Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Prosecutors failed to meet court deadline

Felony kidnapping charges were dropped this week against three Sac County men after state prosecutors failed to file the formal charges in court before a state-mandated deadline.

Thomas Schroeder II, 26, and Bradley Jacobsen, 42, both of Wall Lake, and Steven Schroeder, 26, of Odebolt, were arrested late last month for allegedly kidnapping and beating a Hispanic migrant worker — Rafael Trevino, 44, of Texas — in Wall Lake three years ago. They faced life in prison if convicted of the crime.

Iowa law requires prosecutors to file formal charges for most felonies within three years of the crime.

The Sac County men were arrested before the three-year anniversary of Aug. 3, but the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which was prosecuting the case, failed to file the formal charges in court before the deadline. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation had investigated the case for at least two years.

“I take full responsibility for this mistake,” Attorney General Tom Miller wrote in a statement to the Daily Times Herald. “I have ordered our staff to review our internal criminal case management practices, procedures and technologies to help ensure that we meet all future statutory deadlines.”

Court records show assistant attorneys general Denise Timmins and Douglas Hammerand were prosecuting the case. Miller was not.

It’s common for prosecutors to file the so-called “trial information” days or weeks after an arrest, but the prosecutors’ oversight of the deadline is troubling, Trevino’s attorney Marinda van Dalen said.

“We’re certainly very, very disappointed and shocked and feel it’s a real injustice,” said van Dalen, a Texas attorney who represents Trevino in his federal lawsuit against the Sac County men.

An unusual and troubling case

Trevino was initially arrested for the incident because the men reported that he stole items from their vehicles.

Trevino was charged with two counts of felony burglary, two counts of theft and one count of assault, all of which a district judge dismissed in January 2010 because of the “unusual and troubling circumstances of the case,” court records show.

A jail photo from the arrest shows Trevino with a swollen face, two black eyes and a gash on his forehead.

Trevino and his family sued the men and six other people — including two police officers whom they accused of covering up the crime — in federal court last year for an unspecified amount of money to pay for medical bills, physical and mental pain and suffering, disfigurement and lost wages.

Court records show Trevino had reached an out-of-court agreement in early July with the defendants, who rescinded that agreement when the three men were arrested on July 25.

It’s unclear what effect the dropped charges will have on the civil case.

Trevino lived in Wall Lake for about 10 weeks that summer of 2009 and detasseled corn in the area with about 20 other workers from south Texas, court documents show.

A Division of Criminal Investigation complaint against the Schroeders and Jacobsen alleged the men assaulted Trevino at his Wall Lake apartment and forced him into a truck.

The men allegedly drove Trevino to an abandoned factory, assaulted him, drove him back to a bar where they had seen him that night and assaulted him again.

Trevino alleges beating, conspiracy

Trevino’s lawsuit alleged Trevino and another farm worker went to a Wall Lake bar, Doc’s Place, on Aug. 3, 2009 and played pool. They returned to their nearby apartment and ate dinner, after which Trevino went outside to call his wife.

A pickup truck sped through Trevino’s backyard, and three men — one of which Trevino identified as Thomas Schroeder — in the truck grabbed Trevino, tossed him into the truck’s bed and drove to an area “on the outskirts of Wall Lake” where other vehicles waited with headlights on, the lawsuit says.

Someone dragged Trevino from the truck by his ankles and dropped him on the ground, where a group of men and women punched and kicked Trevino unconscious.

Trevino said some in the group shouted “kill him” and “(expletive) Mexican.”

The lawsuit says that Schroeder called police chief Ted Helmich, an acquaintance, who allegedly told Schroeder to take Trevino back to Doc’s Place to meet with officer A.W. Staples, who arrested Trevino.

Helmich and Staples have denied that they tried to cover up a crime.

Defendants allege theft, fighting

Several defendants of the lawsuit, including Jacobsen and Steven Schroeder, told a different story in their sworn court statements:

Trevino and another Hispanic man went to Doc’s Place and played pool and drank beer after 10 p.m.

Some of the defendants were at the bar playing card games.

Trevino and the other man left, and Thomas Schroeder left the bar a short time later. Schroeder said he saw Trevino and the other man rummaging through the inside of his pickup truck and went back into Doc’s Place to alert the group. Trevino fled.

Several people found that a toolbox, cellphones, and other items were taken from their vehicles.

The two Schroeders and Jacobsen went to Trevino’s apartment to confront the man — whom they’d met two nights before at a house party. They knocked on the door, and Trevino ran from a side door, but Steven Schroeder caught him after a short foot chase.

Trevino refused to acknowledge the theft nor identify his alleged accomplice, and Thomas Schroeder and Trevino fought and punched each other for a few minutes.

The men took Trevino in a pickup truck and drove to the edge of town so that Trevino’s cellphone could get reception. The men wanted Trevino to call his alleged accomplice. But Trevino refused and the men called police, who told them to take Trevino back to Doc’s Place and wait for an officer to arrive.

The men put Trevino in the bed of the truck, and when they arrived at Doc’s place, they pulled Trevino from the bed of the truck by his ankles.