FOI Council prevails in suit against sheriff

The Polk County Sheriff’s Department has agreed to release records in the fatal shooting of a Wisconsin motorist by a sheriff’s deputy. The county also agreed, going forward, that it would routinely release such records whenever its officers are involved in incidents that kill or seriously injure people.

The agreement is in response to a public-records lawsuit filed last year by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. 

As part of the agreement, the county will reimburse $120,000 in legal expenses incurred by the council in that court dispute.

The council sued Polk County last year after the sheriff’s department refused to make public squad car dash camera video of the incident in Altoona in 2018 in which Isaiah Hayes of Ashland, Wis., was fatally wounded when a chase ended in a cul-de-sac.

Officials refused for months to say whether a gun was found with Hayes’ body. Nor would officials say what led to the chase, whether Hayes was shot in the chest or in the back, or how many times he was shot. 

A Polk County grand jury and an internal investigation by the sheriff’s department concluded that the deputy involved had acted appropriately and had not violated any law.

Randy Evans, the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said on Monday, “The FOI Council is gratified that Polk County recognized the importance of public transparency and accountability in the death of Isaiah Hayes by agreeing to make dash camera video and other records public in this case and in other cases going forward in which the county’s law officers kill or seriously injure someone.

“As we have said from the very beginning of our quest for records in the Hayes death, law enforcement agencies will not build public trust and confidence in their officers’ actions if officials try to keep the public in the dark about the facts and circumstances of a case like this.”

Under the terms of the consent agreement, Polk County will have 14 days to release records sought in the lawsuit. The county will have 21 days to provide answers to the FOI Council’s questions that are not addressed in records the county releases.