CLIVE, Iowa—After his 20-month campaign for a state Senate seat, Democrat Desmund D. Adams says you “know” him. His campaign launched a sleek website, produced professional web videos and dished sound bite-sized slogans to anyone who asked about the photogenic candidate.
“One thing that you can know about me: irrespective of marketing material, irrespective of all the wonderful glamor, all the wonderful pedigree—law school, boards of directors, greater Des Moines committee… it all started as a high school dropout that earned a GED,” Adams, 39, said at a public forum in Waukee Saturday. “So… it’s not because I’m just seeking your vote. It’s who I am.”
Adams faces Republican Charles Schneider, a city councilor from West Des Moines, in the Senate District 22 special election to replace the late state Sen. Pat Ward (R-West Des Moines), who died of breast cancer in mid-October.
An examination of Adams’ extensive criminal and civil record offers a drastically different perspective on his character than the façade his campaign has presented to the public. Surprisingly, considering Adams has campaigned for nearly two years, no Iowa media outlet has bothered to seriously examine his record—until now. TheIowaRepublican.com analyzed Adams’ civil and criminal history after requesting public documents from state and local government agencies, including the Dallas and Polk County Courthouses, the Iowa Department of Human Services, the Clive Police Department and the Des Moines Police Department.
Friends of Adams who spoke with TheIowaRepublican.com Sunday said they knew about his past, assuming it would become public eventually. However, Adams may have fatally damaged his special election campaign by hiding the matter throughout his marathon run for state office. Adams and his campaign representatives declined multiple requests for comment.
In Adams’ pitch to voters, he dubs himself a model “family man” who overcame disadvantaged circumstances to become a pillar of his community. Adams, who leads an executive search firm, was raised without a father in a suburb of Chicago, according to his campaign’s website. After dropping out of high school, he obtained his GED from Jobs Corps, a federal program run by the Department of Labor, in Greenville, Ky. He later received undergraduate and law degrees at Drake University in Des Moines in 1996 and 1999, respectively. During law school, he met his wife, Shondalette, a pharmacist. Together, they care for Adams’ 17-year-old son and their three-year-old son.
Adams, a self-described “voice of moderation,” featured his two children in a recent web video celebrating the holiday season. But—just over four years ago—Adams was prosecuted by the Dallas County attorney’s office for felony child abuse of his son, who was then 12-years-old.
According to Eric Borseth, Adams’ lawyer, the biological mother of Adams’ son convinced a young, crusading county attorney to prosecute Adams after the mother lost a hearing in the former couple’s lengthy custody battle in Polk County.
In late Dec. 2007, West Des Moines-based attorney Frank Steinbach III, who represented Tinika Y. Roland, the child’s mother, contacted Clive Police Department Detective Matthew Barron to report a brutal incident of child abuse. In mid-Jan. 2008, Barron interviewed the minor, who was then 4’11” and weighed 95 pounds. Barron spoke with the victim along with Roland at the Clive Police Department.
“The victim presented himself as a very intelligent and respectful twelve year old, who appeared to have clear recollection of the incident,” Barron wrote in his Jan. 15, 2008 report. The following is Barron’s narrative of the victim’s statement:
[The victim] went to his father’s house for a visit, and brought some school work with him. He said he was “cramming” for a school spelling test. But said [sic] his father thought he wasn’t studying long or hard enough. So his father offered him a spelling test, different from the words he was offered from school. He said these were words spoken by his father, rather than in written form. At the conclusion of this test, his father personally graded his answers. His father told him that he was disappointed on a few of his mis-spelled [sic] words, and told him he need [sic] to study harder. The victim shrugged his shoulders,  smirked and told his father he did his best. The victim’s response apparently infuriated his father, as he told the victim to go upstairs to his room, because he was going to “whoop his ass.” The victim went to his room, and waited for approximately two minutes, then his father arrived, and said “I’m very disappointed in you.” His father told him to go into his (father’s) closet and pick out a belt. The victim did so and returned back to his bedroom. His father “looped” the belt around his right hand, leaving about a foot in length. He then told the victim to drop his pants, turn around and hold on to his bed railings. His father began to assault him. The victim specifically remembered being in pain during the assault. He said that he was given “extra” lashes because he had removed his hand from the railings. During the assault, his father was telling him he was very disappointed in his demeanor, and lack of discipline. After the assault, his father put the belt on the bed, and told the victim he might return for further “whoopings” later in the night. This never occurred. He said the next day he was very sore, and after the visit with his father, he came home and told his mom what happened. [emphasis added]
Steinbach, who was unavailable to comment due to a death in his family, apparently contacted Clive police after a 2007 investigation by a Department of Human Services (DHS) child protection worker failed to satisfy Roland’s concerns about her son’s welfare.
