The Des Moines Register
Tuesday, May 28, 1996, Page 1A.

Former Police Officer

‘No justice’
in Trimble
critics say

In Iowa courts, his sentence
was common for his drug
crime.  In federal courts, the
Urbandale man could have
received a long prison term.

By Dan Eggen
Register Staff Writer

     Fired Urbandale police officer James Trimble was arrested 
with $20,000 in stolen methamphetamine – yet he got no jail or 
prison time at all.
     He's lucky he didn't get hauled into federal court.
     In Iowa's state courts, Trimble's sentence was common for 
his crime.  But in federal courts, Trimble could have received 
from five to 15 years imprisonment, with no parole whatsoever.
     Authorities say that federal drug defendants - even first-
timers - commonly get a decade or more of hard prison time, a 
marked difference from their state-prosecuted counterparts.
     "I'd like to know how that's jusice?" cries Edith Davis of 
Des Moines, whose son-in-law is serving 11 years in a Minnesota 
federal prison for two methamphetamine charges.  "I'd like those 
judges to explain how that's justice to my grandchildren, who 
won't know their daddy until they're grown up. ...  If he wasn't 
a cop, that Trimble would've gotten a lot worse."
     The 16-year police veteran was arrested early New Year's Day 
with about 7 ounces - or 196 grams - of methamphetamine, small 
amounts of other drugs, and sexually explicit materials, Des 
Moines police said.  Trimble admitted taking the drugs from the 
evidence room at the Urbandale Police Department where he worked 
as an anti-drug officer in the suburb's schools.
     He was never charged with theft, but he pleaded guilty to 
possession with intent to deliver methamaphetamine, a felony.  
Assistant Polk County Attorney Jamie Bowers asked for a 10-year 
prison sentence, arguing that Trimble abused his public trust as 
a police officer.
     But Judge Leo Oxberger disagreed, giving Trimhle probation 
and ordering him to spend 100 hours of community service talking 
to students about his case.  "I'm convinced this is a one-time 
incident for you," the judge said.
     "If that were one of my 19-year-old clients," said Paul 
Zoss, Iowa's federal public defender, "they'd be throwing the 
book at him over here."

     Federal courts are overrun with drug cases as the government 
pursues its "War on Drugs."  In the Suthern District of Iowa, for 
example, federal drug indictments leaped 45 percent from 1994 to 
     The prison population has soared as a result.  Prisoners 
convicted of drug crimes have ballooned from 25 percent of the 
federal population in 1983 to about two-thirds now.
     Key to the increase is a complicated system of mandatory 
sentences based on the offense the defendant's criminal history 
and the amount of drugs involved.  Not only are the sentences 
rigid, they are tough.
     Zoss said that only the most menial drug possession cases - 
the kind rarely seen in federal court - call for probation, 
meaning that almost everyone goes to prison if convicted.

     The result, many complain, is distorted justice.  For 
example, while some teen-ager might be sent to federal prison for 
five years for a drug crime, a child molester convicted in state 
court may not serve any time at all.
     "You can get swept into all of this and have very little to 
do with the kind of menacing activity you'd associate with such 
harsh punishment," argues Bob Rigg, a former public defender and 
associate law professor at Drake University.
     "The federal system is like a big, sleeping dragon.  If you 
wake it up and it pays attention to you, it'll eat you."
     There are no clear rules about what drug cases are handled 
by the federal system, but they generally involve large-scale and 
often violent drug dealers and their organizations.
     Most complaints concern the treatment given to others - 
people with minor roles in the drug trade.

More Than Enough
     "How cases get here depends a little bit on who initiates 
the case and who refers it to us," said Al Overbaugh, spokesman 
for the U.S. attorney's office in Des Moines.  "We have enough 
that we don't go looking for cases. ...  We have more than we can 
handle as it is."
     Overbaugh pointed out that in its 1994 crime bill, Congress 
provided an escape hatch for minor drug criminals with no past 
record.  In those cases, judges may depart from mandatory minimum 
sentences, he said.
     Davis argues that her son-in-law, Jerry Woolery Jr., was 
punished too severely for his crime.
     Woolery, 25, had a criminal past and admitted to handling 
more than 100 grams of methamphetamine, Overbaugh said.
      "I'm not saying this kid lived a charmed life or anything," 
Davis said of Woolery, who has three sons ages 13, 10 and 7.  
"But this is just too much.
     "Preferential treatment doesn't just hurt people like him," 
she said.  "It hurts society.  It tells us there's a certain type 
of people, like Trimble, who are above everyone else."