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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Tanglewood residents demand results after protestors' actions

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Randy Adams, president of Tanglewood Lakes Owners Association, left, addresses the Linn County Commission in front of a room full of residents angry about last week's vandalism to the gates of the formerly gated community. (Screen capture/Linn County Livestream)

By Charlene Sims, Journal staff

MOUND CITY – Concerned Tanglewood Lakes citizens packed the Linn County Commission meeting on Monday, May 22, to express their dissatisfaction with how a problem was handled at Tanglewood last Thursday, May 18.

That evening about 6:30 p.m. approximately 40 people, residents and non-residents, tore down the electric gates and card readers at the entrances to Tanglewood Lakes, a private, gated community about six miles southwest of La Cygne in rural Linn County.

Before any person from the group spoke, County Attorney Burton Harding, updated the commissioners on the issue that took place on May 18 at Tanglewood and resulted in a substantial amount of damage to that property owned by the lake’s homeowners association.

He told the commissioners and the group that his office took this very seriously and from the information taken from videos and reports that his staff had worked through the weekend to get criminal complaints ready to go. He said that he signed them before coming to the commission meeting and they should either be on file now or in an hour.

The Linn County Sheriff’s office reported early Tuesday morning that Eva Riojas of rural La Cygne had been taken into custody about 4 p.m. on Monday on charges of alleged criminal damage to property, criminal threat and attempted aggravated battery in relation to the case.

Riojas was the first of the alleged protesters to be taken into custody as she had been identified by several residents at the meeting as one of the protesters.

At Monday's meeting, Harding said that there had been several cases of damage to property filed before, but because they had been in process for so long that he had dismissed them because of the statute of a speedy trial. But, he said, in light of what had happened last week, he was refiling those cases. Harding said he would stay at the commission meeting for a while if anyone had any questions.

Randy Adams, president of the Tanglewood Lake Owners Association (TLOA), spoke first, asking the commissioners if the roads in Tanglewood were private or county roads.

Linn County Counselor Gary Thompson answered that the roads were private roads, not county, but that the TLOA had taken steps to allow some law enforcement of the roads.

Adams said the incident on Thursday had been an organized and preplanned destruction of property of an estimated group of about 40 or so people. Some of those who had torn down the gates were not even owners or current landowners of property at Tanglewood.

He told the commissioners that the TLOA is now faced with spending countless hours and financial resources – $100,000 to $200,00 – to replace the equipment that was destroyed.

Adams said that previous reports and actions against some of these same vandals in the past had not resulted in sufficient penalties to discourage them from this type of behavior.

Adams pointed to the lack of prosecution that caused one of the leaders of the protesters to say that the sheriff is already put on notice. He knows what is happening. They are very aware of the injustices we have been dealing with.

He said the TLOA requests that the county conduct an independent investigation on what led up to the destruction and what can be done to prevent this from ever happening again. He said the homeowners association also requested officers to patrol Tanglewood over the holiday weekend.

“This event is a black eye on Linn County,” said Adams. “Our taxpaying members deserve more effort from the county in stopping such behavior and insuring that nothing like this ever happens again.

“The people involved with this event must finally be held accountable and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Stacey Fromdahl, a woman who identified herself as a Republican committee woman for Scott Township in Linn County and a citizen and member of TLOA, said she was very disappointed in the actions of two of her fellow Republican elected officials, Kevin Friend and Trevor Jacobs. The following is an excerpt from her speech to the commissioners:

“First, Trevor Jacobs, as a district representative, should have had the knowledge to look at all sides before making a reckless decision to hold a meeting with an individual on the May 18, 2023 incident.

“A portion of the so called peaceful protesters were not owners of our wonderful community and the rest love drama and breaking rules. If they love this community so much, why are they tearing up our lakes and terrorizing our lakes too. It took your (Jacobs) words at the meeting to incite this event. Shame on him!

“Second, Kevin Friend, it is extremely hard to believe that you did not know what was about to happen. It would have been awesome to see that armored car you purchased, come to our rescue to help the only two deputies dispatched.

“The small children running around and in the arms of the active participants was dangerous. Why weren’t you there? They all had a gathering at our shelter house for more than 30 minutes after the incident. Plenty of time after you noticed that text. I am a law abiding citizen. Why don’t I have your cell phone number? Why would they text you personally to tell you it started if you had no prior knowledge?

