Back in February of this year, Scott County, Iowa, District Judge Mark Cleve rejected a plea deal that would have spared 18-year-old Sherral Jermaine Tolbert prison time for several felony charges stemming from two separate incidents in 2019. The judge declared that, because of Tolbert’s nearly uninterrupted criminal history over the past few years, it simply wasn’t appropriate to return Tolbert to the streets now that he’d reached adulthood.
“The Court reluctantly concluded that the plea agreement was not appropriate because at present the defendant’s conduct has shown that he constitutes a substantial danger to the community,” Cleve wrote in his decision. “Specifically the Court notes that the defendant has had eleven prior juvenile court adjudications, at least six of which would have been felonies if had had been an adult, and four of which involved assaults or assaultive conduct. The Court further notes that the charges he was to be sentenced on included two aggravated misdemeanor assault charges, which were committed less than two weeks after he had been placed on juvenile probation for several offenses which included two counts of assault with intent to inflict serious injury.”
Cleve also noted that while he was awaiting the disposition of the two cases, Tolbert also committed another aggravated misdemeanor assault against a female jailer at the Cedar County Jail.
Despite Cleve’s objections, Tolbert was ultimately released on three years probation a month later by Scott County Judge Patrick McElyea after pleading guilty to second-degree burglary, second-degree theft, and two counts of assaulting police officers.
Now Tolbert’s back in jail, only this time he’s facing first-degree murder charges in the death of 19-year-old Lavonta Baker, who was found with multiple gunshot wounds in a car in Davenport, Iowa, on October 25. Tolbert was originally picked up on a probation violation after his fingerprints were found in a car that had been reported stolen, but the murder warrant was served on him while he was still in custody.
The question, of course, is why was Tolbert put on probation back in March, despite the objections by Judge Cleve? I’ve reached out to Thomas Geyer of the Quad City Times to see if he has any more information about the rather extraordinary decision to give Tolbert probation instead of a prison sentence, especially in light of his extensive criminal history as a juvenile.
It’s worth noting that Everytown for Gun Safety targeted Iowa’s legislature this election, spending more than one million dollars in an attempt to flip the state’s House so that they could begin to target legal gun owners with all kinds of new restrictions on their right to keep and bear arms, instead of focusing on guys like Tolbert. In fact, they were so confident of their victory that they were bragging about it back in late July before a single vote had been cast.
“Iowa voters want stronger gun safety laws, but they’re getting the exact opposite from the majority of their state lawmakers, who are still taking orders from an extreme and out-of-touch gun lobby,” said John Feinblatt, head of Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund. “In the run up to Election Day, Everytown will go all out to mobilize gun safety voters and send a gun-sense majority to Des Moines.”
“Gun safety is a triple threat. It mobilizes, it persuades, and it’s increasingly become a litmus test issue for Iowa voters,” said Charlie Kelly, senior political advisor for Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund. “Continued inaction on gun violence has absolutely put Iowa in play in 2020. That’s why we’re all in with substantial financial investment and an unbeatable grassroots program to flip the Iowa State House—the same way we did in Virginia in 2019.”
“Iowans are demanding common-sense gun safety measures but Iowa lawmakers keep taking us backwards,” said Katie Albrecht, a volunteer with the Iowa Chapter of Moms Demand Action. “So now we put our grassroots momentum to work every day until November to elect a gun sense majority in the House.”
As it turned out, Iowans rejected Everytown’s gun control message, and it was Democrats who ended up losing a half-dozen seats on Election Day. Yep, despite their million-dollar investment and their boasts of doing to Iowa what they did to Virginia, Everytown took Democrats backward in 2020.
Rather than waste time with gun control measures aimed at the law-abiding, the expanded GOP majority should take a serious look at the criminal justice system in the state and how guys like Sherral Tolbert can avoid prison even after a judge declares them to be a substantial danger to the community. Clearly, Judge Cleve was right. Tolbert was a danger. So why did another judge let him go?