October 21, 2014

Report finds no standard policy for law officers using tasers in Iowa

Taser-reportA two-year study by the Iowa ACLU and the University of Iowa College of Law Clinic has found no standard set of guidelines for Iowa law officers when it comes to using tasers. The devices use electrical charges to try and bring people under control.

U-I Law Clinic professor, Nathan Miller, help conduct the study of the taser regulations for law officers in all 99 counties and several cities.

“We looked at the kinds of things that they addressed, and we also looked at the expanding literature on tasers to understand the types of things policies might address. And then we developed kind of a range of policy considerations that we then looked to see how each county treats those different policy considerations,” Miller explains.

Miller says they were surprised to find no standard state policy guidelines. “You can drive from one part of Iowa to another and find yourself in places where the law enforcement officials have completely different limits on when and how and when they can use tasers,” he says.

Miller says there needs to be a discussion on some broad guidelines for using the weapons. “On the one hand you can think of them as just replacements for deadly force.,” Miller says, “On the other end of the spectrum you can think about them being used against individuals who are already restrained, or who are being passive and not posing any physical threat. And I would really like us to focus in on where do we put tasers in that continuum. Should they be closer to where there is a physical threat? Or should we passive and unresisting?”

He would also like to see more focused guidelines for Taser use against those who are at a higher risk of suffering problems. “You would expect to see things like the use of tasers on women who are pregnant or on juveniles or the elderly to have more or less uniform treatment across the state — and we did not see that,” according to Millers.

Other information in the report found that only 5 policies in Iowa prohibit the use of tasers on sensitive body parts. These sensitive body parts are the head, face, eyes, genitals and female breasts. The use of tasers on sensitive body parts was allowed with some restriction by 35 policies; 29 policies make no mention of these most sensitive body parts, providing no information, guidance, or rules for officers.

While the weapons are supposed to be non-deadly, Miller says at least two people in Iowa have died immediately after law enforcement used tasers on them. “We’ve seen more than 500 deaths from tasers in the United States between 2001 and 2013. But event when they are not fatal, they really present a number of physical risks, even to healthy people. And those risks are of course exacerbated when you are talking about vulnerable folks like pregnant women, children, the elderly, the mentally ill,” Miller says.

Miller says the expanded use of tasers has put Iowa in a position that many other states are also in. “There are no national and very few statewide policies on this, but one of the things that’s happening, as tasers are used by more and more law enforcement agencies, they are studied more and more, and we are coming to a better understand of the risks that they pose,” Miller says. “And so, I think the time is right to have a statewide conversation about what uniform taser policies we might want to adopt,” Miller says.

He says Iowa’s legislature should consider adopting statewide guidelines for using the devices before more problems develop.  Miller says a standard policy would benefit both citizens and law enforcement.

The report found more than 265 Iowa law enforcement agencies are currently using tasers, and that number will increase as state agents under the jurisdiction of the Iowa Department of Public Safety will soon also carry tasers.

See more about the use of tasers in Iowa here: Taser report PDF

Escapee from Sioux City caught

Cletus Armell

Cletus Armell

A fugitive from northwest Iowa is back in custody. Cletus Armell was listed as an escapee from a Sioux City work release facility back on July 14.

The Iowa Department of Corrections reports the 42-year-old Armell was found in Dakota County, Nebraska over the weekend and is now booked in the Woodbury County Jail. Records show Armell previously escaped from a residential work release center in Sioux City in 2012.

He was captured a short time later. His original prison sentence in 2004 was for armed robbery.


Des Moines woman charged in fatal hit-and-run

DSM-PDA young woman from central Iowa is charged in a fatal weekend hit-and-run accident. Des Moines police were called to an eastside street on Saturday morning and found the body of 55-year-old Kenneth Wallace in the road.

Evidence indicated a hit and run, including a license plate. Officers traced the plate to a pickup truck and later, 20-year-old Ashley Brown of Des Moines, turned herself in and reportedly admitted to being the driver. She’s charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and no insurance.


Teen arrested in attack on jogger in Fort Dodge

 Police arrested a 15-year-old after an attack on a jogger in a Fort Dodge park on Saturday and now say he’s tied to another attack this summer in the same park. A woman was stabbed while running on the trail in Snell Crawford Park. Officers made contact with the victim on the trail about a mile east of the park.

