Iowa County Jury Sides With Bar, Against City Police Force
By Vanessa Miller, Reporter.
IOWA COUNTY, Iowa - An Iowa County jury on Wednesday returned a verdict in favor of a Williamsburg bar that filed a lawsuit against the city two years ago accusing its police force of “unnecessary surveillance and harassment.”
After coming to a consensus in favor of the Sundown Bar, at 112 West State St. in Williamsburg, jurors agreed to award the establishment $9,156.21 in damages for business they believe the bar lost because of the “unnecessary” police patrols.
John C. Wagner, an attorney representing the bar in the lawsuit, told KCRG that jurors arrived at their verdict after answering “yes” to two key questions: did the city intentionally interfere with the bar’s prospective businesses relationships and was the interference a proximate cause of the bar’s damages.
Wagner said his client, Sundown owner John Donahue, had requested a larger monetary reward, and en expert who testified during the week-long trial suggested the city had damaged the bar to the tune of $200,000. Although he doesn’t know what played into the jury’s decision to award the $9,100-some amount, Wagner said his client is appreciative of the jury’s work and verdict.
“Mr. Donahue is happy that the jury found the city intentionally interfered and that the interference caused damages,” Wagner said. “And he respects the jury’s finding of damages.”
A representative from the City of Williamsburg wasn’t immediately available to comment on the verdict.
The trial, which has been well attended, began June 12, and the jury began deliberating after a week of testimony at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Donahue filed the lawsuit against the city of Williamsburg two years ago for abuse of process and interference with prospective business advantage. Specifically, Donahue accused the Williamsburg police force of targeted the bar for years by following employees and customers after they left and staking out the premises without cause.
The lawsuit accuses officers of harassment and unnecessary surveillance in an attempt to harm the bar or even run it out of business. The city originally answered the bar’s lawsuit by requesting the case be dismissed on grounds that Williamsburg is immune from liability through a section of the Iowa Code that protects municipalities and their employees.
A judge denied that request, but legal experts said it’s usually difficult to win lawsuits against municipalities, which enjoy a broad range of protections under state law.
Todd Pettys, a law professor at the University of Iowa, told KCRG that lawsuits against police officers and agencies are typically an uphill battle. But, he said, “One of the reasons we have juries in the first place is so they can bring local sensibilities to bear on the cases that come up in those communities.”
“When it comes to what is reasonable and unreasonable law enforcement behavior, those are areas where citizens feel pretty comfortable making judgments,” Pettys said.
It was the bar’s position that the worst of the police behavior occurred from 2008 to 2010, according to Wagner.
“And then, it was our position, that the conduct abruptly changed when we filed the lawsuit in 2010,” Wagner said. “Starting in 2011, my client’s sales took off again.”
The Sundown bar’s business is thriving today, and Wagner said his client expects to remain a fixture in town.
“My client looks forward to having a good relationship with the city and the police force,” Wagner said. “He intends to be there for a long time.”
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