Photo by Adam Burke
A Linn County grand jury will not indict Cedar Rapids Police Officer Lucas Jones following the Nov. 1 shooting that left Jerime “Danky” Mitchell paralyzed, according to a statement made by Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden at a public press conference on Tuesday.
The grand jury heard the case Monday, reviewing information from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. The grand jury included seven individuals randomly selected from a pool of 12 Linn County residents who were sworn in to serve a one-year term. At least five members would have needed to vote in favor of an indictment in order to have filed charges against Jones. Grand jury proceedings are kept secret, so Vander Sanden was unable to answer questions at the press conference about how long the jurors deliberated or whether the decision was unanimous. Summoning the grand jury was an unusual step, with previous decisions on officer-related shootings, including one last year that also involved Jones, made by Vander Sanden himself.
One criticism that arose during the press conference from members of the public was that Mitchell, who is currently receiving treatment outside of the state, was not able to make a statement, even though he had expressed an interest in doing so.
Vander Sanden said that the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation had made a “multitude of contacts” in an attempt to set up an interview with Mitchell but that they had been unable to do so. He added that the grand jury had the power to subpoena records and summon witnesses, but did not do so in this case.
The grand jury was able to view dash camera video from the event and was presented with Jones’ statement about what occurred. There was no audio recording of the incident because Jones’ body mic was not working.
“I disagree that this was a one-sided presentation,” Vander Sanden said in response to questions and criticisms from the audience.
Juror summons had been sent two weeks in advance of the Monday session in an attempt to expedite the process and provide the public with answers quickly, Vander Sanden said. When they were unable to interview Mitchell in that timeframe, he said they decided against delaying the hearing in order respect the jurors’ time and schedules.
He added that officials are still open to interviewing Mitchell, but that he didn’t believe having Mitchell’s version of what was said would have changed the outcome of the grand jury decision because of evidence shown in the dash camera video, which will be released to the public once the family has a chance to view it.
“It was based on actions, not words,” Vander Sanden said of the decision.
Individuals held signs outside the Cedar Rapids City Council Meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 in response to the officer-involved shooting of Jerime ‘Danky’ Mitchell. — photo by Lauren Shotwell
He described the official version of the events on Nov. 1 as beginning with Jones stopping Mitchell’s pick-up truck at around 1:17 a.m. on Coe Road NE because the license plate lights were not working. He said Jones noticed the odor of marijuana as he walked up to the truck, and told Mitchell that the license plate lights were out. Mitchell initially said that he wanted to see for himself, reached for the door handle, but then locked the door.
Jones ordered Mitchell to get out of the vehicle, which he did, but then tensed up when Jones reached for his handcuffs. Jones reportedly warned Mitchell that he would release his K-9 in a struggle. There was a struggle in which both Mitchell and Jones fell to the ground. Jones released the K-9. Mitchell reentered the truck and got behind the wheel, which Jones tried to prevent and ended up with his left hand or arm stuck near the steering column and was caught between the open door and the frame of the truck, Vander Sanden said. Jones reportedly told Mitchell not to put the car in gear and not to accelerate, but Mitchell put the car in gear and began moving forward.
With the car moving, Jones said he “feared that his life was in jeopardy,” pulled his service weapon and fired three shots at Mitchell’s head. One of the bullets hit Mitchell’s neck, paralyzing him. Jones broke free and fell backwards. The truck continued traveling forward, reaching nearly 60 mph, although Vander Sanden said this was likely due to an involuntary reflex as Mitchell was likely no longer in control of the vehicle. The truck hit an unmarked police SUV and other parked cars in a Coe College parking lot. Mitchell was ejected from the car and was found unconscious and not breathing. Officers provided CPR while they waited for paramedics who rushed Mitchell to St. Luke’s Hospital.
A later search of the car revealed $1,500 in cash and a backpack with one pound of marijuana in “various packaging” and a set of scales, Vander Sanden said. Text messages on Mitchell’s cellphone suggested that Mitchell had intended to deliver the drugs. A blood test showed Mitchell had recently used marijuana.
Jones will still need to undergo an administrative review before he is able to return to work.