Men Arrested For Breaking Into Iowa Courthouse Were Hired to Conduct Security Testing
While the two “penetration testers” were given permission to attempt to break into courthouses, local law enforcement were not informed of the tests. Now, the men are facing charges.
- By Haley Samsel
- Sep 19, 2019
Two men arrested last week for breaking into an Iowa courthouse were hired by the state’s judicial branch to test the “adequacy and effectiveness” of security at government buildings, according to records published by The Des Moines Register.
The ordeal, which ended with Justin Wynn and Gary Demercurio being charged with third-degree burglary, began with the the Iowa Judicial Branch hiring the security firm Coalfire to send “penetration testers” to courthouses and the state Judicial Branch building.
The May 28 contract indicated that Coalfire employees had permission to physically enter the branch building and courthouses in Dallas County and Polk County using methods such as “tail-gating,” or following employees into the building without permission. In addition, Coalfire workers could attempt to dumpster dive and pick locks to get into the buildings.
But when Coalfire asked the government if local law enforcement should be informed of the security tests in advance, the contract indicates that judicial branch information technology director Mark Headlee marked “no.” That decision ultimately led Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard to arrest the two men when they broke into the Dallas County Courthouse shortly after midnight on Sept. 11, the Register reported.
Authorities responded to the scene after Wynn and Demercurio triggered an alarm at the courthouse in Adel, Iowa. Police discovered the men taking pictures of the courtrooms and building and holding several burglary tools. Both suspects have bonded out of jail since the arrest.
Chad Leonard, the Dallas County sheriff, said in emails obtained by the Register said that once police caught the men, they were handed a piece of paper containing names and contact information for three state employees in the Judicial Branch. A sergeant called one of the employees and was told the men were legitimate and should be let go.
“I advised them that this building belonged to the taxpayers of Dallas County and the State had no authority to authorize a break-in of this building," Leonard wrote in an email.
Leonard added that the state employee asked him not to tell other sheriffs about the incident. His response was that he was going to tell every sheriff, according to the email.
Wynn and Demercurio’s lawyer, Matthew Lindholm, said his client’s actions were not criminal in intent, according to the Register.
“What is unfortunate is they have been labeled as burglars at this point without all the information being sought and reviewed,” Lindholm said on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the Judicial Branch had not responded to the Register report as of Wednesday afternoon, but Coalfire did release a statement earlier in the day about the contract.
“Coalfire and State Court Administration believed they were in agreement regarding the physical security assessments for the locations included in the scope of work,” the statement reads. “Yet, recent events have shown that Coalfire and State Court Administration had different interpretations of the scope of the agreement.”
In addition, both the Judicial Branch and Coalfire plan to conduct their own independent reviews and release the contracts signed by both parties, according to the statement.
“We are providing this statement only to clarify an unfortunate set of events; since this is an evolving legal matter and involves confidential client work, we cannot comment on further details of the incident at this time,” Coalfire wrote.
Authorities in Polk County also believe that the Coalfire employees sucessfully broke into their county courthouse the night before their arrest, but no charges have been filed as of Wednesday.