Abuse victim's family sues Eldridge and chief


An Eldridge couple that had publicly supported the city police department and chief Joe Sisler, has sued both alleging they ignored direct requests to keep an officer away from their 14-year-old daughter.

The couple claims Chief Joe Sisler did not investigate their concerns raised at least four months before Andrew Denoyer’s arrest on felony sex abuse charges for offenses committed against the girl while on duty. Denoyer confessed, pleaded guilty and is serving a 10-year prison term for sexually abusing the girl.

The couple and their family, “were friends with Denoyer and his family,” and “were supportive of law enforcement,” according to the suit. Both parents confronted Sisler publicly, on North Scott High School grounds.

The lawsuit alleges the family’s claims are supported by Eldridge police body-cam video showing Sisler deferring concerns and defending the officer. The suit names two other officers aware of the concerns.

“Chief Sisler stated he was concerned about Denoyer because Denoyer may be plagued by accusations. Chief Sisler was more concerned about the reputation of a sexual predator than the health, safety and welfare of Denoyer’s minor victim,” according to the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the city of Eldridge and its police chief say Sisler never knew specific allegations of sexual abuse. The city’s response, filed Sept. 1, also disputes the (couples’) interpretation of officers’ body cam videos. The city of Eldridge also denied liability, citing state law, and a 2023 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that shielded the city of Muscatine from an officer’s on-duty rape in 2013.

The NSP is not naming the plaintiffs to avoid publicly identifying the teenager.

In a statement released Monday after NSP calls, Sisler wrote, “the city has no further comment.”

“The city is aware of a lawsuit filed by the … family regarding a former police officer. It referred the lawsuit to legal council,” Sisler wrote.

On Monday, Mayor Frank King deferred any comment to the city’s insurance firm attorneys, who are representing the city and the chief. King said Sisler remains on the job.

“It is an ongoing thing. Until we hear more back, the city doesn’t have any comment,” King told The NSP.

Council members Brian Dockery, Bruce Cheek and Bernie Peeters confirmed the suit. All said they had not read the lawsuit.

Council members Dan Collins, and Adrian Blackwell did not return calls from The NSP.

Concerns arise in 2021

The father of the girl was among Eldridge residents who publicly defended Sisler at a crowded, May 19, 2021, Eldridge council meeting. That’s when Sisler apologized for his remarks at a previous meeting when he accused the council of ignoring police concerns.

The father stood to defend the chief: “Don’t ever apologize for being passionate about your job. Take pride in your passion,” he said.

“Denoyer, as part of his official duties and while on duty as a police officer, would often park in the driveway of plaintiffs’ home while he completed paperwork related to his police work,” the couple allege in the lawsuit filed Aug. 9 in Scott County District Court.

The couple’s lawsuit claims that in spring of 2021, an Eldridge citizen complained to the Eldridge Police Department, “over concerns about how frequently and for how long Denoyer’s police vehicle was parked at the family’s home,” according to the suit.

Shortly after, the couple and their daughter attended a party at Denoyer’s home, where other Eldridge officers were present. The lawsuit alleges the girl became drunk on alcohol provided by Denoyer.

“Upon discovering their daughter’s consumption of alcohol, the (couple) became upset and proceeded to leave the party to take (the girl) home.

“While the (the couple) were leaving the party, Denoyer’s father-in-law stated his belief that Denoyer was sexually abusing (the girl). The (couple) heard this statement, as did some of the Eldridge Police officers at the party,” the family alleges in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims the father told Sisler about his suspicions, and Sisler asked him to file a written statement. That statement detailed the suspicions, asked for a police investigation, and requested Denoyer have no contact with the girl.

“Instead, Chief Sisler ignored the (couple’s) report, ignored their request that Denoyer have no contact with (the girl), and ignored their request that Chief Sisler investigate the allegation of Denoyer’s sexual abuse…,” according to the lawsuit.

Instead, the suit alleges Sisler “told Denoyer to stay away from (the couple), but did not tell Denoyer to stay away,” from the girl. Rather, Chief Sisler merely told Denoyer to do his ‘due diligence’ when having contact,” with the girl.

The suit alleges Denoyer ignored that request.

The couple claims Denoyer pulled the father over Aug. 25, 2021 in Eldridge.

“Denoyer knew it was (the father’s) car when he pulled him over. Denoyer issued (the father) a warning for tinted windows; however, Denoyer himself had recommended the tinting to (the father). Denoyer pulled (him) over to harass him and send a message to the (family).”

The suit alleges that Denoyer was sexually abusing the teen at the time, including while on duty.

