Linn County

I noticed my Saturday article about the changes Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner has made to the county’s concealed weapons permit law didn’t make it online, except in our e-Edition. I know many of you are interested in this subject, so I’m inserting a copy of it here:

Concealed weapons permits article

Because of its previously restrictive rules, Linn County was long one of the most difficult Iowa counties in which to get a concealed carry permit. That was a bone of contention between the Sheriff’s Office and residents who are hardcore Second Amendment supporters, Josh Kissling told me during our interview. Kissling is the president of the Linn County chapter of the International Defensive Pistol Association, the governing body of a competitive shooting sport that simulates self-defense scenarios and real life encounters.

Most of the club’s members, even though they have proven themselves to be great self-defense marksmen, were not granted gun permits under former sheriff Don Zeller simply because they didn’t carry lots of money on them — an unchangable prerequisite under Zeller’s reign, Kissling said. “Zeller had an elitist view, like your life is only worth saving if you can carry $500 around in your pocket,” Kissling said. “He must have thought the common citizen would be too dumb to know what to do with a gun.”

Zeller has told me he felt the fewer guns there are on the street, the better. Even legal ones. He has never directly answered the oft-quoted “elitist” argument with me, though.

What the changes really mean are that the number of people legally carrying guns in Linn County is likely going to triple in the next year or so. It’s still probably not going to include a huge percentage of the population, but a big change, nonetheless. So what do you guys think? Are the rule changes good or bad?


I’ve had a few conversations with gun owners who are worried about being targeted because The Gazette prints the list of people who renew or get a new concealed carry weapons permit each month from Linn and surrounding counties. We believe the public has a right to know who is legally carrying a gun, just as we all can readily identify a police officer or military officer. We also print charges brought against people who are found to have guns illegally. The people I’ve talked to are concerned that, because people know they carry, they may become the target of assault or home burglary.

I thought I’d go through The Gazette archives and look at all the burglaries in the past few years in which firearms were reportedly stolen. There have been only four that we reported, and one of those was at the home of a person who has a concealed carry permit. So, I suppose the fears aren’t totally baseless, but it’s not like they’re being victimized at a higher rate. I am also aware that many stolen firearms around here are taken during unreported burglaries, but I’m pretty sure those aren’t at the homes of diehard Second Amendment supporters. As a general fan of public information, I’d really hate for people to stop putting their names and/or addresses in the phone book, but I’ve gotta say — if you’ve got stuff you don’t want stolen, don’t give people the opportunity to find you.

The names of people who have concealed carry permits aren’t public record in some states. For example, Missouri keeps their list of concealed carry permits sealed. But I’m all for full disclosure of who’s packing heat — even if it were me. At least people should know what to expect if they tried to mug me, eh?

UPDATE: Brian Gardner won with roughly two-thirds of the vote. Start yer commentin on this here blog! What do you think will go right? Go wrong? Did we make the right decision?

I’m covering the outcome of the Linn County Sheriff’s race tonight. The stakes are high, as you all should know — whoever wins this election will likely be in office for a long time and could have a heavy impact on issues like more liberal issuance of concealed gun permits, the creation (or not) of a joint emergency communications center, tracking sex offenders, etc.

I’ll be at Westdale Mall watching the results come in tonight. Democratic sheriff’s candidate Brian Gardner will be there with some of his supporters. Republican candidate Dave Zahn will be at home with his family.

Who should you vote for? Well, The Gazette editorial board endorsed Gardner. But I’m not the Gazette editorial board. You should consider all the facts. Everything that’s out there, in our articles or in our public comment sections, is actually true.

They’re both nice guys, so make a conscientious decision. Just make a choice! GO VOTE!

After Trish Mehaffey’s story earlier this month on how inmates felt the Linn County Jail flood evacuation went awry, I received a packet of letters from Bruce M. Braggs complaining about the treatment of Linn County inmates who are now staying at the Anamosa State Penetentiary. I sort of see one of his many points — why should he and other transferred inmates be denied phone access to call their relatives and let them know where they are? But there is an underlying assumption in his complaints that I can’t quite stomach: That he isn’t a prisoner at Anamosa and shouldn’t be treated like one.

Well, now he is. It depends on where you are being jailed on what amenities you do or don’t receive, how long you get to be out of your cell, what you eat, etc. Honestly, the Linn County Jail is comparable to a college dorm, only all the students wear orange jumpsuits. The inmates there had it pretty good. Heck, they could buy checkers games and underwear, and eat pretty good food! So I can understand why Braggs and others would be a little ticked that they can’t receive their newspapers or watch TV as extensively as they used to, or have access to a law library. He even referred to the living conditions as “torture.” Although, his complaint that Anamosa won’t give them chicken on the bone instead of chicken patties made me question that assertion.

Anamosa is a state penitentiary, a place for mostly serious criminals. The rules will be a little different. So I also understand why Linn County Sheriff’s officials maintain the line that Linn County inmates are going to have to follow their rules while they’re there. That includes strip searches to and from visits. I can also understand this comment I’ve heard from several sheriff’s deputies: “Maybe seeing what it’s like hanging with the big boys in state prison will help them clean up their act so they don’t end up there, too.”

