The River Cities’ Reader asked the five candidates for Scott County sheriff to answer three questions in advance of the June 7 primary election.
The questions, background information, and the answers of Republicans Thomas Gibbs and Tim Lane and Democrats Peter Edridge Bawden and LaMark Combs are below. Responses are presented in full but have been lightly edited for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Republican Chad Cribb acknowledged receipt of the survey but did not provide responses.
Question 1: Do you support current asset-forfeiture policies and procedures? If so, why? If not, what will you do as sheriff to change or reform these policies and procedures?
• Background: Civil asset-forfeiture rules in Scott County currently allow for personal property to be seized by the sheriff’s department with no indictment or conviction, and they place the burden on the victim to prove they are innocent rather than the state to prove they are guilty. The Institute for Justice recently updated its original report “Policing for Profits: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” giving letter grades for each state’s application of Civil Asset Forfeiture as it relates to protection of property rights and due process. Iowa’s score is D- because (1) it requires no conviction for civil asset forfeiture; (2) proof that property is involved in a crime is based on the weaker “preponderance of evidence” standard; (3) proceeds from assets seized are retained, in part, by law enforcement, giving law-enforcement agencies incentives to seize property as a convenient and lucrative source of revenue; and (4) the Iowa County Attorney’s Association receives 10 percent of proceeds from asset forfeiture.
Most states have scores of D or lower. Fourteen state legislatures have embarked on serious reform of the forfeiture laws in their states, requiring that for states to seize property, a criminal conviction must first be secured, after which the burden of proof is on the government using the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of evidence to make its case in taking any property.
Peter Eldridge Bawden: Having been undercover in drug cases, I have an inside understanding to this question other candidates aside from Chad Cribb do not.
As a QC MEG agent, I purchased drugs. Got to know everything about the drug dealer. I’m not talking about a kid in college selling weed to support his own recreational activities. I’m talking amounts of cocaine, heroin, meth, and crack that add up to large amounts. As an undercover agent, I purchased from dealers who sold to me many times. I knew they made their money selling illicit drugs. At the end of a case, they got raided.
I knew they had no employment. Some instances I knew their mothers and family. Whatever they had was obtained from drug sales.
When it came to a seizure case, if they could come up with a reason for having no responsible income like most families in Scott County but having all the money they did, they were allowed to keep it by the county attorney or judge.
This never bothered me. I was in their world, playing their game, and this was part of it. I cannot recall a case, however, against an illicit-hardcore-drug dealer that my dealings with were lost through the criminal-justice system.
As a prospective administrator, I will tell you this. A seizure will not be supported unless there is a criminal charge that is an airtight case. The county attorney’s office is actually the agency that controls all seizures. In working with the county attorney’s office, however, I would not support a seizure without a conviction.
LaMark Combs: The state and federal forfeiture reforms are essential to correct the misuse of the current policies and procedures. The federal and state civil-forfeiture law does allow for an uncertainty and insufficiency. There is a push for change as more people are being affected.
On the other hand, the state and federal forfeiture law is also used as a tool for law-enforcement agencies to compensate. This allows for the necessary equipment purchases for public safety.
As the forfeiture law stands, “a peace officer may seize property for forfeiture upon process issued by any district judge, district associate judge, or magistrate. The court may issue a seizure warrant on an affidavit under oath demonstrating that probable cause exists for its forfeiture or that the property has been the subject of a previous final judgment of forfeiture in courts of any state or of the United States.” There has to be a way to balance the civil-forfeiture law, so that those who are not guilty are able to retrieve their property. I am not for any changes to the law that would allow illegal activities to continue.
Thomas Gibbs: Currently the only way to seize assets used in crimes is through the civil-forfeiture laws. I am not opposed to changing the way assets are forfeited and would agree with joining asset forfeiture to the criminal-trial proceedings.
Tim Lane: I do support current policies and procedures for asset forfeiture. I believe the Scott County sheriff’s office has shown that we are not seeking the dollar when it comes to our enforcement efforts. As the lieutenant over a drug-enforcement unit, we seek to identify the drug dealer and to make our criminal case with the confiscation of that drug. Therefore we move forward with our case when we know the dealer is in possession of the illegal drug, and we never wait for it to be distributed into our community so that we can confiscate money instead. If there is any doubt as to the legality of the item to be forfeited, it is returned without the need for a hearing. This will be my philosophy as sheriff.
Question 2: As sheriff, will you continue to enforce the 2010 administrative order banning non-attorney, non-media, and non-staff people from bringing electronic devices such as cell phones or laptops into the county courthouse? If the answer is “yes,” please state the authority from which an administrative order originates that compels the county sheriff to enforce the order, and please provide an example of an administrative order that – if such an authority decreed it – you would refuse to enforce as county sheriff.
