A black teenager who was shown on video getting thrown down by a white police officer in Iowa received thousands of dollars to keep quiet about a settlement he received, public records show.
After resolving his federal lawsuit for USD 95,000, the city of Waterloo negotiated an extra USD 5,000 payment to Malcolm Anderson last month in exchange for guarantees that the 19-year-old and his attorney would not have any press conferences, make any disclosures to civil rights groups or ever mention the deal on social media.
The Associated Press obtained the confidentiality agreement from the city under the Iowa open records law on Tuesday.
Critics say it may be illegal for an Iowa government agency to demand confidentiality and goes against the public interest.
“The people of Waterloo should be troubled that the city is paying USD 5,000 to Malcolm Anderson just to allow the government to try to remain silent about the police officer’s mistreatment of him,” said Randy Evans, director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. “Iowa law clearly does not allow secret settlements by government. Such secrecy is not in the best interests of government. It interferes with a full and frank discussion by the public and city officials of the police officer’s actions that led to the litigation and USD 95,000 settlement.”
Whenever a state or local government agency in Iowa reaches a legal settlement, the document and a summary of the dispute “shall be a public record” under Iowa law. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office advises government agencies that, “in government, settlements are not secret.”
The Waterloo agreement acknowledges the city must release the amount paid to Anderson upon request under that law but says that the parties will not offer any additional comment and keep “its terms secret and confidential.”
City Attorney David Zellhoefer, who signed the agreement, didn’t return messages seeking comment. But Waterloo Police Chief Daniel Trelka said this month that he wanted to avoid discussion of questionable police conduct in the city of 68,000, which has Iowa’s largest percentage of African-Americans at 16 percent but an overwhelmingly white police force.
“Simply talking about it inflames tension between certain groups, which is a pity, because so much progress has been made in this community,” Trelka told KXEL. “People want to focus on the negative issues that are in the news and sadly the negative news does sell. I wish we could focus on what’s been accomplished.”