Maquoketa police department video footage a judge ordered released last week does not provide any important additional information, said Trevis Mayfield, Sentinel-Press publisher.
After reviewing the footage taken during a 911 call last year involving Jackson County Assistant attorney Amanda Lassance, Mayfield said nothing on the footage taken by Officer Keenan Meinecke raised any new questions or provided any new information.
“The video showed Officer Meinecke doing his job in a professional manner,” Mayfield said. “We didn’t know if the video would provide new information or not, but we felt strongly that the public had a legitimate right to see for itself what was on the footage.”
Sycamore Media, the newspaper’s parent company, has spent more than $15,000 on the lawsuit it filed against the city in November. Because the Sentinel-Press believes the city blatantly violated open records laws by not turning the video over, the newspaper believes the city should reimburse all court costs, Mayfield said.
“Government shouldn’t use its resources to create a barrier to public information, and, in this case, that is exactly what happened,” Mayfield said. “We believe it is unreasonable to expect a taxpaying citizen to go to court to gain access to a record that is clearly public. For the government to deny a record, it must cite one of the exemptions in Iowa’s open records law. In the case of this denial, there were no exemptions that applied.”
The footage captured about 25 minutes of law enforcement activity on the side of U.S. Highway 61 in Clinton County just after midnight April 6, 2019. In it, Nick Shannon, who was Lassance’s boyfriend at the time, tells Meinecke that he made the emergency call because Lassance had attacked him in the car, scratching him and throwing a cooler at his head. He also said they had both been drinking, and he took her purse, car keys and phone.
As part of its reporting process this newspaper requested all written and video documentation police gathered at the scene. The newspaper requested information from the sheriff’s departments in Clinton and Jackson counties, the Bellevue Police Department and the Maquoketa Police Department. The Maquoketa police video footage was the final piece of information it had not obtained.
“This story is as much about the need for government transparency as it is about what happened along the side of Highway 61 last April,” Mayfield said. “Taxpayers should never have to take a government official’s word when there is a public record that helps tell the story.”
Seventh Judicial District Judge John Telleen heard arguments June 9 for the lawsuit that was filed in November by Sycamore Media against the city in the Iowa District Court for Jackson County. He ruled on June 22 that the city should turn the footage over to the newspaper.
“This information will give the public a fuller understanding of the incident in question,” Telleen wrote in his ruling, which outlined several reasons he decided releasing the footage serves the public’s interest more than keeping it secret. Under the state’s open records law, the police department had the burden of proving why the video should not be released.
The Sentinel-Press is continuing its efforts to recover legal expenses associated with the lawsuit.