NORTH LIBERTY– Anissa Gerard, a resident of West Branch, has filed a lawsuit against the City of North Liberty and Officer Mitch Seymour for an injury which occurred while she was in custody.
Gerard’s suit was filed with the Johnson County Clerk of Courts on Wednesday, Oct. 10, and alleges negligence on the part of officer Seymour and the city as his employer.
On Dec. 10, 2011, Gerard’s 17-year old son was arrested for possession of marijuana and was in custody at the North Liberty Police Department (NLPD). After five unsuccessful attempts to reach Gerard by phone, the NLPD requested the West Branch Police Department attempt to make contact. A West Branch officer was dispatched to her residence. According to documents regarding the lawsuit, Gerard told the West Branch officer “That’s f-ing great.” when told of her son’s arrest. The documents state the West Branch officer advised the NLPD that Gerard was, “extremely intoxicated and should not attempt to drive.”
However, according to the city’s response to claims, Gerard appeared, “after some period of time passed,” at the NLPD. Gerard claims she was interviewed by officer Seymour, who suspected her of being intoxicated. The city’s response states, “There was no doubt in officer Seymour’s mind that plaintiff (Gerard) was extremely intoxicated.” Gerard was also seen staggering badly in the hallway and bumping into the wall numerous times, according to the documents.
While paperwork for her son’s release was being completed, Gerard, “slouched in a chair, putting her feet on the table and treating the entire situation as a joke.” The response added Gerard made, “crude and vulgar comments, laughed and made references to wanting the marijuana her son had been arrested for possessing.” It also states she, “waved at the surveillance camera and made derogatory remarks about the West Branch police officer who had come to her home.”
According to the document, Gerard was warned her conduct, if it continued, would lead to arrest after she allegedly tried to prevent Seymour from closing a door. Gerard reportedly claimed harassment at one point after Seymour had left the room.
Sgt. Tyson Landsgard warned Gerard again her conduct could lead to arrest. After he left the room, the city says she threw her cell phone against the wall, denting the drywall. She was arrested at this time and charged with public intoxication, fifth degree criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and interference with official acts. Documents from her arrest state the interference charge stemmed from Gerard pulling her hands away from the officers attempting to handcuff her, refusing to be handcuffed and “trying to turn to face the officers while being walked to the car (for transport to the Johnson County jail).” The report also states Gerard attempted to spit on the officers.
It was while Seymour was taking Gerard to his patrol car that the injury occurred. Her suit claims Seymour was, “propelling her faster than she would normally walk,” with her arms behind her back. In order to exit the building, a set of stairs had to be negotiated. The suit claims she was not made aware of the stairs, began to fall, Seymour failed to, “hold on to her arm or otherwise keep her from falling down the stairs, and therefore she fell and broke her left ankle.”
The city denies the charge, but agrees Gerard was handcuffed with her arms behind her back. The city claims that as Gerard neared a step by the door, she “again violently tried to either free herself from the officers or spit on them.” In doing so she pivoted, causing her foot to slip off of the edge of the step. “In spite of officer Seymour’s efforts to prevent plaintiff from falling, he was not able to do so.”
The lawsuit claims it was Seymour’s duty to see that Gerard was safely transported to the jail. It also alleges “failure to exercise reasonable care to warn Gerard of the foreseeable hazard created by encountering an unfamiliar staircase with arms and hands handcuffed behind her; and/or failure to act as a reasonable officer would, under the conditions then and there existing, to keep Gerard, who was handcuffed with her arms and hands behind her back, from falling down the stairs.” The city denies these charges in their entirety.
Gerard is seeking an unspecified amount for “past, present and future medical expenses, doctor expenses, and other health-care provider expenses; past, present and future pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish and physical discomfort; past, present, and future loss of full function of body and disability; past lost income and future loss of earning capacity; and other damages.” Gerard’s attorney has asked for a jury trial.
Gerard is a full-time graduate student pursuing a PhD. and cited financial hardships related to this as grounds for performing community service in place of at least some of her various civil penalties. She performed 40 hours of community service and was placed on one year probation. In addition, Gerard is paying $50 per month on the civil fines and fees. The court ordered Gerard to write a letter of apology to the officers, which said, “I apologize for engaging in activities that led to my pleading guilty to the charges on Dec. 10, 2011.”
Gerard is being represented by David A. O’Brien of Cedar Rapids. The City of North Liberty and Officer Seymour are represented by Terry J. Abernathy, also of Cedar Rapids. Seymour has been with the NLPD since 2008.
Police chief Jim Warkentin said he has been advised not to comment on any active lawsuits, but said that, “(Gerard) never filed a formal complaint against Officer Seymour, just an insurance claim which was denied, and then the lawsuit was filed.”
Chief Warkentin explained the process that would have been followed had a formal complaint been made. “A formal complaint form is filled out and then it is forwarded to the officer’s supervisor, who gathers all possible evidence including any video or audio evidence with a summary which then comes to the chief for a final determination.”
Warkentin said a complaint could be deemed unfounded, exonerated, sustained, not sustained or policy failure. ”Any disciplinary action taken by the department would depend on what type of complaint was received,” Warkentin said.
No trial date had been set.