Here at your hometown newspaper, we have avoided public speculation about what we might learn from bodycam footage Maquoketa Police Department officers captured when they found Amanda Lassance, one of Jackson County’s prosecutors, behind the wheel of her car showing signs of drunkenness.
The video, which Maquoketa Police Chief Brad Koranda refused to release to the public last year, is likely the final piece of the public records puzzle we have been trying to assemble for the past 16 months. We don’t know what the video shows, but we may know soon, thanks to a judge’s ruling last week in our lawsuit against the city.
Judge John Telleen of the Seventh Judicial District ruled that releasing the video would allow the public a fuller understanding of what happened and made some key points during a June 9 hearing.
“The prosecutor primarily in charge of prosecuting the misdemeanor OWIs and felony OWIs in Jackson County is seated in the driver’s seat of the vehicle, empty beer cans everywhere, apparently smells like beer, not given a field sobriety test, not given a PBT (preliminary breath test) and is driven to, of all places, the Jackson County Courthouse,” Telleen said during the hearing. “… Unfortunately, it seems to cry out that there was favorable treatment by one law enforcement officer to another.”
The lawsuit, which we filed in November, is likely our final chance to piece together a more complete account of how law enforcement officers from various departments stumbled through an investigation of one of their own and then repeatedly obstructed the public’s efforts to learn what happened that evening.
Those of you who read this newspaper closely know we have devoted significant resources to pursuing this story, which we believe is important for the people of Clinton County to understand.
We have aggressively used Iowa Code Chapter 22, our state’s open records law, to gain access to written records and video from the sheriff’s departments of Jackson and Clinton counties and the police departments of Maquoketa and Bellevue, all of which responded to the call.
As one fact after another slowly fell into place, the story morphed into an unfolding investigation not just of one official’s bad judgment, but of frequent dishonesty, a lack of accountability and local government’s reluctance to provide information to the public.
Beyond that, it exposed the obvious reality that, at least in rural Iowa counties, there is nearly zero oversight of local officials other than by voters. That voters are the final and perhaps only line of defense in the battle for good government shows why Iowa’s open records laws are vital to our democracy. The question-raising conduct of local police and ensuing lack of transparency shows clearly that if not for those statutes, the public officials in this story would have answered to no one. But because their actions are now widely known, they at least have to answer to the public, and there is plenty of accountability to go around.
Here are some officials involved in this story who deserve a full helping:
Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln and Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf at first refused to release basic information Clinton County deputies gathered at the scene, changing their mind only after The Observer obtained documents through other means that showed deputies had provided Lassance with favorable treatment by not administering a sobriety test and then taking her to her public office, where she spent the rest of the night.
Jackson County Sheriff Russ Kettmann provided the public with incorrect information multiple times. He told the Sentinel-Press that his deputy, Chad Roeder, was on the scene for only five and half minutes and that his bodycam was recording the entire time he was at the scene. But records and video obtained from other departments through open records requests proved both of those statements untrue.
Jackson County Deputy Chad Roeder changed his story three times, but only after evidence contradicted his earlier statements. Roeder told the Sentinel-Press he kept his bodycam running the entire time he was at the scene. He said he was on the scene for only about five and half minutes. He also specifically said he did not talk to Lassance during the call. One at a time, he later acknowledged each of those statements was false.
Clinton County Deputy Andrew Petersen drove Lassance to the Jackson County Courthouse after making the feeble argument in his report that he did not give her a sobriety test because she said she had been drinking alcohol after the car had come to a stop. When he dropped her off, he advised her – following instructions Roeder gave him at the scene – to stay out of the sheriff’s office because “they don’t want you to get in more trouble than you already are.”
Jackson County Chief Deputy Steve Schroeder, who is Kettmann’s brother-in-law and uncle to another deputy on the force, provided Lassance with a ride back to her car the morning after she had spent the night in her office at the Jackson County Courthouse. Despite questions raised about the propriety of that ride and the other seemingly favorable treatment Lassance received, he has insisted that the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department did nothing wrong.
Maquoketa Police Chief Brad Koranda and the Maquoketa City Council united to put this newspaper in the position of giving up or paying up. By denying an obviously legitimate open records request, they put this newspaper, a taxpaying local business, in the position of risking thousands of dollars to pursue a lawsuit or allowing them to violate the law.
Jackson County Attorney Sara Davenport, Lassance’s boss, has not only kept Lassance employed as her assistant at taxpayer’s expense but has also continued to have her prosecute others for drunk driving, an irony that is beyond words and an embarrassment to our county.
And then, of course, there is Lassance, whose dangerous behavior and willingness to game the justice system set all of this in motion.
None of them appears to have faced any significant consequences for their actions other than public indignity. No one has apologized to the public, and no one has vowed to do better.
That’s what we know.
What we still don’t know is exactly how the dirty mess went down.
The Maquoketa Police Department’s video might or might not provide a better understanding. Because of the judge’s ruling, we may know soon.