The Iowa Freedom of Information Council has reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the Polk County sheriff’s department over dash camera video and other records in the fatal shooting of a Wisconsin motorist in 2018.
FOI Council Executive Director, Randy Evans, says lawyers for the county reached out after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and a settlement was reached. “It’s refreshing to put one of these in the done list,” Evans says. The sheriff’s department had refused to say what led to the chase of 25-year-old Isaiah Hayes of Ashland, Wisconsin. The department also refused to say whether a gun was found with his body, whether he was shot in the chest or in the back, and how many shots were fired by the deputy.
Under the agreement, Polk County will routinely release its video and the incident reports prepared by sheriff’s deputies after events that result in the death or serious injury of other people. “The agreement recognizes that when investigations are still underway that it’s appropriate for certain information to be kept confidential — but once an investigation is concluded — then the public deserves to have access to some of those documents and records,” according to Evans.
Evans believes this case might help in other cases where law enforcement withholds video. “I think when the largest sheriff’s department in Iowa acknowledges there is a role for public access and public oversight — I think that message is one that will be taken to heart by other law enforcement agencies around the state,” Evans says.
Evans says the release of video is beneficial to law enforcement. “Particularly in cases where the actions of law officers are called into question,” Evans says. “that video is one way of building and maintaining public confidence and respect in law enforcement.” The agreement is for one year and Evans says he would have liked to have it be permanent.
“I think however that it is going to be difficult for them to try to go back to the old policy — which was basically once and an investigation was completed that is everything confidential forever,” Evans says. “And I don’t think that the public is going to want to go back.”
The sheriff’s office did say that Deputy Ryan Phillips saw Hayes run from a stolen car near Altoona and Phillips fired when Hayes refused orders to drop a weapon. Hayes’ family says he had a BB gun, but that he was running away and not threatening the deputy. A grand jury declined to pursue charges against Phillips and he returned to work.