“Your lack of action and clear irresponsibility to taxpayers is appalling and embarrassing. Neither one of you have destroyed the spirit and drive of Tanglewood Lake and it’s good members. We will build back and be stronger as a community.”

Tate West, a resident and TLOA board member, testified next. West offered some suggestions to the commissioners. Following is an excerpt from his comments:

“This has been going on for a number of years and allowed to fester to the point that it got the other day. It has been my hope, and I have expressed this to about every elected official that I have ever talked to, that no one ever be injured, that property not be damaged and that we resolve this through the court system. Which we have attempted to do for a number of years.

“Here we are today, I believe that the county should ask for an independent investigation in the situation leading up to and what occurred that day. Who knew what? Who knew when? And what did they do to fulfill their obligation to the people of this county?”

“I also would suggest that the district attorney’s office, (which) is now inundated, be assigned an investigator to thoroughly lead this investigation and make sure that these individual cases are ready to go to court.

“The other options for our community is – I believe if I have done my math correctly – is a grand jury. I hope that that is not required.

“I hope that we as citizens here take it upon ourselves to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again.”

Several other people present voiced similar concerns.

Sheriff Kevin Friend who normally attends commission meetings had been on a chase and manhunt, entered the meeting to address his perspective of the events on May 18. He said that he had received a couple of hundred phone calls since that day.

Friend told the commissioners and the group that he had been out mowing when his phone had received a text at 5:28 p.m. on May 18 from Eva Riojas saying protesters were going to tear down the gates.

Friend said that his wife brought him his phone when dispatch called at 6:22 p.m.

“I went back in the house and put my uniform on, I got in my Tahoe, I go to Tanglewood,” he said. “I haven’t even got to Pleasanton yet, and I am reading the text message on my phone that she had sent me.”

“I immediately called the prosecutor and said I had received the text message. He said please preserve that for me for evidence. That was when I found out they were tearing down the gates other than when I had received the phone call saying the gates were torn down.

“The first call to dispatch came from a resident at 6:05 p.m. and that call says there are a lot of people at every gate tearing down our gates.”

Friend said that Linn County deputies were on U.S. 69 on an injury crash. One deputy was pulled from the crash scene, and that was Craig Haley.

“As I am on my way,” Friend told the audience, “I told them to call a second unit, who had just gotten home an hour or so ago, and have them respond too. That was Deputy Rob Maloney.

“The guys get there at 6:27 and the gates are already cut away. The damage is done. The kiosk or card reader was gone the gates are cut and they are dragging the gates.

The only thing still going on was at gate three where they were cutting up a gate to put in a pickup truck.

“All that was left for us to do was to identify the people who are involved and take those charges to the prosecutor and that is what we are doing. On Friday at 1:20 in the afternoon, we sent thirteen individuals with 26 felonies and 13 other misdemeanors to the prosecutor with videos, reports and statements.”

Friend gave the commissioners and the group some background on the problems at Tanglewood.

This is a group of individuals who have been in this activity (gate damage) during the past 3 ½ to 4 years that he knew of.

Friend said that on January of 2020 he sat down with the Linn County Prosecutor on his first day in office and took him 37 cases of gate damage in Tanglewood. He said he asked for prosecution. Those cases had been pending for months and there had been no action on them. Some of those may have been prosecuted, I don’t know. You’ve got to understand that after they are taken to the prosecutor they are his cases not the sheriff’s.

So then, he said, he met with Adams, Eva Riojas, Bobby Johnson and the prosecutor and tried to negotiate the situation. It was so far out of hand that it was ridiculous. Friend tried to set up a payment plan so that her place would not be foreclosed on. But the TLOA board would not accept the plan.

The fact is we are dealing with the situation but what you have to know is some more back story.

Some time ago, Burton Harding could tell you better, our judge made a ruling that she would no longer hear damage to gate reports until some civil suit has gone through.

So when we say there are no consequences, that’s not necessarily true but we have a judge who has said there are no consequences, Friend said.

Friend told the people that he has a prosecutor who hasn’t prosecuted. Law enforcement is only as good as what occurs after the fact. Deputies can throw you in jail and you can sit there and get released after 48 hours or we can present the whole case and hope for the warrant that doesn’t occur.

“We have options,” he said. “Tate West you know these options.”

