IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa man who spent 32 days in jail on drug charges was exonerated Monday after authorities acknowledged his conviction was based on evidence planted by Des Moines police officers.
Polk County Judge Gregory Brandt vacated the conviction of Kyle Jacob Weldon and issued an order exonerating him in connection with the 2015 case.
The exoneration is the first connected to two Des Moines officers who resigned last month after they were accused of planting drug evidence on at least one suspect. The Des Moines Police Department announced then that it would review hundreds of cases tied to the officers, Joshua Judge and Tyson Teut, during their three years on the force. The former officers have not been charged with a crime.
Weldon was jailed after he was arrested in Des Moines on Jan. 1, 2015 on a charge of possessing methamphetamine. A criminal complaint alleged that Weldon, then 21, had a small, clear container containing a “rocklike substance” in his front pants’ pocket that later tested positive to being meth. Teut signed the complaint.
After spending 32 days in jail, Weldon pleaded guilty a month later to the charge, which was elevated to an aggravated misdemeanor due to a prior conviction. Brandt sentenced him to 31 days in jail but gave him credit for time served. He also fined Weldon $625 plus surcharges and revoked his driver’s license for 180 days. The county later obtained an order to collect $1,875 from Weldon for the costs of his jail stay.
Brandt’s order on Monday threw out all the costs that he owed and ordered his conviction to be expunged from all state and federal criminal information system records.
It isn’t clear how authorities learned that the case against Weldon was tainted. The Polk County Attorney’s Office last week filed a motion to vacate the conviction, saying only that it was “based on improperly obtained evidence and misconduct by law enforcement.”
The Wrongful Conviction Division of the State Public Defender’s Office, which joined the motion to vacate, said that officers planted the methamphetamine evidence. The exoneration is the first for the division, which was formed last year to help investigate cases where inmates are possibly innocent.
“We created the Wrongful Conviction Division in order to correct injustices like this case presents. It is never acceptable to plant evidence on a person, ever,” Public Defender Adam Gregg said.
The division’s director, Erica Nichols Cook, said that there are many “more questions” about the conduct of the officers, including whether they engaged in misconduct in any other case. She pledged to work with police or defendants to investigate other cases as necessary.
Cook said that Weldon “is looking forward to putting this situation behind him” and would have no comment in order to protect his legal rights.
Weldon could file a wrongful imprisonment claim, but Iowa law limits what he could recover to $50 per day in jail. Separately, he could file a civil lawsuit alleging authorities were negligent in the case.
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