Des Moines Officer Found Guilty of Beating Black Couple Walks Free

Des Moines Officer Beat Black Couple
Dirty Des Moines cop John Mailander

AFRICANGLOBE – Former Des Moines police officer John Mailander, one half of a police team whose 2008 beating of an African-American couple led to multiple court proceedings and a $500,000 legal settlement for the city, walked out of the Polk County Courthouse this morning a free man and was only given probation.

Mailander, who pleaded guilty to four felony charges more than a year ago with the expectation of prison, instead was spared incarceration by the lenient sentence imposed on former officer Mersed Dautovic, his more-violent coworker.

Assistant Polk County Attorney Jeff Noble said authorities more than a year ago agreed that Mailander would serve a five-year prison term concurrent with whatever federal prison sentence that was expected to come from Mailander’s role in the 2008 beating of Erin Evans and Octavius Bonds. But Mailander’s federal sentence, handed down earlier this week by U.S. District Judge John Jarvey, included only four months’ home confinement and three years’ probation.

Court papers say the federal probation came about after prosecutors in that case successfully argued that Mailander’s punishment must be “significantly less,” than Dautovic, who received a 20-month federal sentence last December.

“If we were to follow through on the plea agreement… Mr. Mailander (now) would be subject to more severe consequences than his more-culpable co-defendant, Mr. Dautovic,” Noble argued Friday.

Bonds and Evans were not present in court this morning and did not comment to the judge in either case.

Both Noble and federal public defender James Whalen today stressed Mailander’s remorsefulness and his essential role in prosecuting Dautovic.

Mailander likewise acknowledged past mistakes.

“I stand before you ashamed, humiliated, emotionally broken and deeply sorry because of my actions that have brought us here,” Mailander said in court, describing his shame in delivering undeserved blows to an unmoving Bonds in 2008. “I am truly sorry, and that makes me sick every time I think about it.”

Authorities say Dautovic and Mailander were working off-duty security at a south-side Des Moines apartment building in September 2008 when they decided to respond to a radio call about a man with a gun in his yard. Their response was slowed by Evans and Bonds, who were traveling in the northbound left lane of Southeast 14th Street in Des Moines and failed to immediately get out of the patrol car’s way.

When other officers responded to the emergency call, Dautovic decided to pull Evans over, according to court papers in two criminal cases and the civil lawsuit.

Evans eventually was threatened with pepper spray, pulled from the car by Mailander and “tossed” across the hood of the police car before being handcuffed. Documents say Bonds, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall, was hit with pepper spray after he partially climbed out of the car and failed to comply with commands to get back in.

Bonds at some point grabbed Dautovic’s hands while asking him to stop the pepper spray. Both officers then hit Bonds with batons, including roughly 14 blows while he was on the ground in a fetal position, according to court documents.

Dautovic’s attorney argued throughout that trial that the former officer’s actions were reasonable, given his perceptions of an unknown threat coming from the fogged-up car. Mailander has told authorities that he quickly realized that the officers’ actions had been wrong but said he nevertheless kept silent until approached by federal investigators.

“Once they started down that slippery slope, they felt they had to continue” lying, Whalen said. “This case was basically dead in the water until Mr. Mailander decided to listen to his conscience and decided to cooperate with authorities.”

The state charges, filed three months after Dautovic and Mailander were indicted by a federal grand jury, accused both men of assault, lying on official police documents about the traffic stop and lying in subsequent court testimony. (Dautovic wrote a false report that Mailander signed.)

Bonds and Evans, despite the officers’ testimony, eventually were acquitted of misdemeanor charges that they assaulted police officers.

Noble said Polk County officials viewed the state charges as essential given the fact that “we prosecuted people for crimes based on the representations of these two police officers.” The deal, as struck, would have let Mailander serve his time in federal custody, which Noble described as being generally regarded by inmates to provide better conditions than state prison.

Dautovic now is serving a five-year sentence on his state charges. Both sides are appealing Dautovic’s federal sentence.

In court this morning, Whalen recited letters from an elder at Mailander’s church in South Carolina and from many of Mailander’s former colleagues, all stressing the uncharacteristic nature of his actions.

Mailander, now 48, was “43 or 44” when he went through the Des Moines police academy and had been on the street for less than a year at the time of the 2008 incident. Whalen said Mailander’s eyesight caused him to flunk several physicals until the former officer underwent Lasek surgery so he could become a cop.

The public defender characterized that night as a series of terrible decisions: “They basically conducted a textbook course in how not to conduct a traffic stop.”

Mailander will have to serve two years’ probation and pay roughly $2,000 in fines and surcharges.