“Because of the information in the possession of Chief Sisler and the City of Eldridge, Denoyer’s ongoing sexual abuse …  was expected, foreseeable, and sanctioned.

“Members of the Eldridge Police Department knew Denoyer was sexually abusing (the girl). Despite this, the Eldridge Police Department did nothing.

“It was common knowledge within the Eldridge Police Department that Denoyer was a sexual predator who targets underage girls,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit claims officer Tony Cavanaugh, “was present when Denoyer was talking to an underage girl about oral sex. …The girl told Denoyer she was a minor. Denoyer responded by saying he would look her up when she turned eighteen. Officer Cavanaugh simply laughed at Denoyer’s statement.”

Confrontation at school

The lawsuit describes a Sept. 23, 2021, confrontation at an Eldridge school, where (the mother) arrived to pick up her daughter, who was ill.

“To her shock and disgust, Denoyer was in the auditorium with (the girl), holding her hand. There was no reason for Denoyer to be with (the girl), as the school nurse was present.”

The family learned that Sisler had scheduled Denoyer to make a presentation to a student assembly.

“Chief Sisler knew (the girl) attended that school. Despite this, and despite being told three months earlier that the (couple) had reason to suspect that Denoyer was sexually abusing (the girl), Chief Sisler allowed Denoyer, a sexual predator, to go to the school and interact with children.

The suit said the mother alerted Eldridge school resource officer Jack Schwertman that Denoyer was not supposed to have contact with the girl, and asked to speak with Sisler.

“Instead of taking appropriate action against Denoyer, Chief Sisler instructed his officers to arrest (the mother) if she did not ‘calm down,’” according to the lawsuit.

“Officers Schwertman and (deputy chief Andrew) Lellig stated that (the mother) was the problem, not Denoyer,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit includes details the couple drew from Eldridge police officer body cam video.

The father arrived at the school minutes later, and confronted Sisler. “As captured on Officer Lellig’s body camera, Chief Sisler responded, ‘Why don’t you grow up a little bit…’”

The suit alleges  Sisler “got in (the father’s) face in an aggressive and threatening manner.”

It also claims Sisler threatened arrest of a principal who witnessed the interaction.

“Before the principal could say anything, Chief Sisler ordered the principal to go back into the school or Chief Sisler would charge him with interference with official acts,” according to the suit.

The suit said police video shows:

* “Sisler told (the mother) that he did not know what the allegations about Denoyer … were, and that he would love to have a written report on the subject. This was false. (The father) had given Chief Sisler the information in a written statement three months earlier.”

* “Sisler stated there was nothing in the statement about inappropriate behavior. This was false.

* “Sisler stated that, if he were (the mother), he would be more concerned about his daughter’s health than who was holding her hand.” He said, “Denoyer holding (her) hand had nothing to do with the allegations of an inappropriate relationship.”

*”Sisler stated that he had gone beyond what he should do to address the report of one of his officer’s sexual abuse of a minor child. This was false,” according to the lawsuit.

The day after the confrontation at school, the family contacted the Scott County Sheriff's Department. Deputies alerted the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, which initiated an investigation. Denoyer was arrested four days later, Sept. 28. He pleaded guilty, June 14, 2022, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison July 29.

He began his term Aug. 8, 2022, and remains at the Newton Correctional Facility.

City denies actions, liability

The city’s Sept. 1 response to the lawsuit denies most of the family’s claims. Twelve times, the city said the family’s account is “a mischaracterization,” of the body cam video. Nine times, the city asserts “Chief Sisler had no knowledge about the allegations regarding sexual abuse,” as of Sept. 23.

Attorneys for the city deny any officer overheard the sex abuse allegations made by Denoyer’s father-in-law at the May 15 party.

The city claims, “on June 23, 2021 – more than a month after the May 15, 2021, graduation party … (the father) contacted Chief Sisler and vaguely said he had a problem with Denoyer, and he wanted him to stay away from the … family. In response, Chief Sisler asked (the father) to come to the police department and file a complaint.”

According to the city’s response:

“When (the father) came to the police station on June 23, 2021, he did not fill out a complaint against Denoyer, but instead only prepared a written statement. The written statement prepared by (the father) speaks for itself. It is admitted that in the written statement (the father) refers to the comments allegedly made by Denoyer’s father-in-law at the May 15, 2021, party.

“However, when (the father) prepared the statement, he told Chief Sisler he did not want the police department to do anything with the written statement, and he did not want to get Denoyer into trouble, he just wanted the statement to be filed. Therefore, Chief Sisler did not review the written statement, and placed it in a file,” the city of Eldridge attorneys claimed in their response.

