out Vander Sanden and Sandhu both knew the Dec. 13 interview with Mitchell would come after the grand jury was convened on Dec. 5.

Vander Sanden, on Wednesday, said that’s true. He didn’t tell Roby when the grand jury would be convened because he is restricted from doing so.

He contends, however, he doesn’t think a statement from Mitchell would have changed the outcome of the grand jury hearing, after members viewed the dash camera footage of the incident.

The grand jury was there to “investigate and scrutinize the actions of Officer Jones and if his use of force was justifiable,” Vander Sanden said. “The video is the best evidence and the jury must have thought so.”

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The video in question is to be released to the media Thursday afternoon, said Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman.

Also on Wednesday, Vander Sanden provided more details about the traffic stop and physical struggle between Jones and Mitchell before the shooting.

He said Jones called for backup after pulling Mitchell over due to his license plate lights being out. Vander Sanden said he doesn’t know if Jones ran Mitchell’s plate before approaching his vehicle. He said DCI investigators confirmed the license plate lights on Mitchell’s pickup truck were out.

Vander Sanden also attempted to clear up why no audio recording of the exchange between Jones and Mitchell exists. During a news conference to release the grand jury findings on Tuesday, Vander Sanden said Jones’ microphone wasn’t “operational.” That means the details of the verbal exchange between Jones and Mitchell are based solely on Jones’ statement to investigators.

Vander Sanden said the “belief” is that the microphone’s rechargeable battery was dead. The batteries last for four hours and Jones started his shift at 9 p.m. and the traffic stop occurred at 1:15 a.m. on the lower part of Coe Road NE.

Jones probably didn’t know the batteries were dead, Vander Sanden said.

Asked again about whether any charges would be filed against Mitchell, Vander Sanden said that given Mitchell’s paralysis, it wouldn’t “serve any purpose of justice.”

Police found a backpack with 1 pound of marijuana, $1,500 cash and scales inside Mitchell’s vehicle, along with Mitchell’s cellphone that contained text messages indicating he planned to sell the marijuana to a “customer.” Mitchell also had marijuana in his system at the time of the stop.

Jones remains on paid administrative leave as the case is under administrative review by the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

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“The administrative review process focuses on adherence to policy,” Buelow explained. “Part of the review considers the findings of the prosecutor who decides whether the use of force was justified.”

Buelow said an administrative review is conducted with any officer involved in the use of deadly force. The review process begins immediately after the incident.

Buelow pointed out the investigation may be assigned to Professional Standards or a Shooting Review Board. If a Shooting Review Board is utilized, it is to consist of three members as determined by the chief, but would not include any member of the involved officer’s chain of command.

Professional Standards or the Shooting Review Board would make recommendations to the chief for corrective action, if necessary.

— Gazette Reporter Lee Hermiston contributed to this report.

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

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