West said, “There are options and there were options that day. There are questions people legitimately have and I think for everyone’s benefit and yours, someone from the outside needs to give credibility back to this department.”

“We need to answer why a state representative who preaches at the jail and has a relationship with the sheriff’s department had been named in this repeatedly. Has he been talked to? We need to know when and why everyone knew and what was their response.

“There is specific direction for people who work for this department. Now, make no mistake, we disagree. I intend to do and work diligently for the people that live here within the system.”

West continued, “And we have this discussion. We are constantly told go to court, go to court, go to court. That’s exactly where we have been. Civilly, we have done everything humanly possible to pursue this.”

“What would you wish that I do to make court cases resolution different because nothing is occurring when these people go to court?” Friend asked West. “They get a free ride. If you want to talk about frustration, talk to my deputies who write 70 cases in the last two years for Tanglewood. We don’t like it either.”

Friend then addressed the Trevor Jacobs issue, “Trevor Jacobs, our state rep, got called by them. He told me when I called that he went out there Sunday and rode around with them and they had a visit.

“Now, I do not know the content of their conversation, but what I do know is what Trevor told me. He told me that he never told them to tear down the damn gates. He said ‘I don’t get behind mob activity.’ Those are his words you can ask him he will be happy to stand for them.

“But I said, ‘Trevor what was the purpose?’ He said they called me because they had also called (U.S. Rep.) Jake La Turner, and Jake La Turner had contacted the Kansas Attorney General, and the Kansas Attorney General was starting some sort of investigation.

“I don’t know what, that is what Trevor told me. So they were going to start some sort of investigation and try to bring answers to people who would eventually tear down the gates.

“So that’s what I know. Trevor called me on Wednesday morning and told me he had been out there and wanted to know what I thought about the situation. I told him we had a load of these cases in court.”

In an email statement on Tuesday from Jacobs, he acknowledged that he had visited with people from Tanglewood.

“On Sunday, May 14, 2023, at the request of some of my constituents, I visited the Tanglewood Lakes neighborhood where they reside,” Jacobs said. “I was given a tour through the community and visited with a group of private properties owners and listened as they laid out their concerns.

“We spoke for a short time before I left. I thanked them for the invitation and for giving me some insight into their issues of concern.”

Friend said he told Jacobs that his office was waiting for this thing to burn out. But the problem is the judge has stifled any criminal allegation cases because of a civil case.

“I don’t know what the civil case is about,” Friend said, “something to do with the gates, I presume.

Adams clarified, “I am calling out the previous county attorney for not prosecuting all the cases that are on file that were filed way beyond Judge Purvis took over that position.”

Friend said he would call out every county attorney. He told the audience that if they are going to sit there and roast him, he was more than happy to call them out. He included judges as well, because people aren’t doing what they should be doing.

“I can tell you that we have filed 70 damage cases in the last two years and the same people damage the gates because they are not in jail or haven’t had enough consequences to divert their actions,” said Friend.

Adams said that there was mistrust of the deputies when they seemed to do the least investigation when called for a motor vehicle incident or when someone has run into the gates. He said the deputies don’t check for current registration or whether they have been drinking.

Friend said that is because Linn County can’t prosecute it on private property. It’s like a farmer being out in meadow on a farm truck and he doesn’t have insurance, tags or a driver’s license. It is not the county’s concern. The sheriff’s office can only enforce traffic violations. The county prosecutor does not prosecute cases in Tanglewood, he added.

West said that the board members were told that they would face arrest for criminal restraint.

“A judge wrote this in one of his orders and I mentioned this to you, that we had the right to enforce this, and I offered to get that for you, and I am told by you that not all judges are right,” West responded.

“I don’t know Tate,” Friend said. “I really got all done with you a long time ago to be honest. I booted you out of my office because you were there being not decent.”

“That’s because I do not tolerate someone calling me on the phone and cussing me out,” said West.

Adams asked Friend why back up wasn’t called for when the deputies first arrived. Do you have outside sources or are we totally dependent on just the few officers that you have on patrol? Is there highway patrol or other departments you could call?

Friend said his office had called the highway patrol to come and take the crash on U.S. 69, and they did not have anybody at that point. He said that at times when he calls the highway patrol, they are two to three hours out a lot of times.

There is only one trooper in the Linn County area, and he works the whole region so there is not somebody to call, Friend added.

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