Candidates answer question about Keokuk OWI case
Washington County Farm Bureau hosted a candidates’ forum for county attorney and supervisor candidates Thursday in the Washington County Extension building. The candidates are vying for their party’s nominations for county offices in the June 3 primary election.
The county attorney candidates at the forum were Republicans Larry Brock and Shawn Showers, and Democrat Barb Edmondson. One of the Republicans will win a spot on the November 2014 general election. Edmondson has no challenger from the Democratic Party, and is expected to be the official Democrat nominee in the November election.
Farm Bureau board member Rachel Fishback moderated the forum. Questions came from the public and from Farm Bureau members.
A question was asked about a specific case handled by Brock as county attorney.
“Do you think the dismissal of the OWI charge against the Keokuk County sheriff was the right thing to do? Please explain,” she read from a card.
The question dates back to July 2011, when an Iowa State Patrol officer arrested Keokuk County Sheriff Jeff Shipley for operating while under the influence. The Washington County Attorney’s office was asked to handle the case due to a possible conflict of interest with the Keokuk County Attorney. On Feb. 10, 2012, Brock announced that he deferred prosecution of Shipley after he complied with the terms of the agreement reached in the case.
In a memorandum about the case, Brock stated that the state’s case against Shipley was sufficient to prove Shipley was guilty of OWI beyond reasonable doubt. He listed six additional factors that had to be taken into consideration. He then stated that the factors could be used to raise doubt about Shipley’s level of intoxication and that Brock had a less than 50 percent chance of convincing a Keokuk County jury to find Shipley guilty of OWI 1st Offense.
According to a Washington Evening Journal story on Feb. 23, 2012, Brock said, “This matter was dismissed based on the successful completion of the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement and in the interest of justice.”
The Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu wrote a column titled “Decision on sheriff mocks justice.” The Register also awarded Brock’s decision a “thistle” on Sunday, Feb. 12.
Showers was the assistant Washington County attorney at the time Shipley was charged with operating under the influence.
Showers said he was in the office when the case was pending, and that he talked with Brock about the case.
“I actually took the call from the Keokuk County sheriff when he was asking if we would take the case,” Showers said. “Hindsight is 20/20, but I think the right way to have handled that would have been to impanel the grand jury in Keokuk County, present the case in front of them, and to have them make a decision whether or not there was enough evidence to go forward with prosecution.”
He also said that Brock made the decision not to prosecute the case.
Brock said, “ It was a very difficult decision to make, and frankly to hear Mr. Showers say a grand jury should have been impaneled, that’s the first time I’ve heard that. He actually is the one who accepted that case. I was on vacation in Hawaii. I read about it online just like everyone else did. Once we got the case we did have to look at it and when I made that decision, it was a difficult decision to make. I issued an eight-page memorandum detailing why that decision was made.”
Brock also said, “There was absolutely nothing upon which to base any kind of OWI conviction against Sheriff Shipley. What I decided to do was enter into the deferred prosecution, which would arrive at essentially going through substance abuse treatment counseling, which is what the ultimate goal was to make sure he received help for his issues.”
Edmondson told the audience that she doesn’t like to base an answer about a case without reviewing all the facts and information.
“What I can say is that from what appeared in the paper, it’s a case that had it happened in Washington County and didn’t involve any particular elected official, we would certainly have prosecuted it,” she said. “I don’t make a distinction between someone who is an elected official and someone who isn’t. It’s just that I prosecuted many cases where there were no test results and no field sobriety tests and was successful. “
Edmondson also said, “I can say I’ve prosecuted that kind of case successfully many times.”
When the candidates were asked what the biggest issues are in the county, Edmondson identified drug trafficking and drug abuse. She said that drug abuse impacts children, and that 40 to 50 percent of juvenile cases involve drug abuse.
Brock said that drug and alcohol abuse are big issues, as well as the lack of mental health care.
Showers agreed with comments from both, and said that meth manufacturing is at epidemic levels in southeast Iowa and in Washington County.
Near the end of the county attorney forum, Fishback read the following question, “What type of sentencing would you seek for first-time drug offenders — jail time, rehab?”
Brock said that each case is different. He looks at the circumstances involved in each case.
“The important part of that is, the offender has to want to stop,” Brock said. “You can put them in jail, you can send them in prison, you can do all these things, put them on probation, but if they’re not willing to change their behavior, it’s not going to work.”
Showers said that on a first-time possession of marijuana for someone who doesn’t have a criminal history, he would typically recommend probation to Washington County Outreach.
“Generally they have the option to serve two days or get a substance abuse evaluation,” Showers said. “A lot of times they don’t get a substance abuse evaluation, so they end up doing a few days in jail.”
Edmondson said, “I’m also presuming that the question refers to people who have been arrested for possession of a drug, as opposed to manufacturing or selling it.”
She then said, “One thing that I would simply emphasize is that wherever possible, the judge usually orders the person to get a substance abuse evaluation, which then helps guide whether the person should have some sort of probation or whether they need to be further committed for treatment. In any event, a combination of evaluation, probation and treatment is usually — as well as obviously the threat of jail if they don’t comply being the best route for first-time offenders.”
Another question from the public was “Do you have any personal conflicts with any county officials?”
Showers was the first to answer, and he said, “No.”
Edmondson was second and also said, “No.”
Brock said, “I don’t believe I do. There have obviously been issues between myself and some of the supervisors. I think if you asked the supervisors involved, I think they would tell you that I’ve dealt with them fairly over the last three years, that when they had issues that they wanted dealt with, I’ve dealt with them fairly.”
The candidates answered several more questions, some similar to the questions they answered at the Free County candidates’ forum on Tuesday, May 20. The forum concluded after 37 minutes of questions and answers.