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Closing loopholes in the law

Sen. Kinney introduces legislation brought about by the disappearance and death of Tiffin teen
Noah Herring

DES MOINES The purpose of legislation is to either restrict or promote a set of habits in our society, and throughout this case, I just saw a glaring gap in our law, and certain things that are seen as socially unacceptable and wrong. So said Sergeant Alissa Schuerer to an Iowa Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Monday, Jan. 25.
Schuerer was speaking about her experience as the lead investigator for the Johnson County Sheriffs Office (JCSO) in the disappearance and death of Tiffin teenager Noah Herring last April. State Senator Kevin Kinney proposed new legislation, Senate Study Bill (SSB) 1054, seeking to close gaps and loopholes Schuerer and others found during the course of the investigation that led to much lesser charges being filed against three individuals who were involved.
Herring, age 15 and a freshman at Clear Creek Amana High School at the time, disappeared on April 7 of last year while with four others (47-year-old Scotty Harshman and three juveniles). Lisa Herring, his mother, contacted the JCSO the next day with a missing person report. On Friday, April 10, one of the four told an investigator Herring drowned in the Coralville Reservoir near Diving Rock off of Scales Bend Road in rural Johnson County. A recovery operation was launched, but called off due to low lake levels. The search resumed the next morning with Herrings body being located shortly before noon on Saturday, April 11.
During the course of the investigation, detectives were hampered by inconsistencies in the statements by the witnesses. Lieutenant Katrina Rudish testified before the subcommittee describing the investigation and roadblocks Sgt. Schuerer, then-Sgt. Randy Lamm (now chief deputy) and then Sgt. Brad Kunkel (now sheriff) encountered.
They received an admission that these people were with Noah Herring on April 7 at Diving Rock, and they witnessed him go under the water, and they witnessed him drown. They did not report this. Instead, they threw his belongings into the lake to conceal that they were there, and they kept his location to themselves for four days, Rudish said.
Schuerer told the subcommittee, In this case there were circumstances where there is a law that shows us it is unacceptable, and punishable, and a criminal case to destroy someones property. So, we are able to charge these individuals for discarding the victims property in the water.
But, nothing in the law currently provides for penalties for standing by and watching a person die, not summoning help and lying to conceal the truth. The behavior and the lack of actions committed by these four individuals was utterly incomprehensible to say the least. Its mind boggling to me to try and understand how these four people, who had the ability and access to dial 9-1-1, made the decision to leave their friend. They left their so-called friend there that day, Schuerer said. These individuals held onto Noahs whereabouts for over 72 hours. Once they were questioned and pressed by law enforcement, the truth finally came out. For over 72 hours, Noahs mother, his siblings, his friends, his aunts, his uncles, his teachers they were left waiting and worrying about the uncertainty of Noahs disappearance.
Schuerer acknowledged no way of knowing the outcome if help had been summoned immediately. The Johnson County Coroners Office listed the cause of death as drowning, but stated the manner of death was undetermined.
But what we do know is that Noah wouldve been given a chance to receive help, Schuerer added, Instead he was left abandoned to die alone by his so-called friends. These friends were Noahs only lifeline, and they failed him and they failed Noahs family.
In supporting the bill, Schuerer said, For a person to witness something like this with a potential loss of life or serious injuries situation, and to fail to contact emergency authorities or law enforcement its an action or a habit that needs to be seen as unacceptable. As of today, there is absolutely no consequence for the unfathomable act committed by these four individuals.
SSB 1054 seeks to criminalize the failure to disclose the known location of a corpse with the intent to conceal a crime (abuse of a corpse), as well as obstructing or resisting a police officer, EMT, firefighter or medical examiner in the performance of duties. It also adds a new charge; failure to assist. In short, a person could be charged with an aggravated misdemeanor if they observe a person in imminent danger of death or serious injury, and fail to call 9-1-1.
Abuse of a corpse is currently a Class D felony punishable by no more than five years in prison, and a fine of at least $1,025 but not more than $10,245. Interference with official acts is currently a simple misdemeanor with a fine of not less than $250. Failure to assist would be an aggravated misdemeanor punishable by no more than two years and a fine of at least $855 but not more than $8,540.
In the Herring case, Scotty Harshman was charged with criminal mischief third degree accessory after the fact and theft fifth degree accessory after the fact. Juvenile A was charged with theft fifth degree, criminal mischief third degree, prohibited actions, violation of conditions of a minors school license, and use of electronic communication device while driving. Juvenile B and Juvenile C were charged with criminal mischief third degree accessory after the fact, and theft fifth degree.
I think we can all agree that our personal safety and well-being highly trumps the status of our personal belongings, Schuerer told the subcommittee. This is where I see the gap in the law, and where this proposed law could protect what is most important, which is human life.
Lisa Herring also testified, Its been really hard for us because we have a very close-knit community and people dont understand, and theyve been asking us questions about it. We dont understand how something like that could happen and there could be no legal charge towards any of the four people that were involved as it pertains to my sons death. That just seems wrong. We have court this week for one of the individuals but its pertaining to the material items, and has nothing to do with the actual death. People need to be held accountable.
The bill has the support of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, with whom Kinney spoke with regarding the legislation. Iowa County Attorneys Association representative Kelley Verwers Meyers told the subcommittee the association was initially undecided, but after hearing the testimony, I believe we will be changing our declaration to being in support of this bill.
Lisa Davis-Cook, representing the Iowa Association for Justice, said her organization was undecided with Fifth Amendment self-incrimination issues.
The subcommittee, consisting of Republicans Amy Sinclair and Dan Dawson and Democrat Kinney, agreed to send the bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Republican Brad Zaun. Once the bill passes out of committee, it will be sent to the Iowa House for consideration. Kinney said Democrat Representative Dave Jacoby was moving the same bill through the house.
After passing both chambers, the bill would go to Gov. Kim Reynolds for signing.
This (case) has divided the community because people dont know the facts of the investigation, Kinney told Sinclair and Dawson. Lisa (Herring) and the (Johnson County) Sheriffs Office came to me and asked for this legislation, which I support.
In a follow up email Kinney said, I agree this should not have happened and the loophole needs closed.

PULL QUOTES

They did not report this. Instead they threw his belongings into the lake to conceal that they were there, and they kept his location to themselves for four days. Lt. Katrina Rudish

The purpose of legislation is to either restrict or promote a set of habits in our society, and throughout this case, I just saw a glaring gap in our law, and certain things that are seen as socially unacceptable and wrong. Sgt. Alissa Schuerer

This is where I see the gap in the law, and where this proposed law could protect what is most important, which is human life. Sgt. Alissa Schuerer

The behavior and the lack of actions committed by these four individuals was utterly incomprehensible to say the least. Sgt. Alissa Schuerer

As of today there is absolutely no consequence for the unfathomable act committed by these four individuals. Sgt. Alissa Schuerer

We dont understand how something like that could happen and there could be no legal charge towards any of the four people that were involved as it pertains to my sons death. Lisa Herring