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No charges against white Iowa police officer who paralyzed black man in shooting

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A white police officer will not be charged in a shooting that left an unarmed black motorist paralyzed and sparked protests in Iowa’s second largest city, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden announced at a news conference that a grand jury declined to return an indictment against Cedar Rapids police officer Lucas Jones in the Nov. 1 shooting of Jerime Mitchell. It is the second time in one year that Vander Sanden’s office has declined to charge Jones in use-of-force cases.

The decision stunned and angered supporters of Mitchell, who had questioned whether the shooting was justified for weeks and called for Vander Sanden to step aside in favor of a special prosecutor. Mitchell, 37, remains hospitalized in a Lincoln, Nebraska, rehabilitation facility with a bullet lodged in his neck.

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Mitchell’s attorney, Paula Roby, criticized Vander Sanden earlier Tuesday for hastily concluding the grand jury process without obtaining a statement from her client, who had regained the ability to talk in recent days. She said Mitchell had been eager to give his version of events of the traffic stop and shooting and that she had an agreement for an investigator to take his statement next week.

“The family is shocked and disappointed,” Roby said.

Using his nickname, Mitchell’s supporters have led a “Justice for Danky” campaign in which they have called on police to release video of the shooting and additional information about the altercation that led to it. Hundreds attended a fundraiser for him last week at the African-American Museum of Iowa. 

Officials say around 1:00 a.m. on Nov. 1, Jones pulled over Mitchell, CBS affiliate KGAN reports. They allege Mitchell began an altercation and Jones shot him. Mitchell drove away, hitting two cars before being taken into custody and to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. His family tells KGAM that Mitchell is paralyzed from the shooting.

Mitchell was originally pulled over because the lights on his license plate were burned out, according to KGAN. Vander Sanden said in the news conference that when Officer Jones approached Mitchell’s vehicle and smelled a strong smell of marijuana. According to Jones, Mitchell asked him, “What the (expletive) do you want?” When Mitchell would not calm down, Jones released a K9, but couldn’t gain control of the the situation.

Officials have said that an altercation between the two ensued and that Jones fired his service weapon, striking Mitchell in the neck. Apparently still in the driver’s seat, the wounded Mitchell then hit the accelerator and his car drove into other vehicles. He was later taken to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in critical condition.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department has declined to release dashcam video from Jones’ car at Vander Sanden’s request. But the department has promised to make it public once the investigation concludes.

As is typical in a shooting involving police, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation reviewed the use of force and turned over its findings to the county attorney. After reviewing those materials, Vander Sanden announced Nov. 18 that he would ask a grand jury “to inquire into the circumstances to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.”

Grand juries are made up of seven randomly chosen residents in Iowa, and at least five have to agree on a charge in order to return an indictment. They operate in secret and are rarely used in Iowa, where prosecutors usually decide themselves whether charges are justified. Vander Sanden had declined to step aside from presenting evidence to the jury, saying it wasn’t necessary and that calls for him to do so unfairly sowed distrust in law enforcement.

Jones, an officer since 2011, has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. In October 2015, Jones and another officer shot and killed 21-year-old Jonathan Gossman, who had allegedly pointed a loaded gun at them during a foot chase. Vander Sanden, a Democrat who has served as county attorney since 2010, ruled that Jones and the other officer “were clearly reasonable in their belief that lethal force was necessary to defend themselves.” Jones shot 16 times at Gossman, who was white.

A union representing Cedar Rapids police officers had publicly backed Jones, expressing confidence he would not face charges. The union had also praised Vander Sanden for sending the case to the grand jury, saying the “impartial results” of that process would help maintain trust between officers and citizens.