Senate summons supervisors on county courthouse capers

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Gary Edward Demercurio, 43, of Seattle, Wash., left, and Justin Lawson Wynn, 29, of Naples, Fla., were charged with third-degree burglary and possession of burglary tools after they were found inside the Dallas County Courthouse about 1 a.m. Sept. 11.

The members of the Dallas County Board of Supervisors received an invitation Tuesday to travel to the statehouse in Des Moines Friday for a hearing on the alleged burglary of the Dallas County Courthouse Sept 11.

A letter dated Sept. 27 from Sen. Amy Sinclair, chair of the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee, requested the supervisors’ attendance “at a fact-finding meeting” at the state capitol in order “to answer questions by members of the committee” about the unusual incidents.

Sinclair said the committee will inquire about the alleged break-ins at the Dallas County and Polk County courthouses last month by employees of Coalfire, a Colorado-based cybersecurity firm, and the “possible unauthorized access to buildings or facilities” of the Iowa Judicial Branch building in Des Moines by Coalfire employees.

Gary Edward Demercurio, 43, of Seattle, Wash., and Justin Lawson Wynn, 29, of Naples, Fla., were arrested shortly after midnight Sept. 11 inside the Dallas County Courthouse. They told the deputies who arrested them that “they were contracted to break into the building for Iowa courts to check the security of the building,” according to court records, and a Coalfire spokesperson later confirmed the men were employees.

Demercurio and Wynn were each charged with third-degree burglary and possession of burglary tools and were released from the Dallas County Jail after posting bond. They each waived the right to a preliminary hearing and have not been scheduled for an arraignment in Dallas County District Court.

Sinclair said the oversight committee is also interested in the contractual arrangements made between Coalfire and the Iowa Judicial Branch, including “the involvement of responsible Iowa Judicial Branch officials” in the arrangements and the “legal authority for certain actions and decisions of the Judicial Branch concerning security testing.”

Invited to the meeting were the supervisors, sheriffs and county attorneys of both Dallas and Polk counties as well as representatives from Coalfire and people within the judicial branch involved in the contracts with Coalfire.

“No one is legally obligated to attend,” Sinclair said, “so I am uncertain which invitees will be there to testify. The goal is to understand what happened and to do whatever necessary to prevent it in the future.”

Dallas County Attorney Chuck Sinnard and Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard indicated they will attend the Iowa Senate committee meeting. Sinnard said Tuesday his range of answers will be limited.

“Ethically,” he said, “because it’s a pending criminal investigation, I’m prohibited from making any substantive comment about the facts and circumstances of the case, but I can sure inform the committee of what has taken place procedurally and what may come procedurally, but beyond that I can’t really comment.”

Dallas County Supervisors Chairperson Mark Hanson said he would attend and “tell them that our sheriff did a fabulous job in at least apprehending those that were in our building unauthorized.”

Recalling the arrests, Hanson said he “got a call from the court administrator later that day, apologizing profusely because that was never the intent to have them break and enter.”

A statement issued Sept. 18 by the Iowa Judicial Branch said the office previously worked with Coalfire “and welcomed the opportunity to work with them again.” The statement said  “Coalfire and State Court Administration believed they were in agreement regarding the physical security assessments for the locations included in the scope of work. Yet recent events have shown that Coalfire and State Court Administration had different interpretations of the scope of the agreement.”

Documents released by the Iowa Judicial Branch show they signed a master agreement with Coalfire Jan. 14, 2015, and began planning for these particular security tests Aug. 1, 2019.

“Our sheriff did the right thing, and his department did the right thing,” Hanson said. “Thank you to Adel Police Department, too, because they were the first on the scene once the alarm was triggered. Everything worked the way it was supposed to work.”

Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, chairs the Government Oversight Committee, with Muscatine Republican Mark S. Lofgren the vice chair and Spirit Lake Republican Zach Whiting, Des Moines Democrat Tony Bisignano and West Des Moines Democrat Claire Celsi rounding out the committee.

“I am looking forward to learning the circumstances surrounding the decision to allow someone to break into a county courthouse,” said Celsi, reached Tuesday evening.

“It was a surprising day, suffice it to say,” Hanson told his fellow supervisors.

The Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee will meet Friday, Oct. 4 at 10 a.m. in Room 116 of the Iowa State Capitol at 1007 E. Grand Ave. in Des Moines.

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