July 6, 2015

State trooper honored for efforts to find impaired drivers

Trooper Marc Griggs.

Trooper Marc Griggs.

An Iowa State Patrol trooper was recognized today for his efforts over the past two decades in getting drivers under the influence of drugs off of roadways. The chief of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, Patrick Hoye says Trooper Marc Griggs has completed more than 500 drug evaluations.

“Since the inception of the program in Iowa, our records indicate that he is the first officer to reach this impressive plateau,” Hoye said. Griggs, one of 125 certified Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) in Iowa, is a 22-year veteran of the Iowa State Patrol.

“Anytime we do take an impaired driver off the road — whether it be drugs or alcohol — we have saved a life,” Griggs said. According to Hoye, 30-percent of traffic fatalities in Iowa involve impaired drivers. Griggs said as he began his career with the patrol in the late 1990s, he knew many of the drunk drivers he encountered were possibly under the influence of drugs. But, at the time, law enforcement officers were not trained to assess a motorist for “drugged” driving.

Now, officers can receiver specialized training to determine if a driver might be under the influence of illegal or even legal drugs that might pose a threat to highway safety. “So, that is helping to get the word out that drugs and alcohol don’t mix…or strictly drugs cause impairment also,” Griggs said.

In 2014, according to the state Department of Public Safety, there were 47 drug-related traffic fatalities in Iowa. The 43-year-old Griggs lives in Ankeny with his wife and two children. He’s a native of Harcourt in Webster County.

Supreme Court rules on searching items in a car

gavel-thumbnailThe Iowa Supreme Court issued a split ruling on what’s required in the search of items in a vehicle. A Davenport police officer searched a safe in Jesse Gaskins’ car after Gaskins admitted he had been smoking a joint when he was pulled over for an expired license plate.

Officers found a loaded handgun, pipes and marijuana in the safe. The court ruled the officers were not in danger and there were no concerns evidence in the safe would be destroyed — so searching the safe without a warrant was not justified. Dissenting justices say the rule will be a challenge for arresting officers to implement and goes against prior precedent.

The case was sent back to district court and the evidence found in the safe cannot be used.

 Here’s the full ruling: Gaskins ruling PDF

Appeals Court rules search of Dunkerton football player’s gym bag was legal

GavelThe Iowa Court of Appeals rules the Dunkerton School District superintendent’s search a football player’s gym bag was legal.

Mar’Yo Lindsey was seriously injured during a football game in 2013 and was taken to the hospital. Lindsey asked about his gym bag several times, which raised concern and prompted the Dunkerton superintendent to confiscate and search the bag. The search turned up a loaded gun and drug paraphernalia.

Lindsey was charged and later convicted of possession of a firearm as a felon, carrying weapons on school grounds, going armed with a dangerous weapon, and possession of a controlled substance. The district court denied Lindsey’s request to throw out the evidence on the grounds the search of the gym bag was an unconstitutional invasion of his privacy.

The Iowa Court of Appeals today upheld Lindsey’s conviction — saying as a student athlete using a school-issued equipment bag — Lindsey had a lowered expectation of privacy. The court says the superintendent knew of previous drug and weapons charges against Lindsey, and Lindsey’s preoccupation with his bag while in the hospital would have led a reasonable person to suspect the bag contained something illicit.

Lindsey is serving consecutive sentences on the charges, which means he could spend 5 years in jail.

Full ruling: Lindsey gym bag ruling PDF


After years on the run, Cedar Rapids man faces prison time

An eastern Iowa man who was on the run for more than two decades is now facing prison time. Fifty-year-old Mathew West of Cedar Rapids was found guilty by a jury in December of 1992 of one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess LSD.

Evidence at his trial showed he had obtained some 12,000 hits of LSD from out of state to sell in Cedar Rapids. West was released when he was granted a request for new trial in 1993, but he failed to show up for a hearing in April of 1994.

While he was on the run, his request for a new trial was overturned on appeal. West finally came forward in December of 2014. He was sentenced to 121 months in prison and fined $6,000.


Cedar Rapids man given prison time for selling synthetic drugs

A former Cedar Rapids business owner is sentenced to 11 years in prison for selling synthetic drugs. Thirty-nine-year-old Mathew McCauley pled guilty in September to maintaining a premises for distribution of controlled substances and aggravated identity theft.

McCauley admitted that his business called the Fragrance Hut was used to sell illegal synthetic drugs commonly known as “spice or “K-2.” McCauley opened the business in February of 2014 and admitted to selling the synthetic drugs under a variety of names.

