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Iowa lawmakers are considering statewide rules for flagging police officers who have lied

police car
Diego Parra
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A group of Iowa lawmakers and criminal justice system professionals met Monday to study how prosecutors share information about police officers whose credibility is in question.

A group of Iowa lawmakers and criminal justice system professionals met Monday to study how prosecutors share information about police officers whose credibility is in question.

A “Brady List” or “Brady-Giglio List” is a list or database kept by a prosecutor. It contains the names of law enforcement officers who committed some form of misconduct that has put their credibility into question. This could include lying, committing a crime, showing racial bias, excessive force, and more.

As a result of past court rulings, prosecutors are supposed to share that information with defense attorneys, who may use it to challenge cases or testimony from those officers.

Criminal justice system stakeholders and lawmakers have raised concerns about inconsistencies across the state that could infringe on the due process rights of Iowans accused of crimes and officers involved in their cases.

The Brady-Giglio List Study Committee did not recommend specific changes Monday for the Iowa Legislature to consider in next year.

“I don’t have any firm answers today other than more questions, more food for thought,” said Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, who chaired the committee.

Klein said discussions will continue, and that he’s especially concerned that officers can be flagged for potential credibility issues without their knowledge.

A defendant’s right to a fair trial, liability for prosecutors and police departments, and career consequences for law enforcement officers all hang in the balance.

In an interview ahead of the Monday meeting, State Public Defender Jeff Wright said every county in Iowa has a different approach to maintaining and sharing information about officers with potential credibility issues.

“Some counties are more than happy to kind of turn over everything. Some counties are a little bit more specific about what they turn over to defense counsel,” Wright said. “And I think finding a more consistent process and procedure is probably a good idea.”

Wright said criminal defense lawyers in Iowa ask for this information when appropriate, but ultimately, they rely on prosecutors to do the right thing and turn over evidence that could help prevent wrongful convictions.

“It’s important that the process is as fair as possible to all people, and that includes defendants and that includes police officers,” Wright said. “But if there is a bad actor out there, I think it’s important that defense counsel have the right to know that, defendants have the right to know that.”

The Associated Press reported these processes are inconsistent across the country and within many states, and that police reform activists are calling for more use of Brady Lists to help reduce police misconduct.

The Des Moines Register found in 2019 that 89 of Iowa’s 99 counties did not have a Brady List at the time.

Iowa does not have a state law governing the use of Brady Lists. There is a new state law that forbids firing or disciplining an officer solely because they are on a Brady List.

Assistant Polk County Attorney Shannon Archer said it’s difficult to determine what exactly should get someone onto a Brady List, partly because different forms of misconduct can be relevant to the specific circumstances of different criminal cases. Officer disciplinary records are mostly kept secret, which also complicates sharing this information.

Archer proposed the creation of a statewide panel to determine what information should be shared with criminal defense lawyers.

“It would provide for that uniformity, that they would be the ones that would review these records,” Archer said. “There would be something in the law that would require the law enforcement department to provide information to this panel. All disciplinary records go to this panel.”

Archer said the panel could decide to flag police officers who have lied in a statewide database that would only be available to prosecutors and police officers, and the panel could make decisions about other forms of bad behavior on a case-by-case basis. Archer said there should also be an appeal process for officers.

Iowa Appellate Defender Martha Lucey said it’s concerning that she has not received Brady-Giglio information in the 25 years she’s held her current position.

“I’ve never seen it, and we know that there are cases where it should have happened,” Lucey said. “And we’re stuck with this backward look.”

Lucey said sharing information about police officers with defense attorneys is key, and judges ultimately decide what can actually be used in court.

The Iowa Police Chiefs Association also brought some recommendations to the study committee.

Altoona Police Chief Greg Stallman said all county attorneys should maintain their own county’s Brady-Giglio List and provide annual updates. And he said the state should enact administrative rules establishing what conduct can get an officer onto a Brady-Giglio List, and specifying a process for getting off a list.

Stallman and many others at Monday’s meeting described the example of an Altoona officer who was put on a Brady-Giglio List for stealing firewood as part of a college fraternity prank long before he became a police officer.

Stallman said that has never been used against the officer in court.

“What is the point of the disclosure then?” Stallman asked. “At what point can we no longer disclose that letter and take that scarlet letter off of that officer?”

The study committee is tasked with submitting a report to the Iowa Legislature by Dec. 16.