Dallas County assistant attorney Stacy Ritchie reviewed the case files and argued that a charge of child endangerment would be appropriate given the circumstances, according to the police report. Adams appealed the DHS findings through his attorney and eventually won an administrative reversal. He declined to speak with police about the case without his attorney.
Ritchie and Clive police decided that the known facts and evidence outweighed the DHS opinion, and the Clive Police Department issued an arrest warrant for Adams, who turned himself in at 9:00 a.m. Jan 23, 2008. He again declined to make a statement to police.
A few days later, Roland, a fashion designer and human resources consultant, sent a letter to the Dallas County court describing the incident and alleging prior abuse by Adams.
The beating “was not the first time Mr. Adams abused [his son],” she wrote to the court, also claiming that Adams physically abused an ex-girlfriend (citing Polk County case no. 98-31727; this information could not be independently verified by TheIowaRepublican.com by press time). Roland declined to return e-mails and calls seeking comment. Borseth, Adams’ attorney, also said he could not find a record of such a case file, and he assumes Roland made it up. Nonetheless, Adams does not deny that the abuse of his son occurred.
“[My son's] demeanor is adversely changed after spending time with his father during the month of January 2008,” Roland wrote in her letter. “He has shown signs of depression… Due to the nature and severity of the physical abuse, [he] is at risk of future abuse by the hands of his father, Mr. Desmund Adams.”
Roland also blasted DHS in her letter, alleging that the state agency “failed to complete a thorough job in their investigation” and, as mandatory child abuse reporters, failed to contact Dallas County law enforcement officers about the incident. Roland said she was not informed that DHS failed to contact police until Jan. 2008.
In April 2007 DHS Child Protection Worker Jobeth Hammer opened an investigation into the abuse allegations reported by Steinbach.
“Last Thursday, the father hit [the child] with a leather belt, leaving bruises on his buttocks, legs, thighs, back, and groin…” Hammer wrote in the 8-page report. Hammer then interviewed [the boy] privately at his Des Moines middle school.
“[He] was a handsome, charming boy,” Hammer wrote. “[He] tried very hard to minimize the incident. He reported that his father had hit him several times with a belt. When questioned, [the boy] reported that this had happened in the past. It was not clear to this worker if [he] had received injuries from past whippings. When questioned, [he] reported that he had several bruises on the sides of his legs and across his buttocks… [he] reported that his father was very surprised to learn he had caused the bruises on his son. [The boy] reported that his father cried after seeing the injuries.”
After contacting Adams, Hammer reported that he admitted to the assault. Adams “took responsibility for the whipping and the injuries. However, he reported that he had no idea that he had caused the injuries…” she wrote. “The wide, linear bruises, clearly visible five days after the incident, were consistent with injuries expected when a child is struck repeatedly with a belt.”
“The father could benefit from learning alternatives to physical forms of discipline,” Hammer noted. On May 1, 2007, she finalized the report and recommended no criminal charges. Hammer’s supervisor, Kathy Doyle, also signed off on the slap-on-the-wrist recommendation.
