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Rural Iowa community combats increase in drug-related crimes, few resources

Posted at 1:12 PM, Mar 05, 2020

The Guthrie County Sheriff’s Office in Iowa stays busy.

“We’re a lot busier than we ever have been,” Marty Arganbright, the Guthrie County Sheriff, said. “The call volume is higher than it ever has been.”

Eight full-time deputies watch over the nearly 11,000 people who live there.

“We cover 600 square miles so we can be at one part of the county and get called to the other end,” Arganbright said.

The department is strapped for time and space -- for their own people, evidence files, and even inmates.

“In the past ten years, our jail population has soared,” Arganbright said. “In the last couple years, it’s really increased because of the meth use.”

He said methamphetamines have caused a lot of trouble for his department and filled his jail, which only has the capacity for 10 people.

“I never thought I’d use methamphetamines in my entire life until everyone else around me was using it,” Adam Stough, an inmate in the jail, said.

Stough was arrested on drug-related charges after deputies said he led them on a chase and crashed into a ravine.

“It infects one community, infects the next community, one person using leads to another person using it,” Stough said. “Exactly like the addiction theory, it’s a disease, it spreads.”

“With drug use also crime picks up,” Arganbright said. “In October, three of my deputies were involved in a shooting incident that was involved in methamphetamine and drugs and we had a warrant to be served and the person was hiding in a closet and came out shooting at the deputies.”

One of those deputies was Steven Henry.

“It went in right there and then it stopped right there,” Henry said, showing the scars on his leg. “I was shot in the leg, my partner was shot in the back.”

“It was crazy, you hear about that kind of stuff in LA or New York, you never think something like that is gonna happen here but really it does, it’s everywhere."

He explained that most of the crimes he sees relate to drugs.

“They all go hand in hand. Drug use, mental health, and crime,” Arganbright said.

That’s where Country View Estates steps in to help.

“We provide services to people with mental illnesses,” Tricia Schreck, with the organization, said. “What started out as alcohol, now what we’re seeing is a lot more drug backgrounds.”

Country View has group homes that help a range of people, including those with criminal backgrounds and mental health issues. People like Troy, who has been in prison multiple times for public intoxication, operating while intoxicated, and other charges.

“If I didn’t have Country View here I’d be drunk somewhere on the streets probably, maybe even, ya know, in the grave,” Troy said.

“The big thing is is the need for mental health beds,” Gary Rendel, with Country View Estates, said.

“There just are not the providers available today that there were even two years ago,” Schreck said.

Officials say that feeds into the cycle of crime, drug use, and mental health.

“There’s very few places to get help with mental issues,” Arganbright said.

“When we can address that properly and get the facilities for the mental help, instead of the facilities to put people in jail for it is when we’re gonna have a solution to overcrowding in jails and prisons everywhere,” Stough said.

On March 3, voters passed a $9 million project for a new, larger jail facility in Guthrie County, which will hold up to 30 people. Eighty percent voted in favor.

“Everybody wants a safe community,” Schreck said. “It takes everybody paying attention to the choices that our leaders and our government in Iowa are making and we need to be the voice in making sure we’re treating mental health the way it needs to be treated.”