Opinion: Prosecutor's open letter to the Linn County Commission

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

The following is a statement, published in its entirety, by Linn County Attorney Burton Harding that he read to the Linn County Commission at their meeting on Sept. 7.

Dear Commissioners,

This morning I want to talk about and address some of the things I’ve been hearing about and reading in the Linn County News about me and my office.

While I am bound by ethical rules from discussing an open case, I want to say what I’m able to and to address some of the childish and ignorant things that I have been accused of, as well as talk about my accusers.

The message I have this morning is that when my staff and I are accused of not prosecuting sex cases properly, or of not getting justice for victims or any of the things being spread by Jackie Taylor and the Linn County News, is that for all of her protestations and hand wringing about how hard on her this is to report on and her indignation for the victims, these attacks aren’t about justice and they aren’t about the victims of abuse.

Jackie has made it clear through her words and through her actions that she doesn’t care one bit about those victims. This is all political theatre designed to erode faith and credibility in me and my office and to bolster her favored attorney, James Brun.

By printing things that aren’t true, half truths and by omitting any facts unfavorable to her narrative, she has crafted a perception that I am not doing my job and that people in Linn County aren’t getting justice under my watch, and that things were better before I took office. I’m here to set that record straight and fill in the details that Jackie chose to omit.

Regarding the immediate case, I can repeat facts that are in the public record, so I can say that while no case is perfect, this case has a unique set of challenges that has made prosecution difficult up until now. As you may have read in the news, the alleged victim and complainant in this case has been in and out of foster care in Colorado, and Mr. Meeks has been unable to locate her to speak to her about the case or to get her a subpoena to appear.

Ms. Taylor wrote in the last issue of the Linn County News that Brun assured her that he left all of the necessary contact numbers and evidence to prosecute the case, however, a look at the public record will show that none of the subpoenas his office sent before the end of his term reached any of the out-of-state witnesses.

He didn’t have their contact information and he knew it. In addition to having no contact with the alleged victims or family she was staying with, the alleged victim’s mother is currently in a live-in romantic relationship with the defendant. You might have also read that when a medical examiner had a chance to examine the girl, she found no evidence of physical trauma.

It is very important to understand that proving every element of a case beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 individual jurors is difficult, even under the best of situations, but when you are in a situation that Mr. Meeks finds himself in, where it’s unclear if he will be able to produce the witnesses he needs, or to put on testimonial evidence at all, as a prosecutor and as a human being you have a terrible choice to make.

You can take it to trial, but if you can’t prove your case, that little girl gets nothing. If, however, you can get a plea deal, however disturbing you might find it, it may be that getting something for that girl is better than nothing at all. There are many people outraged by what they read and would demand that no plea offer be made at all, but those people don’t understand the reality of the sufficiency of the evidence to take such a firm stance.

I’m certain that [prosecutor] Justin [Meeks] would love nothing more than to know that he will be able to reach and call the witnesses that he needs for the case.

Jackie Taylor wrote that she “knows” that this little girl was raped and tortured. For some reason she hasn’t gone to law enforcement to let them know about her actual knowledge. I suspect that if a subpoena was issued to her to assist this case and compel her to tell the public what she knows, that we would find she doesn’t actually know anything at all, but that’s not going to stop her from using this sad situation as a club to try to bludgeon her political opponent. Using this girl’s experience as a tool to discredit me and my office is ultimate depravity.

Again, that is my point. This isn’t about Lonnie Martin or Loren Debus or Robert Brierley, nor any of the victims in those cases. This is about exploiting those cases for a political game and she doesn’t care who gets hurt in order to win. It’s revolting and inhumane. To show how I know this we really don’t have to look much further than the case we’ve been discussing, but we will.

The victim in this case first disclosed allegations of abuse in 2017. Charges weren’t filed until 2019, and not a single thing was accomplished in the case for over the next year. It was set for a preliminary examination early in the year, but my predecessor, Mr. Brun couldn’t get service on the alleged victim or her father even then.

It was continued over and over until October of 2020 when the defendant informed the court he would still like to have an evidentiary, preliminary examination. With this information, Mr. Brun informed the Court that he might send this to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution.

Why would he do that? He had no conflict with the case. There was nothing special about this case that would make him unable to prosecute it. I think the reason why he wanted to send it to the Attorney General last year is because he knew better than anyone at that time, that this case had special problems and that he had been unable to serve the victim in a year's time and didn’t want to just dismiss the case or make a low plea offer.

However, he used that knowledge in a different way. The evidentiary setting the defendant requested was set for January 29, 2021, just two weeks after I was to take office and Brun was to leave. Rather than contacting the Attorney General’s office, he did nothing and let the case be set, warts and all. I did end up taking office on Jan. 11 of this year.

