The Iowa Freedom of Information Council has joined the Sentinel-Press in its effort to obtain additional information about a police call involving a Jackson County prosecutor.
Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf and Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln have denied portions of an open records request filed by the Sentinel-Press April 18 seeking video footage and other documentation stemming from the call.
The request sought police records from a 12:56 a.m. incident April 6 along U.S. Highway 61 in northern Clinton County in which Assistant Jackson County Attorney Amanda Lassance and a companion, Nick Shannon, were cited for an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. No other charges have been filed against Shannon or Lassance, who regularly prosecutes drunk driving cases in Jackson County.
Lincoln has acknowledged that deputies did not conduct sobriety tests at the scene and that they provided Lassance with a ride “to a location in Maquoketa” following the call.
When asked how Lassance’s car was removed from the scene, Lincoln said he didn’t know.
Wolf, in his written response to the Sentinel-Press’s public records request filed under Iowa’s public records law, denied squad car video taken at the scene
as well as what he later described as “a couple police reports and witness statements.”
Jackson County Deputy Chad Roeder was the first deputy on the scene. Clinton County deputies Andy Petersen and Mark Mahmens Jr. arrived moments later.
Jackson County call logs indicate that Shannon told a dispatcher that Lassance hit him and struck him with a cooler. Call logs also show Shannon admitted to drinking a beer while on the side of the road, and said Lassance was sleeping or “pretending to be asleep” in the back of her car.
The lack of clarity as to why deputies didn’t conduct sobriety tests is why the Sentinel-Press decided to file public records requests under Iowa’s public records laws, according to Publisher Trevis Mayfield.
“We believe the public has a right to know how deputies handled that call, and we appreciate that the Iowa Freedom of Information Council recognizes the importance of this issue,” Mayfield said. “The fundamental question the public wants answered is whether or not police treat everyone equally. If it had not been someone who was part of the law enforcement community, would a sobriety test have been performed?”
Mayfield said that while he is disappointed that Wolf and Lincoln chose not to provide all the records that were requested, the newspaper will continue to pursue the story.
The IFIC’s executive director, Randy Evans, mailed a letter to Lincoln and Wolf earlier this week arguing that the county is obligated under Iowa’s public records laws to release video camera footage along with other information.
“The Council believes Clinton County has a duty to the public to release all officer-worn body camera video and all squad car dash camera video” recorded by the officers who responded to the call, the letter states.
Evans’ letter references an Iowa Supreme Court case in which justices unanimously rejected the position that law enforcement investigative files are confidential in perpetuity.
“When law enforcement becomes secretive and doesn’t respond to logical questions the public has, that gives rise to speculation that some people get special treatment,” Evans said.
When asked Thursday afternoon by the Sentinel-Press if he remained unwilling to release the video, Wolf said, “I’ll look it over again. I know the public wants to know and I don’t want to hide anything, but I want to maintain what is confidential. But on the other hand … let me think about the in-car camera thing and see what I can do. I haven’t given it a lot of thought since I took the time to initially see what was confidential.”
Wolf said he intended to discuss the decision with Lincoln. Later Thursday, Wolf called back and said he would not release the footage, still citing confidentiality.
“I did have a chance to collect my thoughts,” Wolf said. “But, I don’t think it would matter because this is on me. I decided not to [release the video footage].”
Both Shannon and Lassance pleaded guilty to the open container citations April 15.
Lassance has declined to comment, and Shannon has not responded to efforts to reach him.
Responding to a separate public records request last month, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department allowed the Sentinel-Press to view Roeder’s body-camera footage. The footage captured images and audio of Shannon talking to Roeder, but Lassance was never visible.
Wolf told the Sentinel-Press that the Clinton County deputies involved were not using body cameras.
Because the call came from outside Jackson County, Roeder left the scene after Clinton County deputies arrived.