Public Safety

Cedar County deputies accuse county attorney of victim blaming, being too lenient on sex offenders

Deputies with the Cedar County Sheriff’s Office made an unusual move last week to accuse the Cedar County Attorney of being too lenient on defendants — especially those involved in sex crimes.

All 13 of the sheriff’s office’s deputies signed a vote of no confidence against County Attorney Jeff Renander for what they called “growing concerns about Renander’s handling of criminal cases.”

“This was not a sudden decision,” Chief Deputy Kevin Knocke told The Gazette Monday. “We’ve had concerns for a while and it finally got to the point where we believed we had to do something.”

And what was the straw that broke the camel’s back?

According to the deputies’ Feb. 20 letter, which also was shared with the Cedar County Board of Supervisors, Renander made “egregiously inappropriate comments to the victim of a sexual abuse case” that he handled last week.

The letter goes on to say that Renander’s comments essentially blamed the victim for the sexual assault she experienced and diminished the trauma she suffered as a result.

In their letter, the deputies also cited a “lack of professionalism and self-awareness exhibited” by Renander, and said he had minimized “the traumatic experiences of multiple sexual abuse victims, to include child sexual abuse victims.”

The case referred to in the letter was against Nicholas S. Becker, 27, of Muscatine, who initially faced a charge of third-degree sexual abuse — a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and required registration as a sex offender.

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According to the criminal complaint, Becker took advantage of an intoxicated woman — performing sex acts on her while she possibly was passed out.

During their investigation, Tipton police said Becker was interviewed, during which he “admitted he knew the victim was intoxicated and admitted that the victim would not have consented to the sexual activity if she was sober,” the complaint states.

According to the sheriff’s office, Renander agreed to a plea bargain that knocked the charge from felony sexual abuse to assault causing bodily injury, a serious misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. In addition, Becker would not be convicted of a sex crime, meaning he does not have to register as a sex offender.

The plea agreement, which was filed with the Cedar County court on Feb. 11, states the deal was made in consultation with the victim and the Tipton Police Department.

But for the officers with the sheriff’s office, the plea agreement was just one example in a long chain of cases that deputies believed were handled poorly.

And, after hearing what was said to the victim, a detective with the sheriff’s office — who wished to go unnamed — said the he and his colleagues were shocked.

“I think we felt compelled to say something and, you know, do something,” he said.

The decision to vote was made as a department, he said. All 13 deputies signed the no-confidence vote.

“There was very little debate about it when we decided to do it,” the detective said. “Everyone was just like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’”

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The deputies also agreed to not involve Sheriff Warren Wethington, who gained some notoriety last year when he announced the Cedar County Jail would not take arrestees from the Durant Police Department.

“He supported our decision, but he had nothing to do with it,” the detective said.

A copy of the no-confidence vote was submitted last week to the Cedar County Board of Supervisors. The Gazette reached out to the Board of Supervisors Monday, but those requests for comment were unanswered by deadline.

It is unclear whether the deputies’ decision will result in any consequences for Renander, who reportedly has said he will not resign from his post as the letter demands. But that is not why the deputies decided to go ahead with the vote, Chief Deputy Knocke said.

“We wanted people to be aware that this is going on and that we don’t approve of it,” Knocke said. “We don’t want the victims that are out there not feeling like they can come forward and talk to us.

“I don’t want them to think they’re not going to be believed, or that we won’t take their case seriously or that they won’t get a fair trial or that they will be blamed for what happened to them.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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