• Background: On April 15, 2010, Judge Bobbie Alpers – then the chief justice of the Seventh Judicial Circuit – issued an administrative order prohibiting cell phones and electronic devices from entering the Scott County courthouse. The directive included a list of exclusions to the prohibition, including being an attorney. Since then, local media have circumvented the rule and are also allowed an exemption at the checkpoint into the courthouse. This checkpoint and order are managed by the sheriff’s department and its deputies/bailiffs. Meanwhile, citizens who have business they are compelled to conduct at the courthouse are restricted from having a cell phone or computer with them when they conduct their business at the courthouse. This precludes citizens from doing research, recording statements being made, or making phone calls in the pursuit of conducting their business – all of which attorneys and reporters are allowed to do when they conduct their business. This question is important because the threshold of what a sheriff will do to the citizenry when ordered to do so is at stake. For example, what if the judge ordered that all writing utensils were prohibited from being brought into the courthouse, except for attorneys and the media?
Peter Eldridge Bawden: I want everyone to understand why this rule was enacted.
Cell phones had, and still do have, cameras. The cameras were and are the problem.
Undercover police were being photographed during trials. Jurors who were required to serve their civic duty were also being photographed in gang cases. This is the reason for the order – to protect the identity of people who need it.
Lawyers were allowed to have their phones so their offices could contact them while they were at the courthouse to conduct further business with the understanding that they were not to use their phone other than for emergencies. Media are escorted the entire time they are in the courthouse with recording equipment. County employees have their phones with them so, while working up to a 12-hour day, they can receive emergency calls from family for cases such as children being ill at daycare or school.
As sheriff, I would not interfere with the Scott County administrative order. It would stand. What I would do, however, is make available the lockers that are already in place where persons coming into the courthouse would be able to secure their belongings and cell phones until they complete their courthouse business.
I would allow cell phones without cameras for citizens of Scott County to enter the courthouse.
LaMark Combs: As sheriff, I will have to continue to carry out the issued administrative order until further notice. According to Judge Bobbie Alpers, this order was to provide more security within the courthouse.
The first step will be to sit down with the county attorney to further discuss the issued administrative order to gain more information. It will be important to assess the quality and relevance of the information as I distinguish between the facts and opinion. I will also follow up by accessing and analyzing the directive that includes a list of exclusions to prohibition, including being an attorney.
Thomas Gibbs: I do support the administrative order restricting certain items from within the courthouse from members of the public. This order came to be because citizens were in the courthouse and using cell phones to intimidate and coerce the judicial process. We have also had instances from within the courthouse of opposing parties getting into physical altercations; by having security screening at the front entrance, we are minimizing availability and access to weapons. Courthouses are not exempt from disgruntled individuals who seek revenge through violence. The security procedures in place at the courthouse help to provide a safe environment for staff and visitors to the building.
Tim Lane: I will continue to enforce the policy banning cell phones in the courtroom area of the county campus. Cell-phone disruption can be a serious problem for a courtroom, and thus the order is proper. However, I would have no problem refusing to enforce an illegal or improper order from any authority.
Question 3: Do you concur or disagree with Sheriff Dennis Conard’s statement that “our rights are modifiable”? Why?
• Background: On February 11, 2013, at a Scott County Republican Women’s luncheon in Davenport, Scott County Sheriff Dennis Conard was asked whether the right to bear arms was secured by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. His response was: “Our rights are modifiable.”
Peter Eldridge Bawden: This upsets me. I disagree. Our rights are not modifiable. The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up our Bill of Rights. They were right in 1791. They are right today. Every oath of office I have taken has included upholding the U.S. Constitution, and I will not compromise that.
LaMark Combs: Sheriff Conard’s statements that “our rights are modifiable” were imprecise. The sheriff’s office must adhere to the people’s rights according to the Constitution. As sheriff, you take an oath to enforce and uphold the law. As sheriff, I would affirm that I will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The Second Amendment clearly protects the “rights of individual to privately possess and bear their own firearms” but allows for “reasonable restrictions.” The “reasonable restrictions” are designed “to prevent unfit persons from possessing firearms or to restrict possession of firearms particularly suited to criminal misuse.” I am for keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable and the criminals. I am for protecting the rights of the people.
Thomas Gibbs: I support the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, but the sheriff is correct in that they are modifiable. There are state and federal prohibitors that prohibit people from owning and possessing firearms that I support. Examples would be where we prohibit convicted felons from owning firearms.
Tim Lane: Our laws are modifiable but our rights are well-established. Any change in these rights requires an extensive process by the people of this nation. I am an NRA member and supporter of the Second Amendment. I would fight against any change in our right to bear arms.