The city attorneys say, “following the meeting with (the father), Chief Sisler told Denoyer that he should avoid contact with the … family.”

The city denies that Sisler “led the (family) to believe the department would investigate…”

The city also denied any knowledge of Denoyer’s performance concerns as a Davenport police officer before he joined the Eldridge force. The city alleges the family has, “thus far refused to provide proof of any such claims.”

The city claims Sisler sent Eldridge officer Schwertman to the family’s home, Sept. 23, just hours after the confrontation at school.

“The conversation at the (family’s) residence was over an hour long and the meeting was captured on body camera. Despite Chief Sisler’s request to the (the family) to prepare a report, they failed to appear on September 24, 2021,” the city alleges.

The city claims Sisler called the Iowa DCI to request an investigation.

Denoyer’s offenses were first disclosed publicly Sept. 28 by an Iowa Department of Public Safety release about his arrest. That statement said DCI was alerted by Scott County Sheriff’s deputies.

Liability shields

The city’s response includes two affirmative defenses that claim state law and case law shield it from liability in this case.

State code 670.4 expressly exempts “any claims for punitive damages,” in this case, according to the city.

The city response also cites Code 670.12: “All officers and employees of municipalities are not personally liable for claims which are exempted under section 670.4… An officer or employee of a municipality is not liable for punitive damages as a result of acts in the performance of a duty, unless actual malice or willful, wanton and reckless misconduct is proven.”

The city’s response also cites a new case law where an appellate court judge dismissed any liability for the city of Muscatine after an officer committed an on-duty rape. Thomas Tovar raped the companion of a drunk driver. He was on duty when returning her to a hotel room. He was criminally convicted in 2014. The Iowa Supreme Court on June 9 this year ruled the victim could not seek damages from the city of Muscatine.

The city’s response emphasizes Denoyer’s liability.

“While the City and Sisler deny all liability to plaintiffs related to Denoyer’s acts, should any liability or judgment be rendered against them, they move for a judgment in contribution and/or indemnity and/or equitable indemnity against Denoyer.”

The city and Sisler demanded a jury trial.


City response to lawsuit

“Chief Sisler sent Officer Schwertman to the (couple’s) house to follow up to get more information related to the allegations involving Denoyer…  that the (couple) brought to their attention during the discussion at the high school. The conversation at the (couple’s) residence was over an hour long and the meeting was captured on body camera. Despite Chief Sisler’s request to the (couple) to prepare a report, they failed to appear on September 24, 2021. Chief Sisler called the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) himself...on September 24, 2021, to report the information he learned about Denoyer the day before.”

Per Chief Sisler’s request, the DCI opened the investigation which ultimately proved that Denoyer engaged in three counts of sexual abuse of the minor.”

Excerpted from city's formal response filed with the court Sept. 1

Mayor Frank King

“The city of Eldridge is aware of the lawsuit. Right now, we’ve referred this all to our legal counsel for review and to represent the interest of the city. We just don’t have any comment, because it is pending.”

“I’ve read what it said. It’s an ongoing thing. Until we hear more back, the city doesn’t have any comment.

Brian Dockery

“I can’t talk about it. I don’t know anything about police cam videos. I have not read the lawsuit. Our insurance carrier’s attorneys are handling it. We haven’t discussed a whole lot about it at council at all. There’s a process. We’ve got to go through discovery before we know the facts.”

Bernie Peeters

“There’s nothing to know yet. They haven’t given us a copy. I did not know there were any videos available. It’s not like we get informed of all this stuff way ahead of time. We’ve been told there was an investigation, and a lawsuit, briefly that things dealt with Denoyer.

We have not discussed that in any official capacity. I was briefed on it maybe twice. Until I get information from official sources, I can’t say.”

Bruce Cheek

“I really don’t have any idea at this time. It’s an ongoing thing. I shouldn't be talking about it because I don’t know anything yet.”

Cheek said he had not read the lawsuit and was not aware it had been publicly filed.

Cheek said he consulted with Mayor King after being called by The NSP. Cheek said council member Bernie Peeters arrived at King’s auto shop with a copy of the suit provided by The NSP.

Council members Dan Collins and Adrian Blackwell did not return calls from The NSP.

Eldridge Police Department, Joe Sisler, Andrew Denoyer, North Scott High School, Frank King, Brian Dockery, Bruce Cheek, Bernie Peeters, Dan Collins, Adrian Blackwell, Tony Cavanaugh, Jack Schwertman, Andrew Lellig, Scott County Sheriff's Department, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Thomas Tovar, Iowa Supreme Court