Just two weeks later, on January 26, 2021, 3 days before the hearing was set for, the Linn County News filed a Request for Disclosure of the affidavit filed by the KBI in this case. By filing this request, the newspaper was able to get a copy of the affidavit printed the other week.

Why did this case capture the newspapers attention all of the sudden? If Jackie cared, why wasn’t this request for the affidavit filed in 2019 when the case was filed? Why wasn’t it filed in 2020 after a year of inactivity? Why did it suddenly become important to have this affidavit as soon as my office was responsible for the prosecution of this case? And again, if Brun thought it was important for the attorney general to handle this case, why didn’t he send it?

I think the answer is obvious. It is my opinion that Brun, knowing he didn’t have a witness and the evidentiary problems with the case, decided to leave it for me to have to correct, and then alerted Jackie Taylor to the fact and made sure that she got the affidavit. She has been waiting for this day for eight months. The bad press and publicity were left for me. This isn’t a coincidence or a surprise.

I’m not going to waste too much more time going over the same suspicious fact patterns in the other cases that Jackie has been beating her drum about, but I will say that, even though those cases are also older cases that originated with Brun, she wasn’t at all interested in requesting the affidavits until my very first weeks in office.

She knew, even before I did, which of my cases had unique issues. I received more requests for affidavits on Brun’s old cases in January and February than he got the entire time he was in office.

I will repeat again, none of this is about the victims. This is revolting, self-serving, unconscionable exploitation of the pain of others for political profit. If Jackie cared at all about the children, or the victims of sex crimes, where was she after the plea and sentencing of the teacher at Prairie View, convicted in a case with allegations of having sex with students?

Brun asked the Judge to give him a term of light probation. Where was her fury and indignation then? Silence. Where was she when Brun dismissed the case against the superintendent in the same fact pattern for failing to protect the children? Crickets.

Where was she after Brun swore on the record that he was going to refile, and the case was never heard from again? Where was her fiery condemnation when the Judge gave a Linn County couple two years in jail for a child abuse case over Brun’s request that they only receive probation? Did those children not count? Or was it just different because it was James Brun and not me?

Where was the Linn County News when Brun dismissed a rape case of a child outright in 2019, with no hearing or explanation? Did that victim not deserve justice? Or is Jackie Taylor just in the business of covering up for her preferred prosecutor? Where was the outrage when these cases she’s complaining about saw no attention and had no activity but continuance after continuance for years? Didn’t those victims deserve justice and closure? Jackie had nothing to say for four years while these things and many others occurred.

When Linn County only had one jury trial in four years, where was the newspaper's calls for action and justice? They didn’t exist. Her apologetics are so farcical that when Brun was caught on camera calling the citizens of Linn County names, she accused the County Commissioners of being the bad guy for having a camera on a public building.

When it was revealed that Brun threatened to use or release information about the jail to the public if the Commissioners didn’t pay him $100,000, Jackie somehow didn’t find that news worthy. I’m still waiting on that write up.

There was no investigation or article written when we learned that Brun had been abusing the subpoena process to call sheriff’s deputies to court on cases they had no testimony to give in order to damage the budget of the sheriff because of his personal feud with him. No story on the fact that Brun threatened those same officers with arrest if they didn’t make it to those court dates.

The silence is still deafening. Jackie is complicit in all of these things by refusing to do her only job by reporting on any of it.

She’s very interested in rooting out corruption, except for when it’s her people. She’s very concerned with the good old boy system, except when it’s her good old boy. She styles her self a freedom fighter and a constitutionalist, but as soon as I took office she forgot that the Constitution requires that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and have a right to confront their accusers.

Her cover up and refusal to do her job as a reporter and talk about these important matters while they occurred is repugnant and inexcusable.

Jackie Taylor didn’t care about children, sex crime victims or any of these cases until I took office. Now she wants you and the protesters on Friday to believe that she cares so much and wants the county to know what’s really going on, but she doesn’t want you to know the whole story. Did Jackie report any of the sex crimes, murders, and other cases that I can be and am much more firm on? Of course not, that doesn’t fit her narrative.

She doesn’t want to talk about the people I have sent to prison, or the cases that I am setting for trial. That might cast some doubt on the narrative she’s desperately trying to portray, and it’s disgusting.

It’s not hard to see why. Mr. Brun’s campaign finance statement tells us he wrote checks to Jackie’s businesses for over $20,000 last year alone for signs and ad space. I found it ironic when I saw on the front page of the Linn County News last week the quote from George Washington: “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” The hypocrisy is unbelievably thick.

