A district court judge in southeast Iowa has ordered the release of documents related to the investigation into claims of sexual abuse at Midwest Academy near Keokuk. The documents show the investigation targets Ben Trane, who owns the boarding school for troubled teens.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, in conjunction with the FBI and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, executed a pair of search warrants on Jan. 28, 2016. The locations were the school and a therapy center near Donnellson that is affiliated with Midwest Academy.
About two weeks after the search warrants were executed, Mike Short, Lee County Attorney, asked the court to seal the search warrants for 180 days.
District Associate Judge Gary Noneman complied the next day, sealing not only the search warrants but also any other documents related to the search warrants, including his own order, for up to 180 days. He also ordered the information be filed “under a miscellaneous docket under a docket entry stating “order sealing confidential records; expires August 10, 2016.”
On February 16, the Des Moines Register petitioned the court to compel Short and Lee County Clerk of Court Kim Londrie to provide the search warrants and documents related to them.
The newspaper said its reporter was repeatedly denied access to the information, being told that the documents “were not available for public viewing without further explanation.”
The 14-page filing stated “the rights of the people to receive such information through the news media, as well as the right of the news media to gather and report that information, are protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and by Article I, section 7 of the Iowa Constitution.”
District Court Judge Mary Ann Brown sided with the newspaper and released Short’s request to seal the search warrants and Judge Noneman’s order to seal them.
“The court concludes there is no potentially confidential information contained in said documents which would necessitate the sealing of the request or the order. It is therefore ordered that the previous order entered by the court on Feb. 10, 2016 sealing as confidential the State’s Feb. 9, 2016 request to seal the search warrants and the court’s order of Feb. 10, 2016, ordering the sealing of said records is hereby rescinded and revoked.”
Brown also scheduled a hearing for Friday, Feb. 26 to hear arguments as to whether the search warrants should remain sealed.
The two page request from Short includes information not previously known by the general public.
For instance, the fact that the search warrants were issued, in part, because of “alleged sexual abuse by Ben Trane, the owner and administrator of Midwest Academy, and involving a named prior student.” It also lists some of the items seized during the execution of the search warrants.
- Cell Phones
- Items with bodily fluids for DNA
- Credit Cards
In asking for the records to be sealed, Short went on to say, “It would be harmful to the investigation and to the staff and students of Midwest Academy, to release the information contained in the affidavits given in support of the search warrants before such time as a charging decision is completed."
He also claimed a large number of witnesses had not been interviewed and that the investigation had already garnered extensive media coverage.