Iowa City Police increases investigations units after multiple high-level cases

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - The Iowa City Police Department has added detectives after a sex trafficking case and a suspicious death that was later ruled a homicide.

The Iowa City Police Department works at a home in Iowa City on April 5, 2019. 65-year-old JoEllen Browning was found dead earlier that morning, and police later ruled the death a homicide. (Aaron Scheinblum/KCRG)

Police officials said this will help them in the future, after promoting officers into detective roles with the department both in the investigations unit and the Street Crime Action Team.

It has been more than five months since police found an Iowa City woman dead in her home, and investigators and the county attorney's office still have not announced any details why.

Officers found 65-year-old JoEllen Browning dead in her home on April 5. Police initially called the death suspicious and announced two days later it was considered a homicide.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is leading the case because the Iowa City Police Department says it was already working a different case that took a lot of resources. Det. Lt. David Droll with the Iowa City Police Department said that decision was made quickly, mainly to ensure the homicide investigation received proper and thorough attention. Droll serves as the Detective Units Commander for the police department.

Droll said once they confirmed the death of Browning was going to lead to a homicide investigation, they asked DCI to take the lead on the case.

"It ballooned rather quickly as far as needing more resources," Droll said.

At the time of Browning's death, Droll said the Iowa City Police Department was heavily invested in an investigation related to men allegedly sex trafficking minors. The result of that investigation led to five Eastern iowa men charged with sex trafficking minors, among other charges.

"At that point, most of our investigators were tied up on that human trafficking case- which was just getting bigger and bigger each day," Droll said.

Shortly after that, Police Chief Jody Matherly made the decision to expedite a planned change: moving investigators around and adding detectives to the Street Crimes Action Team.

"What the chief did in June, was he sped that time table up and appointed that sergeant at that point and added two members to the SCAT team," Droll said.

That made a difference in making arrests in a shots fired incident near Mercer Park. Droll said the expertise and expansion on that team will continue to make a difference in the future.

"They already know a lot of the players that are involved, so to speak, so their intelligence is very good as far as identifying people, they have rapport with people, and I think that they were very successful with the shootings that occurred," Droll said. "That's the biggest benefit: it gives us a very fluid team that can be assigned to deal with specific crimes very quickly at varying hours."