- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - The parents of a detainee killed in a traffic accident after escaping from an Iowa State Patrol car filed a $1.1 million legal claim against the state Thursday, alleging a trooper violated policy in leaving him unattended.

The claim with the State Appeal Board, the first step toward suing the state, seeks to hold the patrol accountable for errors that contributed to Matthew Lentzkow’s death, attorney Joseph Cacciatore said.

Lentzkow’s parents - Pam Jones of Waterloo and Gary Lentzkow of Newton - are each seeking $500,000 while the estate is seeking $105,000. Cacciatore said those amounts were cut in half to recognize that Lentzkow shares blame for his death. He expects to file a separate lawsuit against Jasper County in coming months, before the two actions are eventually joined.

Lentzkow, 36, was stopped for drunken driving on Interstate 80 by trooper Matthew Papin early Nov. 1. Video shows Lentzkow trying to flee from officers on foot and being tackled and handcuffed.

Two deputies offered to put Lentzkow in their vehicle, which was equipped with a backseat safety cage. Papin declined and buckled Lentzkow in the front passenger seat of his patrol car with his hands cuffed behind his back. All three officers then went to search Lentzkow’s truck, 45 feet away. Lentzkow eventually unbuckled his seat belt, opened the door and attempted to run across the interstate. He was hit by a van, killing him.

“We think it’s in the public interest to bring this claim to expose the errors that were made,” Cacciatore said. “The violation of the policies placed the traveling public at risk. The van driver was placed at risk when they failed to properly secure Matthew. You don’t need to feel sorry for Matthew Lentzkow to understand the patrol needs to follow its policies to protect everybody.”

The state will review the claim and the facts surrounding it, said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which will defend the patrol.

Patrol spokesman Scott Bright has called the death a tragedy but blamed Lentzkow for driving drunk and trying to escape. He has said Papin followed procedure when he handcuffed Lentzkow in the front seat, noting Lentzkow had apologized after the scuffle and become cooperative.

But Cacciatore said those statements were misleading because they didn’t acknowledge shortcomings by the officers and motivated the parents to pursue the legal claim.

The claim notes that the patrol’s policy requires troopers to hold and transport people in a safe and secure manner and states, “restrained individuals shall not be left unattended at any time.”

The patrol’s own investigation found that Lentzkow had tried to flee earlier, so Papin should have considered him a flight risk, the claim says. As such, the trooper was negligent in failing to take several options to secure him mentioned in the policy, such as handcuffing Lentzkow to an immovable fixed object, putting him in leg restraints, putting him in the cage in the deputies’ car or placing him in the back seat of the patrol car with safety locks, the claim alleges.

Typically, the state denies or doesn’t respond to tort claims. After 180 days, claimants can file a lawsuit seeking damages.

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