Dec 10, 2021 - News

The price of hiding footage

A photo of Polk County deputy Ryan Phillips.

Ryan Phillips was a Polk County Sheriff's deputy in 2018. He is now a sergeant with the department. Photo courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office

An attorney for the family of a Wisconsin resident who was shot and killed by a Polk County sheriff's deputy in 2018 told Axios this week that the shooting "more likely than not was justified."

Why it matters: The case drew questions over why video evidence was withheld for more than two years after the shooting.

  • It also cost the county at least $170,000 to settle legal disputes.

Flashback: Polk County sheriff's officials said Isaiah Hayes robbed a Grinnell Walmart and led law enforcement on two high-speed chases on July 17, 2018.

  • Polk deputy Ryan Phillips shot and killed Hayes as he tried to flee on foot in an Altoona neighborhood, sheriff's officials said.
  • Hayes was holding a gun at the time of the shooting, according to the sheriff's officials. Methamphetamine was later found in Hayes' system, autopsy records show.

Catch up quick: Phillips returned to work about three months after the shooting.

  • The Iowa Freedom of Information Council (IFOI) sued the county over the video evidence in 2019, which prompted its release last year and the county to pay $120,000 for the group's legal bills.
  • Hayes' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2020, questioning whether the grainy footage that was ultimately released showed a gun as investigators had concluded.

The latest: Dave O'Brien, the attorney of Hayes' family, told Axios this week that a video expert they hired concluded that Hayes was holding a BB gun at the time of the shooting.

What he's saying: The family has settled its case for $50,000, a far lesser amount than what would have otherwise been likely because "it's hard to quibble" with the officer's actions, O'Brien said.

  • He added that it's probable neither lawsuit would have been filed had the records been released soon after the investigation concluded.
  • Polk County Sheriff officials declined to comment this week.

Between the lines: Iowa's public records law, which was enacted more than 50 years ago, predates certain technology, such as body cameras.

  • There are widely divergent rules in place among Iowa law enforcement agencies regarding video release, according to a statewide investigation published this year by Iowa Newspaper Association (INA) members.

Thought bubble: Updating the law could help avoid lawsuits and improve Iowa's judicial system.

Editor's note: Jason represents Axios on the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. The group's lawsuit in the Hayes case was resolved before he joined the organization.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.

More Des Moines stories