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Ankeny releases officer crash video; chief pledges new policies

Ankeny releases officer crash video; chief pledges new policies
23 Sep
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Dash and body cam footage shows the July 5th crash involving officer Charles Webster, who was disciplined for the chain-reaction distracted driving accident. Special to the Register, Des Moines Register

Ankeny’s new police chief is drafting a policy for handling accidents involving officers after the city was obligated to release video Friday showing an officer at fault in a July crash.

Reader’s Watchdog requested the video of Officer Charles Webster’s July 5 crash with two other vehicles after a couple in the accident raised questions about how it was being handled.

Mindy Ponsetto-Clift — the wife of Ryan Clift, who was hit with a toddler in tow — said the city’s insurance adjuster wasn’t treating her fairly in negotiations over damage to her 2008 Honda Accord.

The city subsequently refused to release to Watchdog, or the Clifts, body and dash camera footage from inside Webster’s vehicle, saying it was part of a personnel matter.

Watchdog subsequently asked Iowa’s Public Information Board to issue an advisory opinion. The board on Thursday approved an opinion finding the footage was public under Iowa code.

The body camera footage shows Webster approaching the initial vehicle he hit, checking first on a woman driver and her daughter in the backseat, then checking on Clift and his 2-year-old, who was hit next in the chain-reaction crash.

The 24-year-old officer apologized several times to both drivers.

“I was going to a call over here and I was looking down at my computer and it was just … Everyone stopped so quickly,” Webster said.

About 3 minutes into the body camera video, Webster can be heard muttering to himself, “God … stupid.”

A report completed after the crash for the Iowa Department of Transportation said Webster “contributed to the incident by failing to stop in an assured clear distance.”

Ankeny police and Iowa State Patrol also refused to release speed data and dash-camera footage after an accident in 2016 involving another officer. In that case, they said the video was part of a law enforcement investigation.

Chief Darius Potts, who was hired from Arizona’s Department of Public Safety and has been on the job about five weeks, said Webster was disciplined. However, that discipline is confidential. 

“Obviously, Officer Webster was at fault,” he said. “He stepped up to it and admitted he was at fault.”

The new policy may include having an internal committee look at such accidents. Potts said he’s reviewing how other departments handle officer-involved accidents and plans to present a policy in two or three weeks.

Potts said he still needs to review other accidents involving officers to see if new training is needed regarding distracted driving. 

“I think everything is settled as far as insurance and making people whole. It’s just a basic accident,” Potts said.

But Ponsetto-Clift said the city’s insurer didn’t give her and her husband enough to make them whole.

“We ended up settling for $4,300 and kept the car. Their own estimate to fix the car was $4,800,” she said. “I tried to file a claim with Iowa Insurance Division, but they said it was a third-party insurance company; they didn’t have authority.”

Under the state’s year-old distracted driving law, motorists who use a cell phone or portable electronic devices can be cited and fined, with court costs up to $100. (Unless the motor vehicle is stopped and off the traveled portion of the roadway.)

A driver using a cell phone who kills someone and is found to have been driving recklessly can face 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

But Iowa law allows police to read texts while performing official duties.

In 2016, open-government advocates lobbied state leaders to provide more transparency in incidents involving the police.

Lee Rood’s Reader’s Watchdog column helps Iowans get answers and accountability from public officials, the justice system, businesses and nonprofits. Contact her at lrood@dmreg.com, 515-284-8549, on Twitter @leerood, or at facebook.com/readerswatchdog.

Read or Share this story: https://dmreg.co/2QPmdk1

Source: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/readers-watchdog/2018/09/22/ankeny-releases-officer-crash-video-chief-pledges-new-policies/1382001002/

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