Early last week, Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington announced he would run for re-election in 2020. The decision came on the heels of a 2019 that was eventful to say the least. In the past year, the sheriff forbid a community from processing arrests in Cedar County, left the Republican party only to return, announced a planned retirement only to later reconsider, received awards based on his stand against an officer in said forbidden city, and has been met with a fellow Republican challenger for his position.
Several months ago, Wethington made it clear that in September of 2019, he had planned to retire. Then, last summer, he took the rare stance of forbidding all officers from the Durant Police Department access to the Cedar County Law Enforcement Center because of then officer Bob Smith, a former retired Iowa State Patrol officer who had been accused of abusive behavior at times during his long career.
After forbidding all officers from Durant from bringing arrestees to the Cedar County Jail, Wethington and the city of Durant found themselves in a standoff of sorts that lasted until a video surfaced from a traffic stop Smith made prior to leaving the state patrol. The video showed a physical altercation between Smith and a motorcycle rider. Days later, Smith resigned from Durant PD.
“That video was legit public information. It took a lot of pressure from me and the media for our county attorney to release it,” said Wethington.
On July 23, Wethington said he sent an email to the city of Durant and Mayor Scott Spengler, saying that Cedar County would once again begin accepting Durant arrestees. All officers were welcome to the law center, except Durant Police Chief Orville Randolph, a former Cedar County deputy himself.
Wethington said Randolph was welcome to bring prisoners to the jail, but he’d be forbidden from the administrative wing of the building. “I don’t completely trust him,” said Wethington. “Anyone who would knowingly turn an officer like Bob Smith loose on his citizens I don’t have respect for.”
Durant entered agreements to book arrestees through Muscatine and Scott counties and, according to Wethington, continues to do so even with the ban lifted. “My understanding based on conversations with the mayor is that they’d continue taking prisoners to Scott County until all officers were given full access to Cedar County,” said Wethington.
In December, Wethington was surprised with a special recognition award from the Iowa Association For Justice. According to the association, the award was “in recognition of your principled public stand against police misconduct.”
The association went onto say: “Wethington saw a problem. There was a law enforcement officer who had abused his power and violated the rights of an Iowa citizen … He made the decision that Cedar County Jail would not book any suspects arrested by officers from this town … Wethington had concerns regarding the truthfulness of these officers and believed that if he was booking them into the Cedar County Jail he was in essence vouching for their integrity, and he could not do that. Some applauded his decision, while he faced backlash from others. We believe his actions build trust in law enforcement and deserve praise and recognition.”
Wethington said he didn’t know about the award until the week he received it. “I’m the first peace officer to win it. It usually goes to judges or legislators,” he said. “I met a lot of opposition through this. Was even told I’d be sued. I didn’t waiver but I did hire an attorney.”
He later received another award — a Certificate of Appreciation from the Tipton VFW — for his actions.
Wethington also had issues with Smith’s wife, Dawn Smith, a member of the Cedar County Board of Supervisors who, at the time, was chair of the board. Both Republicans, Wethington vowed to leave the party. Earlier this month, Dawn relinquished the chair position to fellow supervisor Steve Agne.
Sheriff decides to run again
Last summer, Wethington said publically that he was no longer going to retire in the fall. Instead, he was going to see the situation with Durant through. Upon Bob Smith leaving the Durant force and Dawn Smith no longer being chair of the local board of supervisors, he then announced another run for Cedar County Sheriff, a post he’s held for nearly 13 years.
In his 12 years and three previous elections, Wethington has never been challenged politically.
Until now. Another event in 2019 included a challenger stepping forward. Matt Bowers, a sergeant in the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office, has announced he too will run for Cedar County Sheriff on the Republican ticket, with the primary coming in early June.
When asked why he ultimately chose to run again, Wethington said, “I was fed up with the continuous overstepping of Dawn Smith’s authority. I was fed up with the Republican Party allowing her to do this … It was bothering me that Bob Smith was in Durant and there was nothing I could do about it. And the county attorney wouldn’t do anything based on the relationship to Dawn.
“I have comeback to the Republican Party but I won’t be active in the Cedar County Republican Central Committee and will not accept any support from that committee until Dawn no longer holds a position within that committee.”
Wethington, 55, says he has support and people wanting him to run again. “Some people question my tactics but they are effective. I always put other’s rights before my own safety,” he said.
When asked if re-elected would he stay on another four years, Wethington said, “If I can get back to doing my job. I would really enjoy that. For the last four years, I’ve done nothing but deal with drama from one person — Dawn Smith.”
Bowers announces run
Matt Bowers, 40, has spent 21 years in law enforcement. A 1997 Wilton High School graduate, Bowers grew up in Cedar County on his family farm, where both his parents and grandfather were raised.
He began his career as a jailer in Muscatine County. He later served as a police officer in Corning, Iowa and in Durant for nearly a year from late 2001 to 2002. He then went to the Muscatine Police Department for five years before being offered a position with the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office in 2007. He currently holds the rank of sergeant and has been in a supervisory role for 11 of his 21 years.
The move to the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Office meant he had to give up living on his family farm in Cedar County. He now resides in Wilton but has a desire to get back to living on the family farm, one of the primary reasons he chose to run for Cedar County Sheriff. He has applied to be a deputy within Cedar County in the past, but was never hired.
With a deep desire to be back in the house he grew up in and continue tending to the family farm, Bowers says becoming Cedar County Sheriff would allow him the opportunity. He announced in October he would run at an event held at the Durant Community Center then reaffirmed it the next week while speaking at a Durant city council meeting.
He says unseating a 12-year incumbent is difficult, and that it will take an outsider. His other primary reason for running: “All the drama with the Smiths, Orville Randolph, Durant and the board of supervisors. Getting published in the New York Times makes us look like the laughing stock of Iowa,” Bowers said.
Bowers said that like the public, he too watched the Bob Smith video. “The video did not look good. I have to review videos in my position too. I agree people need to be held accountable,” said Bowers. “The problem is that it took (Warren) nearly two years to do anything about it … Warren fought the fight but did it in his own way. That’s not the way I would have done it.”
If elected, Bowers said he’d add a section to booking paperwork at the Cedar County Jail in order to note if force was used while attaining an arrestee. “We need to know who’s had force used against them,” he added.
Bowers said he’s also been told by some in the county, especially those in rural areas, that they rarely see county patrol. “Everyone should feel like they’re being protected,” Bowers said. He said he feels the deputies are also scheduled more heavily during the week, leaving less coverage on the weekends, which he plans to change.
“Their schedule doesn’t promote the safety of the people,” Bowers added. “I’d have a group meeting. A good leader takes input from the people under him. We could make something work to make sure of adequate staff on the weekends. I’d also go out and help (patrol).
“I’m not attacking Warren. He’s a fine guy. I’m just not happy with some of the things he’s done professionally,” said Bowers. “To unseat an incumbent is tough. It takes an outsider to aggressively challenge. My speeches will be direct and to the point.”
He also plans to bring more inmates to the Cedar County Jail if elected. He said the jail will hold around 47 inmates and, last he looked there were nine. He said Muscatine County “farms out bed space,” and that he’d like to see the same done more in Cedar County, noting that housing an inmate from another county means $55-$65 per day. “If you housed five inmates for a year, that’s $100,000,” said Bowers.
He said he’s learned a lot since his time as a cop in Durant. “I needed guidance in Durant. I needed supervision. I was self-taught. Back then I thought, ‘How dare you speed on my highway?’ It was like watching Cops on TV, writing a lot of tickets and taking people to jail. I wouldn’t let my guys do that now. We’re not there for that. It’s about keeping our highways safe.”