City wants $700 to disclose video of officers clashing with EMT

By: - December 3, 2022 9:00 am

The city of Cedar Falls is charging $700 for public access to police body-camera footage that was provided to an area hospital at no cost. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The city of Cedar Falls is charging $700 for public access to police body-camera footage that was provided to an area hospital at no cost.

The video, shot on Aug. 3, allegedly shows police officers interacting with William Abernathey, who was then a critical-care paramedic for Sartori Memorial Hospital. Abernathey and the officers were at a Cedar Falls residence in response to a woman who had threatened suicide.

The woman didn’t want to go to the hospital, and at one point, Abernathey and the officers engaged in a heated argument, with Abernathey insisting the woman needed to be transported to the hospital immediately.

The police department later sent hospital administrators body-camera footage of the incident and complained about Abernathey’s conduct. Hospital officials who reviewed the video fired Abernathey, concluding he had been rude and intimidating and had shown a lack of compassion for the patient.

Earlier this week, the Iowa Capital Dispatch asked the city of Cedar Falls for a copy of the video that had been supplied to the hospital. The news organization also asked for a copy of the police report and any emails that police sent to the hospital about the incident.

In response, City Clerk Jacque Danielsen supplied the emails and said that with regard to the video, a significant amount of editing would be needed due to “the confidential nature of the requested information, including the identity of the patient, medical history and treatment information.” The estimated cost to produce the edited video would be $700.75, she said.

That cost is based on a telecommunications supervisor working on the videos for 16 hours at $43.79 an hour, Danielsen said.

Email exchanges between the city and the hospital suggest the city gave Abernathey’s supervisors an unedited version of the videos at no cost.

The emails show that Acting Lt. Carson Barron wrote to Craig Berte, the city’s public safety director, within 24 hours of the incident and reported that he had watched the officers’ body-camera videos.

The videos, Barron wrote, show Abernathey yelling at one of the officers, saying, “This is a medical call, get a hold of a supervisor right f—-ing now.” An officer responds, “She is going to go to the hospital,” to which Abernathey responds, “She needs to go now.”

In his email, Barron said “the events of this incident have caused a major questioning in the confidence our officers have in this specific paramedic on future scenes.”

After receiving that email, Berte wrote to two hospital officials who manage and direct ambulance services, and said he was making a copy of the videos for them. He wrote that he would “deliver them anywhere that you need them for viewing,” and said he would be looking “for a solution where our employees do not have to work at any calls where Bill Abernathey is present.”

About 90 minutes later, Berte wrote again to the two hospital officials and reported, “I just watched a couple of the videos. Paramedic Abernathey goes off on the cops. Officer Ferguson then exchanges words with Abernathey for some time. The sad thing is how uncomfortable it is for the female EMT and the PATIENT. When viewed from the perspective of patient care/etc. it is a sad event.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.