In the wake of highly publicized speeding incidents involving state troopers driving a state vehicle carrying Gov. Terry Branstad, the governor said Monday he has put his drivers on notice that they will abide by Iowa’s traffic laws “if they value their jobs.”
Branstad said he made it clear to leaders of the state Department of Public Safety and the governor’s security detail “that no one is above the law” and state troopers who are assigned to drive his vehicle need to abide by all laws, including the posted speed limit.
He noted that a state trooper who was stopped for exceeding the speed limit by less than 10 mph in August was issued a warning ticket and was sanctioned by DPS superiors for the infraction. “So he not only got the same penalty as another citizen would have gotten, we also got sanctioned by the department for his action,” the governor told reporters at his weekly news conference.
Branstad said he has been assured by Iowa Public Safety Commissioner Larry Noble that state troopers will be held accountable by the department, in addition to paying whatever penalty any other citizen would pay if they violate Iowa’s traffic laws.
“If they value their jobs, they are going to abide by the law,” the governor said. “I’ve made that clear. If they value their jobs, they have the same responsibility as any other citizen to abide by the speeding laws of this state.”
Branstad’s silver Chevrolet Tahoe was pulled over for speeding at 11:34 a.m. on Aug. 27 on Highway 3 in Franklin County, just west of Hampton. Chief Franklin County Deputy Linn Larson gave Trooper Darren Argabright a written warning, but not a citation. The deputy did not know the SUV was carrying Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who attended events in Webster City, Clarion, Hampton and Lime Springs that day.
There is no dash camera video showing the Aug. 27 stop. Chief Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Linn Larson said the video card he uses to record traffic stops was full when he stopped Argabright for speeding. Larson missed four stops, including Argabright’s, before he realized the card was not recording, he said Monday.
The traffic stop was the second in five months for Branstad’s drivers.
The first high-profile incident was April 26 in Hamilton County, where Trooper Steve Lawrence was clocked driving 84 mph in a 65-mph zone. In that case, a dash camera video from a trooper pursuing the speeding SUV shows Lawrence passing several vehicles, including a school bus.
The pursuing officer, Trooper Matt Eimers, did not stop the vehicle once he realized it was a colleague driving Branstad.
The incident became public because a long-time Division of Criminal Investigation agent, who initially spotted the speeding SUV, complained it wasn’t ticketed. Agent Larry Hedlund was later terminated, although state officials say it was not linked to his complaint.
Along with speeding incidents in August and April involving the vehicle escorting the governor, former public safety commissioner Brian London raised concerns about what might be a pattern of Branstad allowing his drivers to speed.
London said a recent check of a federal database ordered by the governor’s staff showed law enforcement officers have run the license plate on Branstad’s vehicle more than 20 times since he took office in January 2011. London said the report also shows former Gov. Chet Culver’s plates were checked about 13 times.
Branstad said pertinent records regarding London’s claims could not be disclosure due to prohibitions under federal law.
“We can’t because it’s federal law. It’s the federal law and I’m not above the law and I’m going to abide by the law and do what we’re supposed to do,” he said.
“The department should have never gotten this information and they should have told us they could not provide this information, and this information has to do with what some law enforcement officer may have requested in terms of a license plate check. We don’t know what the circumstances were with regard to that and we don’t have a right to that information,” the governor told reporters.
“I can tell you the Department of Public Safety should have informed us when we requested this information that this information was not public and that we were not entitled to it,” he added.
Branstad said he informed DPS officials about the August stop in Franklin County, but did not feel it was something he had to disclose to the public.
Reporter Erin Jordan contributed to this story.