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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Tanglewood report absolves county officials but leaves questions unanswered

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Motorists use their key cards to both enter and leave Tanglewood Lakes. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – On Monday, Nov. 20, Linn County Counselor Gary Thompson reported to the commissioners that he had received the report from the investigation about the incident that had occurred at Tanglewood Lakes on May 18.

On that day, a group of about 40 residents in an unauthorized move took down the electronically controlled gates in response to being denied gate access to their homes and property. Some of those residents said they had not been able to drive through the gates for as long as five years because their electronic cards had been deactivated for a variety of reasons.

Their action of civil disobedience eventually resulted in several members of the group being arrested on felony charges.

Since the incident, Linn County District Court Judge Andrea Purvis in a civil case ordered the Tanglewood Lake Owner’s Association (TLOA) to restore gate access to all property owners in the development whether they were residents or non-residents.

At the May 22, commission meeting TLOA President Randy Adams requested that the county conduct an independent review or investigation on what led up to and what can be done to prevent that happening again. Adams questioned whether law enforcement could have prevented the issue because he said a leader of the event had said that the sheriff is already put on notice and knows what is happening.

At that meeting, Tanglewood resident Stacey Fromdahl said she was very disappointed in the actions of two of her fellow Republican elected officials, Sheriff Kevin Friend and State Representative Trevor Jacobs. She questioned the time it took for law enforcement to get to the incident and also their actions when they got there.

She also said that Jacobs should not have met with a group of citizens who were angry about not having key card access or exit privileges from their residences.

At the same meeting in May, TLOA board member Tate West asked for an independent investigation into who knew what and when that day. He also sought an investigation into whether arrests had been made during other gate incidents and whether the county attorney had prosecuted any of the cases. He also questioned the meeting with Jacobs and the residents.

At a meeting on May 30, the commissioners voted to hire an outside agency to investigate the incident.

On Monday, Nov. 20, Thompson reported that the result of the investigation was that the incident was not the fault of the county officials.

Commissioner Jim Johnson asked, “What did this cost us?’

Thompson said that the company had billed around $11,000 or $12,000.

Thompson said that the report had been reviewed by the commissioners and would be released to the public. He explained that the report had been requested by Tanglewood board members and some citizens at Tanglewood who believed that there were misbehaviors on the part of some of the county officials.

Johnson said that after going out for outside counsel, they don’t really know more than they did before the investigation.

Thompson said that now the commission knows what happened, but there are still a few unanswered questions that won’t get answered.

In a phone interview this week, Thompson said the report released on Monday was an updated version of one that was sent to him on Oct. 9. Thompson said that the investigating attorney, Forrest T. Rhodes Jr. of Foulston Siefkin LLP, had sent a letter on Oct. 9 asking Thompson if he should continue the investigation.

Thompson said that Rhodes had been having a difficult time getting some information and wanted to know if he should conclude the investigation at that point or continue to wait and try to get more information. Thompson had asked him to continue to try to get more information.

In the report, Rhodes writes, “I tried to schedule an interview with Representative Trevor Jacobs, but he did not respond to my request. I exchanged emails with County Attorney Burton Harding and his staff on some discrete (sic) questions and was finally able to speak with him in late October.”

“I found no evidence to suggest that the Sheriff or any of his officers played any role in these events,” Rhodes said in his report.

“Representative Jacobs declined to speak with me; however, based on other interviews and on public statements that he’s made regarding these issues, he had expressed sympathy for the resident’s situation, but has denied authorizing or encouraging the residents to resort to criminal activities to address those issues,” the report said. “Based on statements from members of the civil disobedience group (Mackey and Riojas), it appears that they were operating under the belief that their actions were authorized, but the background to that authorization is unknown.”

“On Sunday, May 14, Representative Jacobs met with some Tanglewood Lakes residents, including some of the individuals who would take part in the incidents on May 18,” Rhodes wrote in the report. “Representative Jacobs did not respond to my request for an interview: however, based on other public reports, he has said that he listened to concerns about the gate access issues and was sympathetic to those concerns.

“Representative Jacobs spoke with Sheriff (Friend) on the morning of May 18 and informed him of the May 14 meeting with the Tanglewood residents but there was no discussion of an expected escalation of actions by the residents. Sheriff (Friend) said that he felt Representative Jacobs simply wanted him to be aware of this previous meeting.

“Representative Jacobs said that he had told the Tanglewood Lakes residents that they ‘had to do what they had to do’ (or words to that effect), which Sheriff (Friend) interpreted to mean that the residents needed to pursue the various legal means that were available to them, some of which were already in motion, to address those issues, such as hiring an attorney to pursue civil remedies, getting the state Attorney General’s office involved, and efforts within the State Legislature to hold hearings on the situation.”

As for the question about whether the prosecutors office failed in the past to properly pursue earlier cases related to this, the report said “The incidents on May 18 followed a series of escalating actions and reactions over the course of the last several years in which the Tanglewood Lakes HOA sought to enforce its access rules and some residents sought to circumvent those rules.

“Initially, this took the form of driving around or disabling the gates with little to no damage, which led the Tanglewood Lakes HOA to use more sophisticated means of securing the gates, which led to more destructive responses from the affected residents and eventually to the boiling over of emotions on May 18.

“Had prior instances of gate damage been adjudicated (whether to criminal convictions or a judicial determination that the residents’ conduct was justified), then it’s reasonable to assume that the events of May 18 would not have occurred.”

But later in the report, Rhodes writes, “ With the benefit of hindsight, the lack of judicial decisions on the property damage claims was a catalyst to the civil disobedience group’s actions, but there’s nothing to suggest that Harding (or anyone other than members of the group) knew or should reasonably have expected that’s what would occur.

“It’s also worth noting that even if Harding had continued to prosecute the property damage cases (rather than stopping March 2023 based on the unresolved civil issues), it likely would have not made a difference in the events of May 18.”

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