The Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission heard nearly 21 hours of testimony over two days as it considers the appeal filed by fired Cedar Rapids police officer Lucas Jones.
The testimony, beginning Tuesday, centered around what happened during a traffic stop on Oct. 30, 2016. The Cedar Rapids Police Department said Jones lied about turning off his microphone and made additional untruthful statements under oath. Jones’ attorney argued that Jones was misremembering a stop that happened nearly three and a half years ago.
Jones’ attorney also argued the firing was in retaliation for a sexual harassment complaint Jones filed against another officer and to appease protesters calling for Jones’ firing.
Background on the case
The Cedar Rapids Police Department fired Jones in June. His letter of termination details six violations stemming from the Oct. 30, 2016 traffic stop that led to him receiving letters of reprimand, a 40-hour suspension and eventually being fired.
During the stop in question, Jones pulled over a young Black mother because her car had no license plates. The woman also had a suspended license for failure to pay traffic fines.
The termination letter says Jones should have arrested the woman and had her car impounded under CRPD policy, which Jones did not do. Jones let the woman go and the woman’s father, a tow truck driver and professional acquaintance of Jones, came to pick up the car.
Jones told the AP he thought he had discretion to let the woman go and that this kind of policing would improve relations between white officers and Black residents.
During the traffic stop, Jones’ microphone stops working. In an April 2017 administrative interview, Jones said he doesn’t recall what happened. But in a January 2020 deposition, Jones testified under oath that he intentionally turned off his microphone to conceal that he was violating policy.
“Officer/Sergeant Jones violated the rules, regulations, directives, orders and policies of the Cedar Rapids Police Department during the October 30, 2016, traffic stop, during the April 13, 2017, administrative interview, during the January 16, 2020, deposition, and during the February 20, 2020, administrative interview,” according to Jones’ letter of termination.
The October stop in question occurred two days before Jones shot and paralyzed Jerime Mitchell during a traffic stop on Nov. 1, 2016. Jones’ 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.
Day one of the hearing
The testimony on Tuesday, Sept. 22, largely focused on what happened during the October 2016 traffic stop.
Witnesses testified on the differences between what Jones said in an April 2017 administrative interview with Captain Craig Furnish and the January 2020 deposition when Jones was questioned by attorney Larry Rogers. (The deposition was for a civil case Mitchell and his wife Bracken have filed against the city. Rogers is their attorney.)
Attorney Jason Craig, who is representing CRPD, played the video of the traffic stop toward the start of Tuesday’s hearing. The video’s audio is muffled, but about halfway through the video, Jones is seen reaching into his left pocket around the time the audio cuts out. This led CRPD to believe that Jones turned it off on purpose.
Comments are not moderated
Posted by City of Cedar Rapids Iowa Government on Tuesday, September 22, 2020
The Oct. 30, 2016 traffic stop is included in this videos, beginning at 12:13.
During the administrative interview, Furnish asked Jones if he knew why the microphone went out. Jones answered, “I do not.”
Furnish: Let’s watch this again here. OK and now the lights go down. Do you recall why it went dead? Is it a malfunction or…?
Jones: I don’t recall. It does appear that I put my hand in my pocket but I am not sure if I just did that. Normally my side pockets are unzipped. I don’t recall specifically if I just simply placed my hand in the pocket as a comfort posture while talking on the phone or whether or not the microphone was shut off. But I don’t recall that part.
Furnish: So you are not sure if the microphone went dead because of battery issue or if you reached in and shut it off?
Jones: Right. I don’t recall that specific part of it, no.
Furnish, who was also at the January deposition, said he was concerned after hearing Jones’ testimony because “his response was 180 degrees opposite of what he had told me during my interview of him.”
Craig and Furnish read some of the testimony from the deposition out loud:
Attorney Larry Rogers: Did you turn the recording system off prior to the November 1, 2016 stop with Jerime Mitchell?
Rogers: Why did you turn it off?
Jones: I made a personal phone call.
Rogers: When did you turn it off?
Jones: During a traffic stop that occurred on October 30, I believe it was.
Craig also emphasized another section of that transcript.
Rogers: Why did you turn the recording device off?
Jones: To be honest, it was because I was violating a policy, which is that we’re supposed to arrest all suspended drivers, but I didn’t feel that Johnny’s daughter was a threat to the citizens of Cedar Rapids.
Jones’ attorney Skylar Limkemann contended the three-year gap between the two times Jones was questioned about the incident could have caused his client to misremember the “relatively routine traffic stop” during his January testimony.
Limkemann pointed to the interview between Furnish and Jones was done less than a year after the stop. According to the transcript of the interview, Furnish said, “Why don’t you come around here. I am going to show you this. I don’t expect you to recollect this. I am going to show you the video and see if you recall this traffic stop.”
“It’s possible that Lucas could not have remembered details of the traffic stop from October 30, 2016, three and a half years later, at his deposition on January 20, 2020, right?” Limkemann asked Furnish on Tuesday. To which Furnish responded, “that is possible.”
