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Iowa lawmakers want death threat at Iowa Capitol to be reviewed


This news story was published on April 6, 2012.
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James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

The FBI and Iowa State Patrol are reviewing video shot in and around the Capitol as part of their investigation into a death threat to a Des Moines legislator earlier this week.

Security personnel and lawmakers agree the situation that led to a nearly four-hour lockdown at the Iowa Capitol Tuesday could have been handled better.

Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, has asked for an “after-action report” from security personnel at the Capitol.

“I think we could have done better in our response,” Paulsen said Thursday. “We did not, in my opinion, do a particularly good job of containing it.”

Capt. Mark Logsdon of Post 16 agreed there’s room for improvement.

“Fortunately, we don’t have these kinds of incidents very often,” Logsdon said, “but unfortunately, we’re not better prepared.”

Tuesday, Michael Dekota McRae, a clerk for Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, opened an envelope containing a racially charged letter and white powder. Hours later, a hazardous materials team determined the powder, which smelled like laundry detergent, was not dangerous. Further tests are being conducted, but Logsdon said the investigation has not yielded a suspect.

“I think this issue should not be partisan,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, “so I’m not going to make any partisan comments about it.”

McCarthy went on to say legislators need to be better prepared for similar situations in the future.

“Hopefully, it never happens again, but if it does we need to be better aware on how to handle the situation,” he said. “We need to move forward and learn from it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, also called for a review.

“It’s important to remember that in a civil society an attack on a somebody’s free speech and, basically, a threat they will be murdered is an incredibly inappropriate thing,” Gronstal said. “More than worrying about our procedures we want to make sure we do our best to catch people who level those kinds of threats.”

Paulsen has asked House staff and Iowa State Patrol Post 16, which provides security at the Capitol, to review the situation and make recommendations. That will include looking at how mail is handled at the Statehouse.

The letter to Abdul-Samad apparently was hand-delivered to the Capitol postal station. McRae picked it up along with U.S. mail that is sorted at the Capitol.

Logsdon doesn’t expect major changes in security, but wants to raise the level of awareness among his staff and lawmakers.

“We have a young group of troopers at the Capitol,” he said. He will provide some “basic training on our role and response to ensure we get proper response sooner rather than later.”

He also plans a “good healthy reminder” to lawmakers and other Capitol staff on how to respond if something doesn’t look right.

In this case, Logsdon said, McRae and Abdul-Samad could have been better isolated. They moved from their desks in the House chamber to the public space in the rotunda before being sequestered in a vestibule outside the chamber.

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