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Victim's parents call Mason City day care owner a 'pedophile,' balk at plea deal: 'She isn't learning anything from this'

MASON CITY | A Charles City woman accused of sexually assaulting a child at her day care was sentenced to probation Monday.

Judge Rustin Davenport sentenced Tawny Symonds, 31, to five years of probation. A sentence of five years in prison was suspended. 

A suspended sentence means Symonds could possibly be sent to prison if she violates terms of her probation. 

Other sentencing terms state Symonds cannot have contact with minors and must pay over $1,000 in restitution.

Symonds declined to comment before her sentencing Monday.

The father of the child was visibly angry as he gave an impact statement prior to sentencing.

"You are a f---ing disgusting person, and I hope karma gets to you," he said.

He left the courtroom abruptly after speaking for about a minute.

The child’s mother gave a longer statement, detailing how her daughter had been violated, and how she felt Symonds was lucky if she avoided a worse sentence.

At one point, she described Symonds as a "pedophile."

She said the main reason she was giving a statement was to continue to protect her daughter, and to show the community that this shouldn't be tolerable behavior. She added her daughter, who was 2 years old at the time, sustained injuries to her genital area as a result of the assault.

"Just because she's a woman, I guess that's put to the side," she said of harsher charges against Symonds. "I feel like a plea deal is a slap in the face; she isn't learning anything from this."

Symonds, who did not react as the child’s parents read their statements, is accused of using an object to sexually assault a female child under the age of 3 in December 2016, causing "blunt force trauma" to the child's genital area, police wrote in charging documents. 

The Globe Gazette is not identifying the child or her parents, as the newspaper typically does not identify victims of crime.  

Symonds was initially charged with three felonies: second-degree sexual abuse, assault with an object and child endangerment.

Through a plea agreement, which dropped the sexual abuse and assault charges, Symonds was only sentenced on the lesser child endangerment charge, to which she submitted an Alford plea.

After the hearing, Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown said he and the Cerro Gordo County Attorney's office had to consider the evidence, chances of conviction and putting the affected parties through a trial. 

"It was not entered into lightly, it's a deliberate process ... particularly when you're dealing with a child victim; it's complicated and it's a delicate process," Brown said.

When the Globe Gazette then asked Brown why a sex abuse charge was dropped through the plea agreement, he said he could not comment on certain evidence that would have gone to trial.

He did add that although he had a week to prepare for a trial, prosecutors -- the Cerro Gordo County Attorney’s Office and the Iowa Attorney General's Office-- were the ones to offer Symonds a plea deal. Cerro Gordo County Attorney Carlyle Dalen wasn't at the sentencing and couldn't immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon. 

"It's not like we just go into a courtroom and can say, 'convict,' and then convict," Brown said. "There are a number of things ... I can't give you a complete justification of it ... it's the weight of the evidence, (and) our chances I thought we had of getting a conviction on our top count, balanced with this (sentencing) is a guaranteed outcome."

In her Alford plea, Symonds did not admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors could likely prove the charge. 

In Iowa, a second-degree sexual abuse conviction carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison, as well as sex offender registry requirements when the offense involves a child. In Iowa law, rape and sexual assault charges are called "sexual abuse."

A conviction on the assault charge carries a sentence of not to exceed 10 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 70 percent. This crime, officials allege, falls under the assault portion of Iowa law, not sexual abuse.

The child endangerment charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. 

Jill Symonds, who said Tawny is her ex-daughter-in-law, said while friends and family were expecting the sentence issued Monday morning, they were still shocked at the timeline of events that has happened between today and when Tawny was arrested in December 2016.

Shanna Zimmerman, a family friend of Jill Symonds, said she was perplexed at the plea deal.

"From the beginning, they stated that they were not going to do a plea," Zimmerman said. "This was a very serious case, and so it just came out of the middle of nowhere."

Both Jill and Zimmerman believed the Cerro Gordo Attorney's office should have pursued all three original charges, given the evidence from police and the Department of Human Services.

When the case was previously scheduled to go to trial, Assistant Cerro Gordo County Attorney Gina Jorgensen noted in court documents prosecutors would seek enhanced sentencing as Symonds was a mandatory reporter while working as a day care provider. 

On Dec. 4, Jorgensen was withdrawn from the case and replaced by Dalen. Symonds submitted an Alford plea about a week later. 

The Globe Gazette previously reported Symonds asked for a closed sentencing hearing after there was an uproar on social media about the plea deal. Judge Rustin Davenport ruled against closing the hearing.

The courtroom was calm as sentencing began.

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Update: Former Clear Lake elementary custodian charged after videotaping co-workers in school bathroom, police say


CLEAR LAKE | A former Clear Creek Elementary custodian has been charged with four counts of misdemeanor invasion of privacy for allegedly videotaping co-workers in a school bathroom. 

David Joe Bemis, 46, of Mason City, was booked into the Cerro Gordo County Jail Monday evening, where he was being held on a $1,000 cash-only bond. He was not listed among the jail population Tuesday morning. 

Bemis, an elementary school custodian, resigned from his position in January, according to Clear Lake School Board minutes. 

A court date hasn't been set. 

Bemis is accused of placing a video recording device in a staff bathroom at Clear Creek Elementary School, 901 S. 14th St., in May 2013, Clear Lake police said in a news release Monday evening. 

The footage showed four school employees, police said, but they and school officials said there was no evidence any children had been recorded. 

The affected employees have been notified, police said.  

 Previous story: 

CLEAR LAKE | Clear Lake police are investigating an incident from several years ago allegedly involving a camera being placed in a faculty bathroom at Clear Lake Schools.

On Monday, Clear Lake Superintendent Doug Gee said investigation began in January when the district received information about an incident occurring four to five years ago. 

Gee said he could not comment "a lot right now."

Clear Lake Police Chief Pete Roth declined to speak with the Globe Gazette around noon Monday, saying, through another employee, that a news release would be issued in about an hour. 

Roth said in the news release the school district in January "became aware of a possible invasion of privacy that occurred in one of their schools." It's not known how the school became aware of the alleged incident. 

The district contacted the Clear Lake Police Department to investigate.

“The report alleged that a school employee placed a small video recording device in a staff restroom,” Roth said in the release. 

The release did not specify which specific bathroom was allegedly involved. Gee declined to provide that information, but said he was positive no students were recorded. 

“Investigators were able to recover video evidence that showed brief footage of a staff restroom in one school,” Roth said in the release. “The footage was recorded over four years ago and showed only four school employees.”

The employees in the video have been contacted, Roth said in the release, noting there was no evidence that children were recorded. 

“At this time, we believe the recordings were an isolated incident and all involved parties have been identified,” Roth said in the release. “The case remains active and charges are pending.”

Gee said the employee was immediately placed on administrative leave and is no longer employed with the district.

“The person resigned a while ago,” Gee said.

Gee and Roth did not name the former employee.

Gee, who was hired in 2016, was not superintendent when the incident allegedly occurred.