Capital Clicks

Sheriff’s office sued for illegal search that led to 251 days in jail

By: - May 3, 2023 4:31 pm

An Osceola man who spent 251 days in jail after drugs were allegedly found during the illegal search of his car is suing the Guthrie County Sheriff’s Office. (Stock photo via Canva)

An Osceola man who spent 251 days in jail after drugs were allegedly found during the illegal search of his car is suing the Guthrie County Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District if Iowa, names Guthrie County, as well as the City of Stuart, as defendants.

Steven Schoessler alleges that last May, he stopped at an apartment complex in the Guthrie County town of Casey to visit with a resident. According to testimony given in a subsequent criminal proceeding, Schoessler had a crossbow in his hand at the time, an open container of beer, and was trying to get in a resident’s window and was threatening to kick in a door.

A resident of the complex called 911 to report Schoessler’s behavior, after which Deputy Shane Jones arrived with his K-9 police dog, Urs.

According to the civil lawsuit, Jones detained Schoessler, later indicating Schoessler’s Dodge Dakota was parked illegally and Schoessler appeared to be intoxicated. Jones then deployed Urs for an “open-air sniff” around the vehicle.

Jones would later testify that Urs “alerted” on the truck, indicating the presence of narcotics, which was then used to justify a search of the vehicle. According to the lawsuit, the dog did not signal an alert to indicate the presence of drugs, and that body-camera footage shows the dog running back and forth alongside the vehicle, rather than sitting or standing and staring at his handler to indicate an alert.

Jones’ search of the vehicle, conducted with the assistance of a Stuart police officer, allegedly turned up multiple glass jars with a green leafy substance, a bag with a white crystalline substance, and what appeared to be homemade drug paraphernalia and items with drug residue.

Schoessler was charged with possession of marijuana and methamphetamine and driving while barred.

In January, with the case still pending and Schoessler still in jail, District Court Judge Stacy Ritchie granted a motion to suppress all evidence seized during the search of the vehicle.

“The issue in this case,” Judge Ritchie ruled, “is that the dog’s trained ‘alert’ or ‘final indication’ is to either sit and stare or to stand still and stare. In this particular search, the dog did not do either action.”

The drug charges against Schoessler were dismissed and he was convicted of driving while barred.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for deliberate indifference to, and reckless disregard of, Schoessler’s civil and constitutional rights.

“Steven spent 251 days incarcerated on this bad stop, search and illegal arrest,” the lawsuit alleges.

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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.