No stone was left unturned in a flurry of search warrants filed by Emmet County Sheriff Mike Martens to find evidence to support a multi-year investigation that led to February 2021 charges against five former City of Armstrong employees.
Two former city clerks, Mary Kate Staton and Tracie Lang, have both pleaded guilty to charges and provided statements to investigators, Staton to misdemeanor charges and Lang to felony charges. The remaining defendants include Police Chief Craig Merrill, who remains on unpaid suspension; former Mayor Greg Buum; and former Clerk Connie Thackery, all charged with felonies and serious misdemeanors. All three are scheduled for an 11 a.m. Feb. 25 conference hearing.
Charges against the defendants include:
n Count 1 – ongoing criminal conduct, Class B felony. Buum, Merrill and Thackery.
n Count 2 – theft in the first degree, Class C felony. Buum and Merrill.
n Count 3 – fraudulent practice in the first degree, Class C felony. Buum.
n Count 4 – felonious misconduct in office, Class D felony. Buum.
n Count 5 – theft in the second degree, Class D felony. Buum.
n Count 6 – theft in the second degree, Class D felony. Buum and Thackery.
n Count 7 – theft in the third degree, aggravated misdemeanor. Buum and Thackery.
n Count 8 – non-felonious misconduct in office, serious misdemeanor. Buum and Thackery.
n Count 9 – non-felonious misconduct in office, serious misdemeanor. Buum.
n Count 10 – non-felonious misconduct in office, serious misdemeanor. Buum.
n Count 11 – tampering with records, aggravated misdemeanor. Buum.
n Count 12 – assault with a dangerous weapon, aggravated misdemeanor, Merrill.
n Count 13 – assault with a dangerous weapon, aggravated misdemeanor. Merrill.
n Count 14 – non-felonious misconduct in office, serious misdemeanor. Merrill.
n Count 15 – non-felonious misconduct in office, serious misdemeanor. Merrill.
A July 11, 2017, search warrant application sought data from a body camera, taser and Panasonic laptop computer held by Merrill.
In a May 13, 2021, search warrant application, Martens sought Google documents including emails, photographic images and movies. According to the application, “The property above-described constitutes evidence which tends to show a crime had been committed, or tends to show that a particular person has committed a crime.” No particular person is named in the request approved by District Judge Shane Mayer. A supporting affidavit alleges missing city emails.
An Oct. 18, 2021, search warrant application, naming the City of Armstrong, Buum, Merrill, Thackery, Lang and Staton, sought any electronic or paper files of any of the named defendants. The warrant sought city financial records, records relating to Merrill tasering civilians, surveillance footage inside City Hall, a notebook or journal with Buum’s handwritten note when mayor, records of Merrill’s work hours or any city-owned electronic devices.
The warrant yielded a trove of documents, including binders, a computer tower and external hard drive, emails and other paperwork, digital voice recorder, financial records books, tax records, sewer utility fund records and a number of boxes containing miscellaneous paperwork.
Also recovered were documents and records after the February 2021 arrests of then-current and former city officials, including 2021 minutes and agendas.
In the Oct. 18, 2021, application, Martens included an attachment citing “12,000 pages of documentary evidence” and “thousands of manhours” by the sheriff’s office, Iowa DCI and Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
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