FD woman awarded $425k in settlement with Hamilton County
By KELBY WINGERT
WEBSTER CITY — A Fort Dodge woman who spent 23 days in the Hamilton County Jail on a $500,000 bond with attempted murder charges pending in 2019 has been awarded $425,000 in an out-of-court settlement with the county for what her attorney called a wrongful arrest.
On Sept. 13, 2019, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Jennifer Sue Pritchard, 43, for allegedly driving a vehicle while her boyfriend, Jacob Adams, shot at a camper parked at 1499 370th St. near Stratford.
Except Pritchard wasn’t driving the vehicle. In fact, she wasn’t even in the county — she was at work, 32 miles away, in Fort Dodge, and there were witnesses and video footage to prove it.
In the lawsuit filed in Iowa District Court by Pritchard and her attorney, Jack Bjornstad, of Okoboji, in June 2021, she argued that the HCSO had the evidence exonerating her for 10 days before she was given a pre-trial release from jail, and more than a month before the charges were finally dismissed. The lawsuit named Hamilton County, Sheriff Doug Timmons, Deputy David Turpen and Deputy Gary Johnson as defendants.
The $425,000 settlement was paid out from the county’s insurance provider, the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool. The $3,000 deductible for the insurance claim was paid out of the county’s general fund, according to Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rick Young.
Around 11 a.m. on Sept. 13, 2019, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of vandalism and shots fired at vehicles at 1499 370th St. near Stratford.
According to the lawsuit, Turpen wrote in his report that the reporting party, Brianna Purcell, told him she had been inside the camper for about 5-10 minutes when she heard gunshots outside. She told him she looked outside and did not see anyone on the road. She thought her friend Jeremy Timm was outside shooting for fun and disregarded the shots. She said when she went to leave later, she noticed damage inside her vehicle to the car seats and found more damage while loading a table into the trunk of the car.
The lawsuit alleged that Purcell told Turpen multiple times that she did not see the shooter or a vehicle, but she was “insistent” that Adams had shot at her car.
When Timmons began to question Purcell, her statement allegedly began to change.
According to the lawsuit, Turpen wrote in his report, “It appeared [Sheriff Timmons] was on a mission and he confronted her about her story. As he was speaking to her I went over to make notes and record the conversation on body camera, as she was changing her story completely.”
Purcell then told Timmons she saw a vehicle following her on 330th Street that continued to follow her all the way to the house on 370th Street.
“She reported that the initial shots came while she was driving and more once she had parked the vehicle in the driveway,” Turpen wrote in his report. He wrote that Purcell identified the vehicle as a black Chrysler belonging to Adams and identified the driver as Pritchard, with Adams in the passenger seat.
“Sheriff Timmons asked why it took her so long to call this in and Ms. Purcell stated: ‘I was trying to decide if to call, I wanted Jake to get far enough away.’ But she did not finish the sentence and would not elaborate on the statement when asked,” Turpen wrote.
Shortly after the investigation, Turpen was directed to return to the office and file charges of attempted murder on Adams and Pritchard. Warrants for their arrests were issued as well.
Adams was arrested on Sept. 23, 2019. When Turpen interviewed Adams that day, Adams said “he had no idea how Jen Pritchard was brought into this incident as he had not spoken to her in several weeks” and that he believed Pritchard would have an alibi for the incident because she was likely at work in Fort Dodge at that time, according to the lawsuit.
Pritchard was arrested on Sept. 28 and held at the Hamilton County Jail on a $500,000 cash only bond. The next day, she was interviewed by Timmons and denied any involvement, saying she was in Fort Dodge all day on Sept. 13. A day later, Pritchard’s co-worker verified her alibi.
On Oct. 11, 2019, Detective Amy Stringer with the Webster County Sheriff’s Department gave Hamilton County security footage from the property of Mitch Heun, of Fort Dodge, which also allegedly verified Pritchard’s alibi.
Pritchard was eventually released from jail on pre-trial release on Oct. 21, 2019. The charges against her wouldn’t be dismissed until Nov. 25. The charges against Adams were dismissed the same day.
