The Des Moines Register Tuesday, May 28, 1996, Page 1A. firstname.lastname@example.org Former Police Officer ‘No justice’ in Trimble sentence, 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." Overrun 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 1995. 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. Distorted? 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."