Public Safety

Linn County Prosecutor reaches dream job, but won't stop there

Job not a 'gender or race thing' but demands strength

Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter, photographed Tuesday in the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapid, recently was promoted to the felony division in the Linn County Attorney’s Office. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter, photographed Tuesday in the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapid, recently was promoted to the felony division in the Linn County Attorney’s Office. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Being a prosecutor isn’t a “gender or race thing,” but does take a strong person who can balance work and home life, take cases to trial and sometimes look at gruesome crimes and help people who don’t want the help.

That said, Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter doesn’t deny being proud to be the second woman in recent years and the first black person ever in the office’s felony division.

“I didn’t think about being the first, but I think it gives me a different perspective. I have that insight of being a black person in America, and it affects how I prosecute and handle cases,” Slaughter, 33, of Cedar Rapids, said last week.

Slaughter, who has been prosecuting misdemeanor crimes since 2014, said she has dreamed of being in this position since she graduated in 2011 from Drake University Law School in Des Moines. She wanted to be a lawyer since she was a child growing up Des Moines.

“As a kid, I was watching those ‘CSI’ and ‘Law and Order’ shows,” Slaughter said as she started laughing. “I always wanted to be the one standing up there before the judge and jury, arguing my case. And me and my brother are the first generation of college grads” in the family.

She knew she wanted to be in law enforcement. She has an uncle who is a detective in Urbandale, but decided that wasn’t her calling.

She said “distrust of law enforcement” is common in the black community, and she wanted to be part of the system to promote change.

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Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden, who hired Slaughter, said his office has “no glass ceiling.”

“Everyone has a fair and equal chance of employment and advancement in our office, regardless of gender, race or any other factor that has no bearing on qualifications or ability,” he said.

The Linn County Attorney’s Office, including assistant prosecutors in misdemeanors, civil and juvenile divisions, now has 10 women and 10 men.

Slaughter isn’t the only woman of color in the office. Jennifer Erger was hired in January and moved into Slaughter’s misdemeanors slot, Vander Sanden noted.

Vander Sanden has said several times since taking office in 2010 that he wanted to promote a woman into the felony division. During his tenure, no woman from the misdemeanors division had been interested, except Rena Schulte and Slaughter. The felony division comes with a higher volume, more intense caseload, he noted.

Schulte, who had more seniority, moved into prosecuting felonies in 2016 when assistant prosecutor Nicholas Scott was appointed as a 6th Judicial District associate judge.

Now Slaughter replaces Jason Besler, who was appointed last month as a district judge.

Slaughter said it’s not easy to move up in the office because of the low turnover. Choosing to pursue a career as a prosecutor is somewhat limiting — there are only so many positions in county attorney offices. Slaughter said she wanted to be in the Cedar Rapids office because this is her home with husband, Milo, and their 11-month-old son.

She remembers telling Vander Sanden during the initial interview of her goal — his job.

Vander Sanden, who called Slaughter “intelligent, articulate and confident in her abilities,” said she was hired over 29 other applicants in 2014. She had worked for about 10 months as an assistant Washington County attorney and had tried about eight jury trials, winning seven convictions.

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That told him a lot, he said, because to be an “effective prosecutor, you have to stand for your convictions and be willing to go to trial.”

She also has been willing to volunteer for extra assignments outside the office, such as teaching classes for local law enforcement, Vander Sanden noted.

Cedar Rapids Police Capt. Craig Furnish said the officers after an in-service training thought she was a “dynamic speaker as well as being very approachable and engaging when answering questions.”

Furnish said the department was fortunate to have her on the team of legal instructors for academy curriculum.

Anastasia Basquin, community outreach specialist and chief victim liaison for the County Attorney’s Office, gets to see another side of Slaughter during the preparation for trials.

“She truly gives a part of herself to these victims during the pursuit of justice,” Basquin said. “She is quick to establish rapport, and her compassion for their loss makes her an incredible prosecutor.”

Slaughter admits becoming a mother last year “softened” her somewhat, giving her yet another perspective to consider when looking at a case.

“It gives me more understanding of the impact that a parent’s choice can have on the kids,” Slaughter said. “The crimes against children hit me closer to home now.”

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She is quick to point out that impulse doesn’t overrule factual aspects of the case or the law, but it may make her fight a little harder or change her approach to a case.

Slaughter admits she loves going to trial. She tried 48 percent of her trials in misdemeanors, where more plea agreements typically are reached.

While still in misdemeanors, she nonetheless was second chair in some high-profile trials. She worked with First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks last year on the Kendu Petties double homicide trial. Petties, 34, was convicted and is serving two life prison sentences for killing Sierrah Simmons, 20, and her friend, Quintrell Perkins, 22, both of Cedar Rapids, in 2014.

“I love trying cases … connecting the dots and filling in holes to help the jury understand,” she said. “We tell the story of the victim.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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