The victim received non-life-threatening injuries to her neck and arm. She was transported to a Fort Dodge hospital for treatment. The youth matching the description given by the victim and other witnesses at the scene was identified and apprehended nearby. Information obtained during the investigation has led officers to believe the incident was related to an abduction attempt on the Snell Crawford Trail last August.

The juvenile has been charged with attempted murder and going armed with intent in relation to Saturday’s incident. The juvenile has also been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon in relation to the incident last August 4 at the Snell Crawford Trail. He is being held in a juvenile detention center to wait for his initial court appearance. The identity of the youth is not being released due to his age.

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


Waterloo teen dies after shooting

Waterloo-pdWaterloo police confirm a teenage girl died early Sunday morning after a shooting. Officers responded to 520 Elm Street just before 2:00 A.M. Sunday, and found 17-year-old Jazzmine Rembert unresponsive with a gunshot wound to the head in the basement of the home. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Eighteen-year-old Quaderious Spates was arrested and charged with possession of a weapon as a felon and trafficking in stolen weapons. He’s being held in the Black Hawk County Jail. An autopsy is scheduled to be performed on Rembert at the state Medical Examiner’s office in Ankeny later today.

(Reporting by Scott Fenzloff, KCNZ, Cedar Falls)


Thousands sign petition calling for federal investigation of Clive man’s death


Website with petition calling for federal investigation of Brandon Ellingson’s death.

A petition calling on the U.S. Attorney General to investigate the death of a 20-year-old Clive man who drowned after falling off a Missouri Water Patrol boat in May now has more than 100,000 signatures.

Matt Boles, the lawyer for the Brandon Ellingson family, says the petition drive was launched by Sherry Henrickson Ellingson, the mother of Brandon Ellingson, “As many people who have lost their loved one want to figure out a way to direct their energies into something positive out of the tragic loss — she decided she wanted to start a petition to see if we could get a federal investigation into the actions of Trooper Tony Piercy, and then also kind of the investigation and the approach of the Missouri Highway Patrol,” Boles says.

He says he is amazed by the number of people who have signed onto the petition. “It started out with a change.org petition, and suddenly it caught wildfire about two weeks ago and it went from about 6,000 signatures to I think about a hundred and three thousand,” Boles says.

Brandon Ellingson

Brandon Ellingson

Boles says they are still taking signatures. “It’s available for anybody on-line to go and sign at www.change.org,” Boles explains, “justice-for-BrandonEllingson.org (www.justiceforbrandonellingson.org) is the actual link to his site. And it’s amazing the people who have signed from across the country.”

Ellingson was handcuffed and lost his life jacket after he fell into the water while being brought to shore on a charge of boating while intoxicated. A coroner’s inquest found the death was an accident and the Missouri prosecutor announced no charges would be filed. Boles says he is preparing to file a lawsuit in the case, but was waiting until the end of two legislative hearing that dealt with the training given to water patrol officers.

The second hearing was October 14th. “I think the take away from that was, is that there was an issue with regard to training that the leadership of the Missouri Highway Patrol was very coy about in presenting that information to the legislative oversight committee,” Boles says. “Even when pressed by representatives, they were not very forthcoming in presenting that information.”

Bole says he will use information from those hearings along with other information when he files the lawsuit that will says Brand was deprived of his constitutional rights. “The reason it’s brought under that particular provision is because the fact that Trooper Tony Piercy was operating with the full authority of law enforcement and in that capacity, and based upon his negligent action, and his actions while having Brandon in his custody and control, Brandon lost his life,” Boles says.

Brandon Ellingson graduated from West Des Moines Valley High School and was going into his junior year at Arizona State University.

Chickasaw County deputy charged with assault

A deputy sheriff from northeast Iowa faces assault charges after an off-duty incident earlier this month in New Hampton.

Authorities arrested 35-year-old Jeffrey Allen Athey in New Hampton on October 4 after getting a 9-1-1 call about an alleged assault. Athey, who has been a Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Deputy for six years, was initially charged with assault causing injury, booked into the Bremer County Jail in Waverly, then released. He now faces an additional charge, assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse.

Athey is currently on paid leave from his job in the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office. Prosecutors from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office are handling the case.