Iowa City and Coralville are settling with a man who was wrongly accused of driving under the influence in 2017 and held for three months in jail without evidence.
Anthony Watson of Coralville sued for negligence resulting in personal injury, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution, according to a petition filed in 2019. Coralville and Iowa City will split the $390,000 settlement, with each paying $195,000. The two arresting officers, included in the civil lawsuit, were former Iowa City Officer Travis Graves and former Coralville Officer Jeff Reinhard.
According to the lawsuit, Watson’s arrest caused him to not get the medical care he needed for a brain injury and he lost his apartment and job while in jail. Watson had a seizure while in custody and wasn’t immediately taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Watson was eventually admitted and treated for damage from the disease that affects the brain, known as encephalopathy.
The lawsuit states that Watson’s arrest and the delay in obtaining medical care resulted in a seizure and caused or contributed to the development of the brain damage, resulting in “immediate physical harm with potential long-term consequences.”
According to the lawsuit, Watson was stopped at Casey’s General Store on the corner of South Dubuque and East Market streets in December 2017 in Iowa City when he was approached by Graves. Graves was investigating a report of reckless driving that he didn’t witness himself, but was reported to a dispatcher.
After an interview, Watson performed and passed field sobriety tests and was asked to take a preliminary breath test, which showed no alcohol use.
Despite this, Graves was suspicious that Watson was under the influence of a drug and requested assistance from Reinhard to perform a drug use evaluation at the Iowa City Police Department.
Watson’s lawsuit said he agreed to take the evaluation, which it claimed is “an unscientific, completely subjective assessment of an individual performed by an individual claiming to be expert but not qualified to interpret any results.”
The evaluation determined Watson was under the influence of marijuana. Watson later provided a urine sample, which was tested and came back negative for drug use.
Reinhard and Graves decided to arrest and charge Watson for his first offense of driving under the influence, a serious misdemeanor, but Reinhard did not disclose the results of the urine test in his arrest report.
The lawsuit alleges that Graves and Reinhard knew that Watson was on parole for an unrelated offense and knew that his arrest for OWI would likely mean he would remain in jail until his prosecution for OWI would be resolved.
“(Graves and Reinhard) knew that by continuing with an arrest and a prosecution that was unfounded that they would cause plaintiff to suffer economic loss and physical and emotional distress, which included a prolonged imprisonment, and a loss of his home and job,” the lawsuit said.
Watson remained in jail from Dec. 16, 2017 until March 6, 2018, when he was released. In April 2018, the Johnson County Attorney’s office dismissed the OWI charge against him for “anticipated problems of proof fatal to the prosecution— breath and toxicology came back negative for alcohol and/or controlled substances.”
Watson’s parole status was later reinstated.
Marty Diaz, Watson’s attorney, declined to comment to the Press-Citizen about the settlement.
The Iowa City Council unanimously approved its half of the settlement amount at Tuesday’s meeting, voting without any discussion. The city has held numerous closed sessions to discuss current or pending litigation over the past several weeks.
Officer Reinhard is now employed with Iowa City. Iowa City is reviewing another arrest captured on video in June where he punched a woman five times in the back as she allegedly grabbed his taser, while in handcuffs.
The Iowa City Police Department changed its policy to add more de-escalation techniques after Graves, in 2015, forced a teenager to the ground during an arrest, prompting calls of discrimination after part of the incident was captured on video.
Iowa City Attorney Eric Goers said the city can’t comment on personnel decisions, but did confirm that Graves no longer works for the city. He said this settlement is not the city admitting fault or wrongdoing.
George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen’s local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, GShillcock@press-citizen.com and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge