The Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of Abdoulaye Tangara on Thursday morning finding that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence that alleged the stopping officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over and further that she violated his right to phone calls pursuant to Iowa Code section 804.20. The Court found that both the stop of the vehicle and the officers refusal to allow Mr. Tangara to place calls upon his arrival at the police department, were illegal.
The stopping officer, Officer Karla Altenbaumer of the Cedar Falls Police Department, claimed to have followed Mr. Tangara's vehicle for two miles and observed Mr. Tangaras vehicle noticeably weaving within or between two lanes of traffic. She further claimed that when she turned on her traffic lights the vehicle continued "approximately two blocks, and then it made a right-hand turn onto Main and then stopped in the middle of the road." Officer Altenbaumer also testified that she was absolutely positive that at no time did Mr. Tangara request to place a telephone call.
Thankfully for Mr. Tangara there was a video of the stop of his vehicle and his subsequent interaction with Officer Altenbaumer. The video completely contradicted Officer Altenbaumer's testimony. The video showed no discernible weaving and in fact showed that Mr. Tangara pulled over in a timely and appropriate manner when instructed to do so by the officer. More importantly, the video documented Mr. Tangaras repeated requests to place a phone call after he was arrested and the officers response of "we're kind of past that." The fact that Officer Altenbaumer testified repeatedly that she was positive Mr. Tangara never made a request to place a call, but that the video clearly showed he did make such a request and in fact she heard that request and responded, is what sealed victory for Mr. Tangara. At the hearing, Officer Altenbaumer even went so far as to testify that she was as certain that Mr. Tangara did not ask to place a call as she was that he was weaving and driving erratically. Video doesn't lie but law enforcement officers are human.
Mr. Tangara's case is a classic example of law enforcement's imperfect memory of events or willingness to take a position and testify to something that is inconsistent with the truth and the value of video and audio recordings in justice being served. Had there not been a video and audio recording of Officer Altembaumer's interaction with Mr. Tangara, both the trial court and the appellate court would have most certainly taken the officer at her word and Mr. Tangara's conviction would have been affirmed. It is not whether law enforcement intentionally lied or misstated the facts. While that is obviously important if it did indeed take place, what is more important is that an objective, unbiased tool was available to ensure that the correct decision was made and justice was served. Much like instant replay in a sporting event, the most important thing is to get it right. While the trial court did not take the time to get it right, thankfully the Iowa Court of Appeals did. Justice was served, although a little delayed. Mr. Tangara's convictionw as reversed and will be taken off his record and because the chemical breath test was also suppressed, he will be able to have his driving privileges reinstated with the Iowa Department of Transportation.