I believe that Brun wants to continue to control and manipulate things here as much as possible until he runs again next cycle. To this day he’s in constant contact with the Linn County News, he regularly reaches out to our commissioners, trying to stir them up about me or my office.

He watches these meetings and even watches our court hearings over YouTube and then afterwards calls law enforcement to tell them what he thinks I’m doing wrong. After eight months he still has nothing better to do than obsess over a county he doesn’t live in. His desperation is embarrassing.

The proof of his effectiveness is in his results. Not a single trial victory in four years. Only a small handful of preliminary hearings held in the same time period and a mountain of dismissed or untouched cases left behind.

He spent as little time in Linn County as he possibly could and the common perception among the defense attorneys is that he never had any idea what was going on in any of his cases. It beggars belief that Jackie has championed this person, who lied to her transparently as recently as last week if he told her he left contact information for the victims in my office, when it can be verified from the public record he never had it himself. Can a person be that naïve?

And I want you to know that this all comes at a cost to Linn County and its people. These aren’t harmless lies. This is despicable, depraved and soulless manipulation of tragic events that has caused and still causes a great deal of harm to our community.

To begin with, there is a good chance that with all of the manufactured outrage and scrutiny that Jackie has produced, my office will likely need to turn some of these cases over to the Attorney General’s office, even though there is no good reason why Linn County can’t take care of it’s own cases.

Additionally, when I get a report on my desk anymore of a sex crime, particularly involving a child, I’ve got to outsource that work to a special prosecuting attorney outside of my office, because I’ve lost the ability to review or decline a case like that, as the newspaper would surely have a field day with it if I did.

So now, even though the citizens of Linn County voted overwhelmingly to have a local attorney handle our local cases, that ability has been stripped from us in a real way because of her and Brun’s interference. And the taxpayers of Linn County get to foot that bill. The county will have to pay the attorney general for their prosecution and the county will have to pay for a special prosecutor to review those types of cases. Jackie Taylor has cost the county an indeterminable amount of money.

And financially is not the only way that she has hurt Linn County and its people. I don’t need to tell you that it’s already difficult for victims of sexual assault and abuse to come forward. One of the most commonly cited reasons is that victims believe that nothing will happen to their abuser. Now that Jackie has worked her hardest to sow distrust in me and my office, without giving complete information, how many victims out there won’t come forward and say anything because they’ve read that nothing will happen?

How many more abuses will be allowed to continue or go unpunished? How many rapists might never lose their freedom because Jackie Taylor has a vendetta against me and made it appear that coming forward is futile? The damage she has done, both financially and in terms of human suffering can’t be calculated.

My only hope is that most people see these articles and personal hit pieces as the drivel and fake news that they are. But we will never know.

Up until now, you haven’t been given the truth by the newspaper. It’s been nothing but propaganda to discredit me and bolster Brun. I’ve stayed silent for over a year as I’ve been maligned and misreported, but now that other, vulnerable people are being harmed I have to speak up.

I don’t want it said that any accusations I’ve made here are in anyway to deflect from the things I have been accused of or that are going on in my office’s cases. I stand by the decisions I’ve made and support Justin in his, and if I had to do it all over, I would make the same decisions again. I’ve read the files, I’ve reviewed the cases, I know the evidence and I sleep very well at night knowing that I made the right call.

Jackie, hasn’t, nor has anyone speaking out against me. It is impossible to judge a case from a single affidavit, several years old, and to try to do so is foolish. There is good reason our Constitution assures us of a fair trial and the right to present a defense.

I want to be clear that Linn County is my home. I have a wife and young children here. I want criminals and sex offenders to be put away as badly as anyone else and I am in a unique position to do so, but I am not God.

I cannot manufacture evidence. I have to take my cases and my fact patterns as they come. Some cases are good and some cases have issues. Particularly cases that have lingered since 2018 or 2019 without action as witnesses are lost, recant, or forget.

I work with law enforcement every day, and for all of Jackie’s pearl clutching, none of them are upset with the job that I’m doing. It would be very easy if I got to be judge, jury and executioner, but that is not how our legal system is set up, nor what is allowed by our Constitution, as Jackie should know.

To characterize my entire office and all it’s cases by one or two examples, cherry-picked by her with foreknowledge of their issues, is unfair, disingenuous and harmful to the children and victims that Jackie pretends to care for. She has caused distrust for the legal system, for the Judge, and for my office.

The people spoke last year when they voted and they were clear and unambiguous. Jackie’s continued campaign against me is undemocratic and we are all paying the price. Some day there may be another newspaper in town and I’d like you to remember this abhorrent, repulsive behavior, and what she has cost the county when that happens. Thank you.

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