Adams still appealed the lax DHS report. On Nov. 26, 2007, Mary K. Wickman, the assistant attorney general representing DHS, offered to settle the appeal by changing the status of the case to “confirmed, not registered” (meaning the agency considered the abuse not likely to recur). Adams’ attorney accepted the settlement on his behalf. On Dec. 31, 2007, Iowa judge Glenn Pille ordered Adams to attend a parenting class to understand how to discipline his children without using violence.
“There is no sharp line showing when physical discipline represents child abuse under either Iowa’s child protection or child endangerment laws,” said Stephen Scott, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, a Des Moines-based nonprofit organization. “In [this case], all the government agencies found that the father crossed that line and that his behavior represented child abuse. The issue between the officials is whether the incident was minor—though still abuse—or serious enough to warrant criminal charges.”
“Disciplining a child is all too often seen as an aversive act committed to sanction perceived child misbehavior. The programs we support instead stress the importance of positive discipline in shaping desired child behaviors,” Scott said, referencing a statement in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Association of Pediatrics. “They do not try to set forth what form of corporal punishment is acceptable.”
Ultimately, the Dallas County attorney’s office charged Adams with child endangerment, a class “D” felony, on March 7, 2008. According to the indictment, Adams “unlawfully use[d] a lether [sic] belt in the process of physically disciplining his biological son who was eleven years old at the time of this incident. This act caused severe bruising around the buttocks and groin area of the victim, which required medical attention by the victim’s family physician.”
Little information is publicly available about the trial. A jury ultimately acquitted Adams on Oct. 22, 2008. Members of the jury could not be contacted by press time. Wayne M. Reisetter, the Dallas County attorney, did not return multiple calls and e-mails requesting comment. The jury took a couple hours to acquit Adams, Borseth said.
After the trial, Roland continued to fight Adams for child support. According to public court documents in Polk County, civil litigation between the two dragged on for more than a decade, from April 2000 to Aug. 2010.
As of 2010, Adams was current on child support payments but continued to owe unpaid medical contributions regarding his son. As of Feb. 7, 2005, Adams earned $4,833.33 per month and paid $625 per month in child support to Roland. Throughout the past decade, Adams has been delinquent multiple times in paying child support. For example, in 2004, the Department of Human Services’ Bureau of Collections ordered Adams’ income garnished to pay an additional $49 per month in child support toward an unpaid balance of $2,162.64.
The 2008 felony charge is not Adams’ only brush with law enforcement.
Adams’ criminal record dates back to at least 1993, when he was arrested for 5th Degree Theft, a misdemeanor, for stealing several items from the Sears store at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines. Adams, then 20 years old, and a friend stole several items and brought them to another friend, a 17-year-old Sears checkout clerk. They stole a 100 ft. Sears extension cord ($8.99), a Craftsman screwdriver ($2.99), a fan light ($39.99) and Sears spray paint ($4.00) by getting their friend to charge them only $2.63 for the lot.
“In two years, I have participated in over 16 parades, over 65 house parties, we’ve created over 40 videos… , over 7,000 doors knocked,” Adams said at the Waukee forum. “I care, and you know me.”
Despite Adams’ rhetoric, it seems clear that he has attempted to hide these serious incidents from voters during his campaign for public office. Serious questions linger. In particular, Adams should explain if he has ever been accused by law enforcement of abusing an ex-girlfriend or anyone else, as Roland claims.
Several mid-level employees of Dallas County and the Clive Police Department seemed shocked that Adams was running for public office when a reporter requested his public records.
“Wow,” one said, comparing the incident to a similar case last year when a woman posted a video of her father, a Texas judge, whipping her when she was 16 years old. “That’s scary.”
Note to readers: Although most of the criminal and civil court documents cited in this article are public records, TheIowaRepublican.com has declined to post them on the Internet or name the minor children involved. If any journalists wish to confirm the information, they may do so by e-mailing the author.
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