Charge dropped against Iowa officer accused of abusing power

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Prosecutors dropped a misconduct charge against a Des Moines police officer accused of interfering with an investigation into a fellow officer who is his girlfriend, saying Wednesday that the evidence showed he didn’t commit a crime.

Des Moines Police Officer Rodney Briggs had been charged with non-felonious misconduct in office and placed on administrative leave in February. A criminal complaint alleged that he used his police identification to try to obtain video from a school district of an unspecified incident involving his girlfriend that police in the Des Moines suburb of Altoona were investigating.

Briggs told Southeast Polk School District employees that he was conducting his own investigation, saying his girlfriend was being targeted by Altoona police and facing potential ruin. An Altoona officer sought the charge against Briggs, a serious misdemeanor that carried fines and could have devastated his policing career.

The Polk County Attorney’s Office dropped the case last week “in the interest of justice,” after deposition testimony showed Briggs was making an open records request for the video as a private citizen. While he mentioned his police position in making the request, he did not use his authority to “require” the school employees to do anything, an element needed to support the criminal charge, prosecutor Maurice Curry said in a court filing.

County Attorney John Sarcone said Wednesday that Briggs’ girlfriend is also a Des Moines officer — a fact not mentioned in the complaint — and that she was ultimately not charged. He didn’t immediately release details on the incident in question.

An attorney for Briggs said the evidence showed he was in plain clothes and driving his personal vehicle when he showed up at the district office in Altoona to request the video. Briggs told them he was familiar with the Iowa Open Records Act because of his prior service on the school board in Ames and his role as a police officer. He was directed to make the request in writing, and did so using a form provided by a state agency that oversees compliance with the law.

District employees testified that they did not believe Briggs was acting in any capacity with the Des Moines Police Department and did not require them to perform any act.

“Rodney is grateful that the charges against him are dismissed in this matter,” said his attorney, Matthew Sease. “However, it is unfortunate that charges were ever filed when each witness was emphatic that Rodney was not in any way acting in his official capacity, but instead was making an open records request as every Iowan has a right to do.”

Sarcone said that his office had probable cause to charge Briggs in February, but responded when exculpatory information emerged during the discovery process.

“We did what we would do in any case where we could not establish the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt: We dismissed it,” Sarcone said.

In light of the dismissal, the Des Moines Police Department will reinstate Briggs to his regular duty assignment, spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek said. An internal investigation, launched in February, is still ongoing, he said.

Parizek referred questions about the incident involving Briggs’ girlfriend to the Altoona Police Department, where Chief Greg Stallman didn’t immediately return a message.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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