During a review and discussion of the Story County Sheriff’s Office’s contract with the U.S. Marshals Service during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds detailed an confrontation she had last week with Supervisor Lauris Olson.
The request to review the contract during Tuesday’s meeting came from Olson, who faced contention from local protesters during a July 12 candlelight vigil held in front of the Story County Justice Center in response to border enforcement measures by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Trump Administration.
“It became clear to me, after getting some follow-up questions, that there was a lot of interest about what exactly our contract was and how things were carried out here,” Olson said Tuesday.
According to Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald, the original U.S. Marshals contract was signed in October 2003, a year after the Sheriff’s department moved to the Story County Justice Center.
The U.S. Marshals Service houses and transports all federal prisoners from the time they enter federal custody until they are either acquitted or convicted and delivered to their designated federal Bureau of Prisons facility.
In addition to the federal Bureau of Prisons, the contract also accepts federal detainees from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which is a superseding agency of ICE.
“What we’re doing here has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what’s happening along the southern border,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday. “In Story County, we are not an ICE detention facility, we do not hold families and we do not hold children. We don’t even have the capability to hold juveniles that are arrested in Story County.”
According to Iowa Code, the contract abides by two requirements for immigrant detainees — the request must be in writing and, additionally, accompanied by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security warrant for arrest or deportation of an alien.
The county began holding ICE prisoners that met those requirements in 2017.
“Our holding of these inmates is nothing different than who we hold for other jurisdictions,” Fitzgerald said. “These people either had a warrant or some type of signed affidavit by the federal government that allows us to legally hold the people in custody.”
But an incident that led to Tuesday’s discussion took center stage as Reynolds detailed a time line of events that occurred on July 16, between all three Supervisors, herself and Fitzgerald.
Reynolds said she met with Olson and Fitzgerald on that Tuesday, following a request by Olson to discuss the county’s U.S. Marshal’s contract.
When Olson asked if the contract has expired, Reynolds and Fitzgerald both said no and Reynolds said Olson told her she felt political pressure following her appearance at the July 12 vigil.
Olson requested both elected officials’ attendance at Tuesday’s board meeting, but both parties pushed back, noting Fitzgerald came to the board in 2017 about the same contract and there was no incentive for them to appear as there was no official board action on the matter.
“In our minds, political pressure of one Supervisor isn’t a reason to take us away from our job duties,” Reynolds said to the board on Tuesday.
After Reynolds and Fitzgerald expressed their concerns, Olson urged them to attend the board meeting for the benefit of fellow Supervisors’ Linda Murken and Lisa Heddens because they were “new to the board.”
Murken joined the board in 2018 and Heddens was appointed to the board last month.
However, Fitzgerald and Reynolds approached Heddens and Murken for an informational-only meeting regarding the contract and their previous conversation with Olson.
After the meeting, Reynolds asked both Supervisors whether her and Fitzgerald’s attendance was required on Tuesday, and both said no.
According to Reynolds, when she walked to Olson’s office and informed her of the meeting, and that Heddens and Murken didn’t require their attendance for the board meeting, Olson “lost her temper.”
“She started yelling at me, that the Sheriff and I stabbed her in the back by talking to the other two Supervisors,” Reynolds said. “I let her know that the Sheriff and I can talk to anyone we want, about anything we want, and that she was being inappropriate and unprofessional.”
Olson continued to raise her voice, according to the county attorney, and Heddens and Murken were witnesses to the incident.
“As county attorney, I’m going to make it clear that the sheriff and I are independent elected officials — and we’re also citizens,” Reynolds said. “Our speech can not be restricted.”
Reynolds requested an apology from Olson, and Olson withheld comment on the incident and furthered the board’s discussion on the contract.
“I’m going to go ahead to re-focus this meeting upon what we’re actually here to do today,” Olson said. “Which is to get information out to the public about this contract.”
Olson did not address Reynolds’ comments, but continued her line of questioning for Fitzgerald, regarding inmate conditions and length of stay for detainees.
After Fitzgerald clarified the county does not treat ICE detainees differently from other inmates, Murken interrupted, questioning the basis of Olson’s inquiry.
“(Olson) asked five questions so far. Two of those, you or I talked about at the vigil. You clarified at the vigil that the inmates are treated just like other inmates … That was said at the vigil when there were 100 or more people who were interested in the topic,” Murken said to Olson Tuesday. “We also talked about how the county is only holding people there who are being deported. So what I’m saying is that some of this information has already been given to the public.”
When Heddens asked what the process would be for the county to opt out of its existing contract, and what services would be lost, Reynolds said it would require a 30-day notice and a loss of all federal enforcement services under the contract.
“You can’t just cancel a part (of the contract), the U.S. Marshals contract encompasses all the federal agencies, so you would be cancelling the entirety of the services,” Reynolds said.
Following the lengthy discussion, Fitzgerald clarified the Story County Jail’s status when it comes to accepting ICE detainees.
“We’re not a sanctuary county and we are not an ICE detention facility,” he said.