Linn County Attorney responds to calls for him to resign

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden is responding to criticisms including calls for him to resign.
Published: Jun. 23, 2020 at 6:38 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden is responding to criticisms including calls for him to resign.

Those calls center on two key issues that critics say show Vander Sanden is out of touch on racial justice. One is an editorial he wrote in the Gazette arguing disparities in arrests and convictions of Black people compared to White people for marijuana crimes do not show the justice system is racist.

The other is the officer involved shooting of Jerime Mitchell in November of 2016. A grand jury cleared the officer, Lucas Jones without hearing Mitchell’s side of the story. Mitchell, and his attorney, Larry Rogers Jr. spoke on the incident in a TV-9 exclusive on Monday.

The calls for police and criminal justice reforms are being heard all across the country, including here in Iowa. Some activist say Vander Sanden has been a topic at some of the local protest in Cedar Rapids.

“I’ve had some conversations with some people,” said Dedric Doolin, head of the Cedar Rapids NAACP branch. “And some people think that he is a part of the big part of the problem.”

Doolin says Vander Sanden can be part of the solution. “He makes a lot of decisions, and you see a lot of decisions that happen as far as charges and things,” he said. “How many of those charges are impacted by the lack of understanding of his biases?”

While some activist say Vander Sanden needs to be more involved. “I don’t believe he’s in touch with our community,” said Sophia Mehaffey. “And the more the demographic of this community change, the more it becomes apparent.”

Vander Sanden says he’s open to dialogue and has taken part in many roundtable discussions on race. He points out that he went to an NAACP meeting and answered questions just hours after clearing Lucas Jones.

“I have always been an advocate for open chains of communication with all members of the community,” he said. “So we can make the criminal justice system responsive to the needs of the people.” He’s also open to more implicit bias training. “Implicit bias training when it was offered by our organization was well-received,” he said. We expect that it will be on the agenda.”

But activist say more needs to be done, and it’s time to put some pressure on Vander Sanden. “In a county attorney, we need someone who is capable of reviewing the policies and procedures that exist,” said Mehaffey. “Identifying those that cause inequitiy, and making the necessary changes to right the ship.”

“This is a really good time for Jerry Vander Sanden to take the opportunity to learn about the realities of systemic racism, acknowledge his own implicit bias and miseducation and take the steps that he’s able to right the wrongs of criminal justice despair in Linn County.” Added Mehaffey. “Anybody who has nobody run against them, they get pretty comfortable, so they feel like they don’t need to make any changes,” said Doolin.

Vander Sanden was sworn into office in 2010 when after the last County Attorney retired. He’s run unopposed in every election.

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