The Messenger reached out to Timmons to ask about any further investigation into the Sept. 13, 2019, incident. He did not respond as of press time on Wednesday.
The vehicle reported in the crime also allegedly had an alibi for the morning of Sept. 13, 2019. Deputies located the Chrysler 300 at the residence of Russ Graves on Briggs Woods Road. Graves, a friend of Adams, told the sheriff that he had brought the vehicle to the residence around 10 or 10:30 a.m. and Graves’ parents said they thought the vehicle had been there all morning.
In the June 2021 lawsuit, Pritchard and her attorney claimed that Pritchard’s U.S. and Iowa Constitutional rights had been violated when she was “wrongfully arrested” and held in jail for 23 days.
The defendants violated Pritchard’s Article I, Section 8 rights of the Iowa Constitution when they filed a criminal complaint and affidavit seeking Pritchard’s arrest, omitting exculpatory information, the lawsuit argued.
“The affidavit and complaint was five sentences long, and completely based on Brianna Purcell claiming she had seen Jennifer driving Jake Adams’ car, while Adams shot from the car,” Pritchard’s attorney wrote in another filing on the case. He argued that the defendants omitted “abundant” exculpatory information that would have led any “reasonably competent officer or magistrate to conclude there was no probable cause” to charge Pritchard.
“Deputy Turpen didn’t include in his affidavit the facts that the ‘eyewitness’ to Jennifer being at the scene first denied seeing anyone, then maintained that she had not seen anyone under repeated questioning and only changed her story after being confronted by a sheriff ‘on a mission’ while still denying knowing who was driving the car,” Bjornstad argued in the filing.
The defendants, represented by attorneys Jason Palmer and Benjamin Erickson, of Des Moines, filed a motion to dismiss on July 27, 2021, arguing, “The only way plaintiff can establish a claim is by alleging and offering proof that defendants had deliberately lied or recklessly included false information in the warrant.”
The motion continued on to argue that the defendants were under “no legal obligation” to provide any exculpatory evidence in the criminal complaint and that “when an officer acts with probable cause, the officer is protected even though the person arrested turns out to be innocent.”
The motion to dismiss also addressed the changes to Purcell’s statements to law enforcement at the scene.
“While this was not the initial story Ms. Purcell told defendants, plaintiff’s petition shows that defendants had knowledge of Ms. Purcell’s personal history with Mr. Adams and had reason to doubt her prior story,” the defense wrote. Further, “It is well-established that law enforcement have the authority to choose to believe certain evidence and disregard other evidence.”
In a resistance brief filed Sept. 3, 2021, Bjornstad wrote that the defendants were not entitled to a summary dismissal because “there was simply way too much exculpatory information omitted.”
“Deputy Turpen’s complaint and affidavit omitted so many exculpatory facts that the number is hard to quantify,” Bjornstad wrote. “A reasonable jury could and would find that if all of the numerous exculpatory facts had been presented to Magistrate (Joseline) Greenley, no reasonable competent officer would have concluded that a warrant should issue.”
In a reply to the plaintiff’s resistance, the defense wrote that, “The story Ms. Purcell provided to defendants is a harrowing one, in which she was shot at while driving to the scene where defendants were called. After getting out of her vehicle, her vehicle was shot at further.”
They go on to write that courts have “routinely” found that probable cause could be based on changes to eyewitness statements if the crime committed could cause the eyewitness to fear for their safety.
“Plaintiff’s reliance regarding defendant Turpen’s alleged opinions on the veracity of Ms. Purcell’s story is misplaced, as these facts are simply not relevant,” the defense wrote.
An out-of-court settlement between Pritchard and the defendants was reached earlier this spring and signed on April 5.
According to the settlement, “the released parties deny that they have done anything improper or illegal concerning the incident described in this release, and this release does not constitute an admission of liability on the part of any person or entity.”
“As chairman of the Board of Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, I stand in support of all Hamilton County law enforcement officers, including deputies, jail staff and dispatchers,” Young said in a statement to The Messenger. “They daily risk their lives for the protection of all citizens who live in or enter this county with no concern for their own safety.”
The Messenger also reached out to Pritchard and Timmons for comment. Neither replied as of press time on Wednesday.