Limkemann asked Lieutenant Ryan Abodeely a similar question regarding whether it was possible Jones was “simply not remembering” details of the traffic stop. Abodeely headed the investigation into Jones earlier this year after Furnish reported the inconsistencies following the deposition.
“Well, again, as I stated, this wasn’t that he messed up on the color of the vehicle,” Abodeely said. “This is two completely different explanations on a very easy question. That was the focus of this, and I don’t think that was a memory issue.”
Abodeely also testified that when he had his interview with Jones in February 2020, Jones went back to denying he had intentionally turned off the audio.
Furnish, Abodeely and other CRPD witnesses on Tuesday emphasized how important honesty is to the department.
“We obviously want officers here that have very high integrity and character,” Abodeely said. “If our community believes that we have dishonest officers, we aren’t going to have any sort of credibility with our community. It’s just extremely important. … You’re completing reports, arresting people, making any sort of decisions, and documenting that. We need our officers to be truthful. It’s really the foundation of the work that we do here at the police department.”
Hearing, day two
The testimony on Wednesday focused on Jones’ claims that his firing was done to appease protesters demanding police reform in Cedar Rapids, and was also in retaliation for a memo he filed regarding a sexual harassment charge against a fellow officer. Jones has made these claims in interviews with news organizations since his dismissal.
After George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers in late May, protests against police brutality took place in Cedar Rapids, just as they did across the country and the world. A group, later known as the Advocates for Social Justice, organized their first protest on June 6 at Greene Square Park. A number of city officials, including Police Chief Wayne Jerman, were present at this protest.
Jones was brought up during the June 6 protest and subsequent protests until he was fired. People brought signs calling for his firing and chanted “Fire Lucas Jones.”
Jerman testified on Wednesday that he did not feel pressured by community members or elected officials to terminate Jones. Jerman said his decision to fire Jones was in the best interest of the department because when someone is untruthful, “that erodes the trust that has been cultivated with members of our community.”
“If our community cannot trust its police department, it is nearly impossible and extremely difficult to maintain an effective and efficient Police Department providing service to its community,” Jerman said.
Limkemann questioned Jerman about the negotiations between city officials and members of ASJ that began shortly after the first protest. The meetings were to discuss seven demands for police reform that ASJ was demanding of the city.
Limkemann asked if one of the demands was for Jones to be fired.
“I don’t know specifically if they were advocating or demanding,” Jerman said. “The seven demands were regarding police reform. None of the seven demands that I’m referring to included firing Lucas Jones.”
While ASJ members and protesters have mentioned at protests that Jones should be fired and that it “should have happened years ago,” this was not on the list of demands they brought to the city. The list of demands was discussed and unanimously supported by the Cedar Rapids City Council. There is no mention of Jones on ASJ’s demands or in the council resolution.
Jones also presented character witnesses on Wednesday, including a number of officers who had worked with him or under his supervision, as well as Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden. The officers said they found Jones to be approachable and honest, and that they were disappointed when they learned he had been fired. They said morale at the department was low after Jones’ firing.
Officer Melinda Rauwolf testified that Jones was supportive of her after she told him another officer sexually harassed her.
Jones filed a memo on Dec. 31, 2019, informing Abodeely about what Rauwolf told him. The memo also included information from Officer Kyzer Moore who said the same officer Rauwolf said harassed her had tried to have a sexual relationship with his wife. Jones believes retaliation for his filing the memo is a main reason he was fired.
Comments are not Moderated
Posted by City of Cedar Rapids Iowa Government on Wednesday, September 23, 2020
The two-page memo can be seen in the video above at 6:28:22.
The last witness of the two-day hearing was Jones. He repeated much of what was already said throughout the hearing by his attorney — that the timing of his firing was to appease protesters and that his firing was in retaliation to the memo he filed regarding the sexual harassment incident. He restated the claim that he misremembered the traffic stop because it was so routine.
Jones said he did not lie during the deposition, although he did feel stressed when attorney Larry Rogers was questioning him.
“Larry Rogers is a very powerful, very influential Chicago-based attorney who has won multi-million dollar lawsuits,” Jones said on Wednesday. “As much as it pains me to admit it, he’s very skilled at what he does, and I think he was successful in getting me to misspeak.”
To this comment, Craig said Rogers was asking yes or no questions to which Jones volunteered additional information.
“I’ve been a public figure for four years when I didn’t ever want to be a public figure. I never wanted to shoot two people. I never wanted to be involved in shootings. I got into this job to help people and to serve my community,” Jones said, adding that he and his family have received threats over the last four years.
At the end of the hearing on Wednesday, Commission Chair Nancy Evans told the two lawyers to send their closing arguments and briefs to the commission. Evans did not indicate when a decision would be made.
According to Iowa law, a civil service commission can “affirm, modify or reverse any case.” If the commission upholds Jones’ firing, then he can appeal that decision to a state district court. If the commission rules in favor of Jones and reverses his firing, he will be able to return to police work. Jones told the Gazette a day after his firing that he hopes to return to law enforcement.