Editorial: Thumbs up, Thumbs Down
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Editorial: Thumbs up, Thumbs Down

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Thumbs Up … to the decision in Scott County District Court this week that hopefully puts to rest the long-simmering controversy over who rightly sits on the Davenport Civil Rights Commission.

District Court Judge Tom Reidel issued a summary judgment Monday for the City of Davenport, rejecting arguments by former commissioners that amounted to a claim that they could stay in their appointed positions as long as they wanted.

In his 11-page ruling, Reidel wrote, "to accept the Defendant’s position that they are essentially appointed for life would lead to an absurd result that is contrary to the clear language and the intent of the ordinance."

That it took more than a year to get here is what is truly absurd. Still, the judge made clear this wasn’t even a close call.

Hopefully, those who have spent a year preventing the commission from doing its work will now accept this decision — and the unassailable logic that goes along with it — and stand down.

Thumbs Down ... to the handling of the case of a Coal Valley man who was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison in the 2007 death of his infant son, Dax.

The conviction of 33-year-old Nathaniel Onsrud was vacated and he left prison this week after the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois-Springfield took up his case. Rock Island County State's Attorney Dora Villarreal supported the project's request that the conviction be vacated.

Onsrud pleaded guilty to his son's murder in 2008, but the project said that exculpatory documents that pointed to his innocence weren't turned over to the defense.

Villarreal said her office reviewed the case after being alerted to it and became alarmed.

The Innocence Project said initial medical examinations found there was no foul play involved and a forensic pathologist brought in to consult on the case was reluctant at first to even label it a homicide. Dax, who was born 10 weeks premature, had significant medical complications and became unresponsive while in Onsrud's care.

The Innocence Project said that under continual questioning Onsrud made some ambiguous statements that investigators then determined to be confessions. Onsrud's attorney then encouraged him to plead guilty. An attorney who worked in Onsrud's behalf said that the behavior of police and prosecutors at the time was "grotesque."

Villarreal said the charges have not been dismissed. Instead, the case is being reviewed by her office, which also is reviewing other cases that were handled by the prosecutor in the Onsrud case, former Assistant State's Attorney Margaret Osborn. Osborn worked for the office from 2006 to 2013.

It's clear this case was not handled properly, and it is to the justice system's and the public's benefit that the Innocence Project is exercising this kind of oversight.

In this instance, we are eager to see the findings of the State's Attorney's review of not just Onsrud's case, but the others as well.

Thumbs Up …. to yet another district court ruling in Iowa. In this case, Judge John Telleen found the Maquoketa Police Department must disclose to the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press squad car and body camera footage related to an last year involving an assistant county attorney, Amanda Lassance.

In the early morning hours of April 6, 2019, Lassance’s boyfriend, Nicholas Shannon, called 911 to say the two were in a car at the roadside in Clinton County just south of the Jackson County line, and that they'd been drinking and Lassance attacked him in a moving vehicle, according to court records.

Deputies from the two counties responded; so did Maquoketa police, who were first on the scene. They found Lassance in her car and observed bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and empty beer cans visible, according to court records. Still, she was not given a sobriety test; instead, she was driven to her office at the Jackson County Courthouse.

The newspaper investigated and asked for, and received, a number of public records — just not the squad car and body camera footage it wanted.

The police department contended the videos were confidential and noted the police were not involved in the decision on whether to file charges.

The judge sided with the newspaper, writing that the public has an interest in whether leniency is granted public officials who get in trouble, and that the video will provide significant information not found in the other records.

We’re grateful the judge found in favor of openness. Indeed, it may well be instructive to see what actually happened as this incident began to unfold.

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