State Patrol reverses decision on trooper

Officials of the Iowa State Patrol changed their position on releasing the name of a trooper involved in “visible injury” to a man arrested last summer.

The State Patrol had refused to make public the trooper’s name. But the State Patrol identified the trooper as Jeremy Probasco.

The trooper’s name was made public after the Iowa Freedom of Information Council wrote to officials in the Iowa Department of Public Safety and The Des Moines Register published an editorial, both objecting to the secrecy that has surrounded the arrest of Shanne Arre of LeMars last June.

State Patrol officials offered no explanation for the decision to make public the trooper’s name.

Here is the Iowa FOI Council’s letter: IaStatePatrol.2016

Here is The Register’s editorial:

Who’s the State Patrol really protecting?

More than six months ago, Plymouth County deputies, Kingsley and Remsen city police and an Iowa State Patrol trooper were involved in an incident that left an unarmed suspect injured. But the public still doesn’t know the nature of the injury, how it was sustained, or who the trooper was.

The case involves Shanne Arre, a 29-year-old man with a history of drug-related arrests. In the early hours of June 21, the police attempted to stop Arre for speeding. Arre allegedly led the officers on a chase, ditched his car and ran from the scene on foot before attempting to hide in a patch of tall grass. He was quickly captured and arrested. He’s scheduled to face trial next month on charges that include drunken driving and eluding the police.

In response to a formal records request from the Associated Press, the Iowa State Patrol recently released a report that indicates one of the officers who responded to the incident used force after Arre showed “passive resistance.”

The report describes the force as a “rifle drawn,” adding that it left Arre with a “visible injury” for which he declined treatment. The patrol has refused to elaborate on how Arre was injured by the mere drawing of a weapon.

The patrol says that releasing the name of the trooper and any further details about the incident would undermine Arre’s right to a fair trial.

It’s not at all clear how the disclosure of this basic information would violate Arre’s due process rights. There’s no question the information is already available to both the defense and to prosecutors and will be used at trial, should there be one. The only people left in the dark as to what transpired that night are the people of Iowa.

Under state law, the police are required to provide timely public disclosure of the “immediate facts and circumstances” of a case. There’s no question the names of officers involved in an incident should be part of those immediate facts and circumstances. The law cited by the patrol for keeping such information secret allows for confidentiality only when disclosure would jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear and present danger to an individual. For reasons that are abundantly clear, there is no provision for keeping officers’ names secret to protect the rights of the accused.

It’s also troubling that the information being concealed in the Arre case is contained in the trooper’s written narrative of the incident. At most police agencies, these narratives, which provide the officer’s perspective on events, are part of a publicly accessible incident report.

Confidential investigative reports have their place in law enforcement. But they should be used to document protected information on confidential informants, potential witnesses and uncharged suspects — not to bury information that would explain the use of force.

If the patrol is routinely concealing such information by simply placing it in a document that’s labeled an “investigative report,” that practice needs to stop. Today.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety, which includes the state patrol, has a history of being less than forthcoming with the public. For several years, the patrol has insisted that citizens seeking access to public information put their requests in writing and send them in via email. Ten years ago, the Iowa attorney general clearly and emphatically told state agencies that such a requirement was not only bad public policy, but illegal.

To its credit, the patrol said Thursday that it will revise its website to remove the statement that “records requests MUST be submitted” via email. That demonstrates a good-faith effort on the part of the patrol to make information more accessible, but more needs to be done.

When a police officer uses force against a citizen, that should not only be disclosed, but fully explained. That’s necessary not simply to protect citizens from unwarranted uses of force, but to prevent the erosion of the public’s trust in law enforcement.