On Sunday, Ron Steele of KWWL’s The Steele Report moderated the debate for Black Hawk County Sheriff candidates, Tony Thompson (Democrat), the current sheriff seeking a fourth term and Dan Trelka (Republican), a BHC supervisor who spent 10 years as the Waterloo Police Chief.
One of the most surprising moments of the debate was when Trelka was asked what kind of jail would he run. Thompson questioned Trelka’s qualifications for the job.
“Asking someone to take charge of one of the largest organizations in the state of Iowa,” said Thompson, “with zero experience running the jail, what kind of jail do we run?”
Trelka answered, “I believe it’s a direct supervision jail, which is the kind of jail, actually, the sheriff’s department in Colorado had, exactly that type of jail. My response is, Sheriff David Clarke came from the Milwaukee Police Department and took over as Milwaukee’s sheriff. Joe Arpaio, I believe he came from the federal system and he took over the jail, the sheriff’s office in Arizona. So these are elected officials, these are leaders, these are managers. I have no concerns at all in me assuming control over the sheriffs office and the jail, none at all. As a matter of fact, I want to get intimately involved in the jail.”
Clarke, former Milwaukee County Sheriff, is a proponent for tough law enforcement, is anti-criminal justice reform and anti-Black Lives Matter. Clarke made headlines when four inmates died in jails he ran—one of which died after being denied water for 7 days in isolation. The family sued and received nearly $7 million.
Most recently, four men, including Steve Bannon, were charged with attempting to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from a fundraising project for We Build the Wall. Clarke, though not implicated, is on We Build the Wall’s board.
Last month, amid protests of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Clarke said that “armed vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse should have a plan to rationalize what they have done.”
Arpaio, ex-sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, was known for racial-profiling and illegally detaining Latinos—actions which resulted in a conviction that would have landed him in jail in 2017 if Trump hadn’t pardoned him—and brutal and inhumane treatment of inmates.
His “Tent City,” created to address overpopulation in county jails, forced 2,000 inmates to live in tents and work in chain gangs, where they were subjected to excessive force and restraint. In summer, when temperatures reached 120 degrees, they had no fans or adequate water and in winter, they had no heat or warm clothing. Some died. From 2004 to 2007, 2,150 lawsuits were filed against the jails and Sheriff Joe.
Other notable moments from the debate include:
When each candidate was asked to define the role of the Black Hawk County Sheriff, neither candidate directly stated the need to address systemic racism, but Thompson seemed to come closest after stating that the sheriff has to be the champion, leader, and initiator of change. Thompson said he needs to “own the misdeeds and mistakes of the national narrative,” while stepping up and saying that things should be done differently and subjecting themselves to more scrutiny.
Trelka stated that the role had evolved with COVID-19, national protests, and riots, and stressed the need to adhere and honor the constitution, adding that it gets a little tough representing all the people of BHC—Blacks, Whites, Christian, Muslim, atheist—“representing all those different factions and representing them fairly.”
When asked what went through their minds when they hear “defund the police,” both predictably had different ideas.
Thompson stated he understood conceptually the idea, but thought it should be rephrased, that instead of saying “defund,” a redeploy, retrain, or re-approach methodology of policing would be better. He went on to cite the work he’s doing with Chief Joel Fitzgerald on the Mobile Crisis Unit, which will respond to mental health or substance abuse issues.
Trelka attributed those who want to defund the police as not being pro-police and cited it to be “pure craziness,” advocating for “smart reform,” though he did not specify what he meant. He also emphasized that law enforcement must be involved in the discussion, something that is not happening in Seattle and Minneapolis, adding that he is totally against defunding the police.
Some of the most back-and-forth dialogue surfaced when discussing their roles in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thompson took pride in the fact that when Dr. Nafissa Egbounye wanted to open the Emergency Management Commission (EOC) before COVID-19 had really hit Black Hawk County and he agreed after she educated him on the situation. He ended up being the operations officer of the EOC, while Dr. Egbounye was the incident commander.
Trelka thought the EOC might have been activated too soon and expressed concern about “a law enforcement official being so heavily involved in a COVID response.”
That prompted Thompson to add, “I would be very interested to know what Supervisor Trelka was doing when we were out working COVID because I didn’t see him … I had upwards of 70 people every day in planning meetings at the emergency operations center. 70+ people representing school districts and volunteer agencies and service organizations and every string of government in Black Hawk County.”
He then went on to point out that Trelka “bragged on Facebook that he was exercising silent diplomacy with Tyson and even told one of his constituents that silent diplomacy somehow benefited him in a $500 donation to his campaign.”
Trelka responded, “I was doing frequently and regular communication between myself and other Board of Supervisors. We were taking care of our county employees. We passed a resolution for people to wear a mask when they come into the county. We took action for paid administrative leave for our employees, to protect them from this monster. I was on the phone regularly and had regular meetings with the production manager at Tyson—as a matter of fact, I just had a conversation with him last night. I was in regular contact with many business owners in Waterloo because they had concerns about the stay in place order or whatever you’d like to call it. I communicated with several of the mayors—Mayor Hart, Mayor Green. I was doing what I felt should be done as a county supervisor and I was also very mindful of our economy. The biggest concern that I had with this monster was the negative impact it was going to have on our economy.”
The debate lasted approximately 55 minutes and can be viewed here.
by Rachelle Chase
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