Sycamore Media, the parent company of the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press, filed a lawsuit against the City of Maquoketa Police Department Thursday seeking the release of body camera footage police officers recorded during a 911 call involving Assistant Jackson County Attorney Amanda Lassance.
The suit was filed in the Iowa District Court for Jackson County after Police Chief Brad Koranda in June refused to release the electronic footage the Sentinel-Press requested under Iowa Code Chapter 22, the state’s open records law.
“This is not an action we wanted to take, but we feel we have no choice,” said Sentinel-Press Publisher Trevis Mayfield. “We had hoped that our appeal to city officials would help get the public the information that rightfully belongs to taxpayers. This footage is the final piece of information needed to complete our investigation of a case that is of great interest to the public. When public employees show blatant favoritism in how they use their power, and then they try to hide their actions from the public, people care about that.”
Mayfield delivered letters to Maquoketa City Council members, Mayor Don Schwenker and City Manager Gerald Smith in August and September asking them to intervene and make the footage available. Those letters were published in the newspaper, along with a column on Nov. 2, asking city officials again to share the information with the public. None of the appeals were addressed by the council, Smith or Schwenker in public meetings during the past three months.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering the city to produce the records requested and to pay court costs. The newspaper is represented by Sam Jones of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, P.C., in Cedar Rapids.
Smith declined to comment on the lawsuit. Schwenker, Koranda and all city council members were contacted but did not comment.
The Sentinel-Press first reported on the 911 call involving Lassance in April when Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputy Andy Petersen cited Lassance and her companion, Nick Shannon, for having open containers of alcohol in Lassance’s car after responding to Shannon’s call to Jackson County Dispatch. Deputies from both Jackson and Clinton counties and officers from Maquoketa and Bellevue responded to the complaint that took place on U.S. Highway 61, just south of the Clinton/Jackson county line. At least six police units from four jurisdictions responded to the call just after midnight the morning of April 6.
According to dispatch records, Shannon told police Lassance’s car was stopped along the road and that Lassance had attacked him. Lassance, according to police reports, was sitting in the driver’s seat of her parked car with beer cans strewn about when police arrived.
Because Lassance was slurring her speech and her eyes were bloodshot and watery, Petersen wrote in his report that he was prepared to administer a sobriety test, but after Lassance told him she had been drinking after she had stopped the car, he changed his mind. Petersen wrote in his report he believed Lassance telling him she had been drinking after the car stopped would make the case difficult to prosecute.
Out-of-county law enforcement experts have told the Sentinel-Press that Lassance’s behavior at the scene mirrors a common ploy people use to buck drunk driving charges. In her job as assistant prosecutor, Lassance routinely prosecutes drunk driving cases. Lassance and Shannon both pleaded guilty to Clinton County citations of having open containers of alcohol in a vehicle and faced no other charges.
The Sentinel-Press received footage taken by Petersen’s dashcam from Clinton County after an open records request was initially denied. That footage showed Petersen dropping Lassance off at the Jackson County Law Center, where she spent the night in her office. Petersen can be heard in the video telling Lassance to make sure she does not go into the sheriff’s office because “they don’t want you to get in more trouble than you already are.”
The newspaper also received about five minutes of footage recorded by Jackson County Deputy Chad Roeder, who was on the scene for 37 minutes. The footage from the Maquoketa Police Department is the only remaining video that has not been released publicly. Bellevue police officers do not wear body cameras.
Mayfield said the newspaper is following its protocol in handling stories regarding public officials.
“We handled this story as we would any other in which the public has a vested interest. It is our job to seek all records and do our job to its conclusion,” Mayfield said. “The city, unfortunately, is putting itself on the wrong side of this issue. Why city leadership would take this position, we don’t know.”