May 8, 2019
Sheriff Rick Lincoln
Clinton County Law Center 241 7th Ave. N. Clinton, IA 52732
County Attorney Mike Wolf
Clinton County Courthouse 612 N. 2nd St. Clinton, IA 52732
Dear Sheriff Lincoln and Attorney Wolf:
I write in my role as the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a 40-year-old nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve access to government information and to uphold accountability of public officials and employees.
The Council wishes to follow up on news reports in the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press about an incident on April 6, 2019, involving two Jackson County residents, Amanda Lassance and Nick Shannon, and their interaction with sheriff’s deputies along U.S. Highway 61 near the border of Clinton and Jackson counties.
Specifically, the Council is troubled by news reports that you refused to release certain public records under Iowa Code Chapter 22 that relate to this incident.
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 Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputies Andy Petersen and Mark Mahmens Jr. during this incident.
In addition, the Council believes you are obligated to release other documents, including:
(1) reports written by Deputies Petersen and Mahmens, disclosing the time, date, location, and immediate facts and circumstances of the April 6 incident;
(2) audio recordings made on April 6, 2019, of radio communications between dispatchers and Deputies Petersen and Mahmens in which they discuss this incident, including any reference to Ms. Lassance’s employment by the Jackson County Attorney’s Office;
(3) documents that confirm whether or not field sobriety tests or breathalyzer tests were administered to Ms. Lassance or Mr. Shannon; and
(4) any documents that provide details about how, and by whom, the two individuals were transported from the scene along U.S. Highway 61.
I call your attention to the Iowa Supreme Court’s April 5 decision in the case of Jerime Mitchell v. City of Cedar Rapids (case 18-0124). In that decision, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the position that law enforcement investigative files are confidential in perpetuity, and the Court discussed when records relating to the immediate facts and circumstances of an incident must be made public.
The Court, in its decision, cited past decisions by the Court that articulate the purpose of the public records act: “The purpose of [chapter 22] is ‘to open the doors of government to public scrutiny [and] to prevent government from secreting its decision-making activities from the public, on whose behalf it is its duty to act’ ” Diercks, 806 N.W.2d at 652
The Iowa Freedom of Information Council believes the Supreme Court’s decision obligates the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department to balance the competing interests of confidentiality for law enforcement investigations with transparency in cases that involve questions about the actions of law enforcement officials in carrying out their official duties.
The Mitchell case in Cedar Rapids and this case in Clinton County are similar in this regard: The investigations of both cases are completed. The records being sought do not involve confidential law enforcement informants. No one’s safety will be impaired by the release of the records being sought.
If you choose not to release any of the records enumerated in this request and in the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press’ request, please itemize the records withheld and provide the specific Iowa Code section that you believe justifies keeping each requested record confidential.
Thank you for your assistance. If you have questions about any aspect of this request, call me at (515) 745-0041.
IFOIC Executive Director