Marceline PD, Linn Co. PA respond further to T-shirt incident

Angie Talken
Linn County Leader

Following a social media post by Linn County Prosecuting Attorney Shiante McMahon on July 5 in which she alleged sexism and racism concerning a marked campaign T-shirt that hung in the Marceline Police Department, both McMahon and city officials have made statements regarding the situation and their contentious relationship.

McMahon, in her first statement to the Linn County Leader about the incident, says she just recently learned of the shirt, which the city acknowledges was displayed in an office at the police headquarters around March of last year for an unknown period of time.

The shirt was for her campaign and bore her name, but had been drawn on with a black marker adding various expletives and derogatory phrases.

McMahon declined to reveal who told her about the shirt or how she obtained a photo of it hanging in the office. McMahon followed with a social media post July 6 outlining differences between the city's statements and information she said she had received, including claims the shirt had been on display in a common area for months, with multiple city employees aware of it and doing nothing about it.

The officer responsible for bringing and placing the shirt has since resigned, Marceline Chief of Police Bob Donelson said. The issue was handled internally according to the department's "progressive discipline policy," he said.

The department requires officers to take a variety of online training courses, including classes on gender and sexual orientation.

McMahon and Donelson admitted there is a strained relationship between their offices.

McMahon says she has found it difficult to communicate with any Marceline city officials. Donelson said the T-shirt incident is just the latest to come into the public eye. 

"Since 2019, he (Donelson) has not allowed me to talk to his officers without his permission. He has not allowed his officers to meet with me to talk about his cases. He has run felony cases through the municipal court for well over a year and has not sent cases to this office for review," McMahon said.

"I have tried to go and talk with him and he has gone out the back door. I have tried to have multiple conversations and those don't work."

McMahon said she has attempted to contact other city officials to resolve past issues.

"I have tried multiple times to talk with the city manager and those don't work, and I have even gone to the council and that didn't work," she said.

McMahon said she cannot characterize the state of her relationship with Donelson or the City of Marceline. 

"I cannot say what my relationship is because there is no response from them," McMahon said. "As far as resolving the kind of issues we see, and the latest is the knowledge that the shirt was up there for months before anything was done.

"There are a lot more questions I think need to be answered to move forward. The ethics of the situation need to be addressed first."

Donelson concurred the issues with McMahon go back to 2019, when McMahon wanted to start a Bond Supervision Joint Task Force in the county. He said he and Brookfield Chief of Police Joel Dixon attended a meeting in McMahon's office to discuss the task force in April or May of 2019. Donelson said McMahon originally wanted members of law enforcement to volunteer their time to be on the task force, and he said "no" because he had concerns about officers not being covered by worker's compensation.

Donelson said it was his understanding that after that meeting, he and Dixon were supposed to have another meeting to discuss the task force. Before that happened, McMahon sent emails about funding and other subjects to the proposed task force.

That is when Donelson said the main issues started, because he asked McMahon to wait two weeks while he finalized some other plans that were ongoing. 

"She then started sending me derogatory texts saying I did not support the blue line," he said. "It is at that time I told her "no," we would not take part in the task force."

Regarding Donelson "not allowing" his officers to speak with her, Donelson said he had to implement a policy about officers not discussing cases off the clock after she kept several of his officers on the phone for 3-4 hours on their days off to discuss cases. He says those officers came to him seeking compensation and stated that they were upset. 

"So I had to institute a policy not to discuss cases off of the clock or when using personal cell phones because those phones would then be subject to subpoena," Donelson said. "I had provided her their phone numbers in good faith; she took advantage of that and of them. I had to make a policy."

Following that, Donelson said McMahon filed a "number of outlandish complaints" with the city council and City Manager Richard Hoon. Following those, Donelson said he and the then-city attorney met with McMahon in her office to try and reach a compromise. That meeting did not result in any changes in the relationship between the parties. 

Since then, Donelson said he cannot reach McMahon's office from any number in the police department because the call will not be answered. Donelson has recorded conversations with McMahon, audio from which was shared with the Leader, where McMahon can be heard hanging up on Donelson.

McMahon says she does not have similar problems with any other law enforcement agency in Linn County. Donelson noted there have been issues between McMahon and other agencies; however, he says, she has not "called them out publicly."

Donelson said there is no doubt the placing of the T-shirt and the wording was "absolutely wrong."

He noted the former officer once supported McMahon and said that after a year or more of "being beat down and labeled as uncredible," that officer and most others in the department have negative feelings toward McMahon, whom they once supported.

Donelson denies the allegations that he is sexist or racist. 

"I am very upset by these allegations," he said. "I am not sexist. I am not racist. I have bi-racial grandchildren, so those allegations really struck a cord."

Hoon said, "On a professional level and limited personal interaction, these accusations of sexism and racism are without merit."

Moving forward

McMahon did not take the T-shirt issue to Hoon, Donelson or the city council before she posted on social media because she has never gotten a response in the past, she said.

Hoon published a statement the morning of July 6 acknowledging the incident occurred but asserting it was properly handled by city leadership.

McMahon said Hoon's statement was "premature" and an investigation into the matter was needed before the city made a statement. She added she does not know how to move forward with her relationship with city officials.

“That is a concern for me," she said. "You have a city manager who did not conduct an investigation and claims it would be nice if I contacted them first. I have had other issues and he has not responded."

McMahon said there are several things that need to happen before she can begin trying to rebuild or repair a relationship with Donelson and other city officials.

"To attempt to build a relationship with a person who allows this, the first question is, if the information I have and believe to be correct is correct, what makes this OK? What makes it OK to call a prosecutor or any woman this? What makes it OK to deny the people in this community justice on felony drug, DWI, assault charge — that to me is the more apparent question.

"The next question I would ask is, why not be more transparent? There is no way you can do a thorough investigation in 12 hours. Within 12 hours, there was an official response from my post, but it left out things that everyone deserves to know. When and why did that officer resign? Who is that officer? Does that officer still have a commission with the city?"

If those questions are answered and addressed, McMahon said she could begin moving forward with repairing the relationship. 

"Those need to be handled and addressed before finding out how you build a relationship," she said. "You have to get to a root about how it is so viscous. You cannot solve that unless you know the mentality or culture of the department — within the department and from the city manager."

Donelson stated there needs to be compromise from all parties to move forward.

"There needs to be a common-sense conversation and all parties have to come to the table with the idea of compromise," he said. "That will be hard for some people after what they have been accused of, but I know they will, especially with a third-party mediator. There has to be interest for compromise on all sides."

Protecting the community

All of the involved parties say that it is their job to protect the community. 

"It is my job to enforce the laws in the county, to protect the victims and the community as a whole by upholding the laws and holding those committing crimes accountable," McMahon said. "I do not want every member of law enforcement to be lumped in the same group as the officers and the department that took part in these actions.

"By and large, law enforcement in this county are doing their jobs to the best of their ability in a professional, positive manner."

Donelson said that despite the accusations, he and his officers will continue to work hard for the citizens of Marceline. 

"It is my job to protect the law-abiding citizens and I will do my best despite the actions against me and my officers," Donelson said.

Hoon said his job is to manage the city as directed by the mayor and city council.

"If the mayor and city council do not think I am performing my job duties properly, then I am sure they will bring it to my attention," Hoon said.