The Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission met virtually on Thursday to discuss details of the appeal hearing for former Cedar Rapids Police Officer Lucas Jones. A tentative date was set in August but decisions still need to be made on how and where the hearing will be held due to concerns about COVID-19.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department fired Jones last month for turning off a microphone that should have been recording a traffic stop he conducted on Oct. 30, 2016, then lying about it. His letter of termination details six violations stemming from the traffic stop that led to him receiving letters of reprimand, a 40-hour suspension and eventually being fired.
The October stop in question occurred two days before Jones shot and paralyzed Jerime “Danky” Mitchell during a traffic stop on Nov. 1, 2016. Jones’s audio recording was also not working during the November traffic stop, but CRPD has not said why. A grand jury declined to indict Jones for the shooting and an investigation by the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation concluded that Jones had not broken the law when he shot Mitchell.
Prior to being fired, Jones had been on administrative leave since May 4 due to a departmental investigation that began in February. Jones’s attorney Skylar Limkemann filed an appeal on his behalf on July 2.
During the Civil Service Commission’s meeting, it was decided that the two-day hearing will begin on Aug. 18 at 9 a.m. The location of the hearing has not been decided yet.
Commission Chair Nancy Evans said that according to Iowa Code the hearing has to be set five to 20 days from the commission’s meeting on the matter, which was on July 23. Due to scheduling conflicts, the hearing is set outside of that time frame, which the attorneys representing Jones and the CRPD agreed to.
A location and format for the hearing still needs to be confirmed, but the commission is looking at holding the hearing in person with only people who need to be there, including attorneys, witnesses and commissioners. The public will be able to watch the hearing online, most likely through Facebook Live.
Jason Craig, one of the attorneys representing the CRPD, and Limkemann said the preference of both parties is for an in-person hearing.
“We understand everyone’s concerns about COVID,” Craig said. “We think this would go much better presentation-wise if we were in person. We agree with Skylar’s suggestion of having the parties that need to be there in person, but then livestreaming the hearing to the public at large. We would only have the parties and the commission there and whatever witness happened to be on the stand at the time, and so I think we could accommodate social distancing that way.”
Limkemann said he had a civil service hearing in Des Moines County back in May that followed a similar format and the Iowa Public Information Board said it was acceptable.
Commission members Kory Kazimour and Greg Reed both expressed hesitations about being there in person due to the virus and cases increasing in Linn County. Kazimour and Reed will likely participate via Zoom during the hearing.
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Posted by City of Cedar Rapids Iowa Government on Thursday, July 23, 2020
Mo Sheronick, who is representing the commission, said the safest legal option would be an all-virtual hearing.
“Doing the kind of what I would call split-act hearing that allows some members of the public in [and] forcing other members of the public to watch on an internet connection, I think has the potential for some for some legal difficulties, if not outright criticism of commission,” Sheronick said. “Obviously, this case has a broad public interest. I’m not sure if the dividing line between parties and witnesses as opposed to the rest of the general public is the kind of thing that we could be firm in our belief that we’re complying with the statute.”
Evans said she would like to hold the hearing in person with the public watching online but said the plan might have to change if there’s a “big uptick” in COVID-19 cases.
“What I hear is that there’s going to be significant public interest in this case, and I don’t doubt that for a minute,” Evans said. “Maybe what we do is sooner as opposed to later get the word out that, because of coronavirus, this is how we’re planning to do it. … In other words, we don’t wait to the last minute for the world to know that if they want to come to this hearing it’s [online].”