MASON CITY, Iowa – The prosecution is opposing the closure of the courtroom during the sentencing of Tawny Symonds.
The 31-year-old woman from Wells, Minnesota has entered an Alford plea to one count of child endangerment after being of sexually abusing a child under the age of three years old. Symonds had worked as an in-home daycare provider in Mason City.
An Alford plea means Symonds does not admit guilt but agrees she could be convicted and will accept sentence.
Symonds defense attorney filed to close the courtroom for her sentencing, citing criticism of her plea to a reduced charge and comments on social media about a protest at the event.
The prosecution has now filed a motion opposing such a closure. Referring to social media comments on the plea deal, the motion states “Despite how uninformed those opinions may be or whether they are based on incomplete or inaccurate information there is nothing that is specifically threatening to the parties or that provides a basis to close the courtroom.”
The prosecution does not oppose a delay in sentencing Symonds but states it is against her request to keep a future sentencing date secret.
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Mason City, Iowa – The defense in a Mason City sex abuse case is asking for the court to close the sentencing hearing to the public after talk of a protest surfaced on social media.
Tawny Symonds, 31, worked as a Mason City in-home daycare provider and was charged with sexual abuse of a child under the age of three.
Earlier this week, she had two counts of a Class B felony for sexual abuse and a Class C felony for assault dismissed. She entered an Alford plea for child endangerment. The maximum sentence in accordance with her plea is five years in prison.
Defense attorney Joel Yunek, who’s not on the case, says when it comes to closing a courtroom off from the public there is concern about limiting a protester's first amendment rights
“You know our system always has favored our first amendment. We favor free, transparent, open disclosure. We as Americans have a right to express our opinions good, bad, or indifferent on both sides,” Yunek said.
We reached out to those running the Mason City Police Scanner Facebook page and they responded with this:
“This isn't about a protest. No one in control of this page planned a protest inside the courtroom. I did however discourage it because I don't see an unruly courtroom as a protest. The protest really happened when you sent your emails and made your calls. This is about holding public voted officials accountable for their jobs. How do we do that? By contacting them and letting then know how they are doing. This goes to all public offices that represent you. Thank you to all the people that are publicly fighting for this between the victims family and friends, and the other people that have been affected along the way. You messaged us about this case 6 months ago and I told you we would follow it till the end. I never thought in a million years I would be this passionate about your story. Unfortunately this is only one of hundreds of cases like this. If I have to follow every one of them to prove publicly that there is a problem in Cerro Gordo, Iowa courts, I will. MCPD clearly did their job, the courts did not. There is nothing that can be said to excuse the state from protecting your children. Regardless of what happens at her sentencing, Mason City is already aware that it's not going to give the victim closure, and protect your kids. You can close a courtroom. You can't close the voting booths when the residents of Cerro Gordo are this upset they vote out every judge and attorney that refuses to consider public risk before handing out a ridiculous plea bargain such as this. If you received a reply from the county attorneys office regarding your email or call, I invite you to share it on this post.”
The sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2018, at 10 a.m. No ruling has been made in regards to possibly having the hearing closed to the public.
In court documents filed Wednesday, the defense asked to have the sentencing hearing closed after the Mason City Police Scanner page, which isn’t a Mason City Government sponsored page, had members of its page “planning a protest at the sentencing, not only at the courthouse but also in the courtroom during sentencing.”
The court document also states "the Defendant is concerned that due to these negative discussions, the Defendant and the Court and all parties involved are not safe during the Sentencing hearing as these are unknown entities not sanctioned by any Mason City Governmental department."
The Mason City Police Scanner post has been shared more than 350 times.