He also admitted to having stolen the identity of another individual in a wire fraud scheme. Court documents reflect McCauley created a false driver’s license using another individual’s name and date of birth. McCauley then used that name and date of birth to obtain a fraudulent line of credit to purchase jewelry at a local jewelry store.


Emotionally drained advocates of medical marijuana make final pitch to lawmakers

Lori Tassin

Lori Tassin

A small group of “exhausted” and “angry” advocates for medical marijuana held a statehouse news conference late this morning, criticizing lawmakers for failing to pass a bill that would legalize marijuana as treatment for medical conditions that cause seizures, persistent pain, nausea and other chronic ailments.

Maria La Franz of Des Moines wants cannabis oil for her son, who suffers from severe epilepsy. “In my opinion, this year’s governing body has failed and deserves a big fat F,” La France said. “Fix this, representatives, before you go home. Fix it this year. Fix it this week.”

Legislators passed a bill last year that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for patients with chronic epilepsy, but cannabis oil is not produced or distributed within the state and patients and their families risk arrest elsewhere by going out-of-state to get it. La Franz is emotionally drained by the effort to convince lawmakers to act.

“I’m exhausted. It’s not a pleasant experience for me to come up to the capitol,” La Franz said. “…I’ve done all I personally can do and it’s time for other Iowans to use their voice, people potentially who have been quietly breaking the law.”

Sally Gaer of West Des Moines has a daughter who suffers from chronic seizures and she, too, has spent countless hours trying to convince legislators to legalize medical marijuana.

“The majority of Americans have access to safe medical cannabis programs, but Iowa can’t have that. It doesn’t make any sense and we’re tired,” Gaer said this morning. “Our kids aren’t doing that well. We have people with cancer…It boggles my mind that there’s no compassion.”

Lori Tassin of Des Moines — a cancer patient — said she is “outraged” that the House voted to legalize fireworks, but not marijuana.

“Please be our heroes and legalize medicinal cannabis,” Tassin said. “This bill can help so many sick Iowans.”

Connie Norgart of Urbandale said prescription drugs weren’t helping her mother, Mary Hayes, of Greenfield.

“My mother died and on her death bed she was crying for medical cannabis to maybe help her pain,” Norgart said.

Some of the advocates say they’ll turn their attention to the 2016 elections, hoping to make medical marijuana an issue in legislative races as well as the presidential contest that will play out in Iowa before the Caucuses. But Rachel Moses, a Des Moines woman who suffers from chronic pain, said for many of those who would benefit from medical marijuana, it’s just too difficult to engage in the political process.

“We’re fighting as much as we can now. Why aren’t people hearing us now?” Moses asked. “I’m 37. I’m not a pot head.”

The 2015 legislative session is heading into its closing hours and the bill to legalize marijuana is not among the items legislative leaders have on their “to do” list.

Special investigation details misuse of funds at Des Moines drug treatment center

Auditor-logoA special investigation by the State Auditor’s office has documented the misuse of money by the manager of a drug treatment program located in Des Moines. The Center for Behavioral Health receives state and federal funding through the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide services to those trying to overcome drug addiction.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman, says they were called in to audit the CBH books. “The owner of CBH notified the Iowa Department of Public Health of the suspected misuse of funds at the Des Moines treatment center. And he confronted the executive director — Miss Mindy Williams — who admitted to using CBH funds for personal use, and falsifying documentation,” Mosiman says. The center provides services such as transportation, drug screenings, sobriety incentives, wellness assistance, and meetings with counselors.

Mosiman says Williams used vouchers for things like gas cards and gift cards that were supposed to have gone to clients, but the audit found a lack of documentation.

She says there were $108,639 dollars of reimbursements where no receipt could be located, and $21,917 of unsupported reimbursements where the receipts had been altered or had no amount on the receipt.

Mosiman says they cross-checked the names of clients with the receipts and found man that weren’t legitimate. “For numerous reimbursements, there was no client receipt, and therefore no client,” Mosiman explains. She says this was a case where CBH should have been able to catch the issues before they got out of hand.

“Oversight procedures were in place, they just didn’t follow them,” Mosiman says. “Miss Williams was able to carry this out over a period several years and the monies that should have been used for services or products for people going through substance abuse and the treatment of substance abuse, she was able to use those monies for her own personal use,” according to Mosiman.

The audit covered the period from January 2011 through May of 2013 when Williams resigned her position. The special report has been turned over to the Des Moines Police Department, the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Polk County Attorney’s Office, and the Attorney General’s Office.