Just so you know who sent the letter, Braggs is awaiting an Oct. 20 trial for charges of first-degree burglary and second-degree sexual abuse in connection with the rape of a Kirkwood student last year. Since 1996, he has been charged with domestic abuse three times, willful injury once, attempted murder twice and first-degree burglary twice. He wasn’t convicted on any of those charges, records show. In the same amount of time, he has been convicted of controlled substance violation, illegal game/betting, domestic assaults, disorderly conduct and assaults.

Bus holding immigrants facing criminal charges caught in Postville raid Monday

I was driving to pick up a mugshot of a man accused of sexual abuse from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office when I realized I had pulled up next to this huge Department of Homeland Security bus. Only one thing could be inside — immigrants arrested during the raid at Agriprocessors, Inc., meatpacking plant in Postalville. People stopped to gawk when it pulled up to the entrance of the jail, including me because I had to take a picture. “You don’t see that everyday!” the woman next to me exclaimed.

No, you really don’t.

Apparently the Linn County Jail is scheduled to hold 90 of the 154 people facing criminal charges so far. The jail’s capacity is 409, but they are already holding 383 after the first 48 immigrants. But Sheriff Don Zeller didn’t seem worried about that when I talked to him Wednesday night.

“We’re aware that we may have to handle a large number of (the immigrants), and we’re making arrangements for that,” he told me, but he wouldn’t tell me what those arrangements may be. Two to a bed? Rotating bunk wheels? I’m not quite sure what will happen, but Zeller’s a resourceful guy.

Maybe he could make some room for top members of Agriprocessors management, too…oh wait, they might not even face any charges for knowingly employing and exploiting illegal immigrants, charging below minimum wage, etc. I forgot. Their “cooperation” during the raid was SO helpful. **looking the other way**

Almost 20 area gas stations, convenience stores and bars sold cigarettes to minors during rounds of compliance checks this month.

Cedar Rapids checked 240 stores. Among repeat offenders, the Casey’s at 130 41st Ave. Dr. SW was non-compliant this time, as well as the Casey’s at 641 Edgewood Rd. NW and Guppy’s on the Go, 1532 Ellis Blvd. NW. The 41st Ave. Dr. Casey’s was cited at least twice before, and Guppy’s once. The Edgewood Rd. one was tested twice this round and failed BOTH times. Of Linn County’s outlying tobacco retailers, two retailers in Prairiesburg and Troy Mills failed the “test” this time.

It’s not that hard to ask for an ID. If people want to smoke or buy alcohol, they should have their ID on them. When I was a checker at Hy-Vee, it was our rule that we were required to ask for an ID if someone looked younger than 30. They put us through a short, mandatory training on recognizing fake IDs and being assertive when requiring ID. As a result, I’m sure I put the kibosh on a few college students’ weekend plans…but what do you do?

Bottom line — if your buyer looks young enough to make the sale illegal, it’s better to not take chances unless you’d like to pay a fine of up to $1,500 to someone who needs it less than you do.


A day in the Linn County Jail

This morning, county reporter Adam Belz and I got a rare glimpse inside the state’s second-largest county jail holding nearly 500 inmates, courtesy of Sheriff Don Zeller and Jail Administrator Michael Carr. And no, that’s not me in the picture…even though I’d like to see what it’s like to spend some time in jail. I’ve been told that’s not happening unless I actually commit a crime. Shucks.

Getting a good look at what the inmates have to go through every day inside those walls, though, really made me glad I haven’t had the opportunity. We started out on the fifth and fourth floors, where the highest-security male and female inmates are kept. They are locked out of their cells at 8 a.m. every morning and are forced to spend the day out in their small dayrooms, given nothing to do besides watch TV or sleep on the floor. They clean their own cells every day with a mop and broom. The prisoners with orders to have no contact with others can only come out of their rooms one at a time.

“We keep them out here so we can see everything,” Carr told us. “We don’t want them going in there and participating in sexual activity or other illegal activities.”

On the second and third floors, most live in dormitory-style rooms. The lifestyle there is a little more laid back. Even the ones in cells get to have more “stuff” out in the dayroom with them all day, like newspapers, chess games and writing paper. Those cells aren’t exactly comfortable, though. It’s basically all metal and stone with a thin cushion on the bed. I can’t imagine spending months, sometimes even years, there.

They are all given time for recreation, which consists of merely weightlifting. What used to be the outdoor recreation area was made into living quarters by “slapping a roof on it,” Zeller said. Although they can all see outside, they won’t get to go there the whole time they’re incarcerated unless they’re going out for a dentist’s visit. And they won’t have any physical contact with loved ones, either. Visits are all completed across a sheet of glass.

 The visit actually reminded me of when my father took his church confirmation class on a tour of the juvenile detention center. They were “bad kids,” although he’s had worse since. But he did it to show them where they’d end up if they stayed on the paths they were going down. Granted, none of them are really successful now , but only one ended up in jail later…

(All photos from the Gazette archives)