McDonough County’s “Law & Legal Committee”

Committee website:

In February of 2020, Heather McMeekan, MS, spoke at the Law and Legal Committee of the McDonough County Board to request an investigation into Sheriff Pettigout and the jail based upon multiple complaints which allege civil, constitutional, and human rights abuses in our jail.

In December, 2020, the Sheriff’s department failed to produce the complaint procedure they agreed to give to the committee with no explanation..

In January, members of the Racial Justice Coalition attended via Zoom to witness Heather McMeekan present our public comment, including a request to be put on the agenda to discuss the functioning of the jail.

There was no response. Heather McMeekan sent Mr. Joe Erlandson (R), Chair of the Law and Legal Committee, an email on Jan 17, 2021:

Dear Mr. Erlandson,

At the last meeting of the Law and Legal Committee, I had asked for a discussion to be placed on the Law and Legal Committee about our multiple concerns we have about the functioning, policies, procedures, transparency, oversight, and accountability as to the functioning of our McDonough County Jail.

We have yet to receive any acknowledgement of our request.

We have several serious issues to discuss on the public record which we believe pose real threats to human health, dignity, safety, and life. These include detainees relating being subjected to frigid cold in retaliation for complaints; police officers given inappropriate, unmonitored access to Black women detainees to pressure them to become informants; denial of medical care to pregnant Black women taken into custody, bullying, denial of medication, denial of mental health assessments, as well as several others.

We do believe it is in the public’s interest that a discussion happen on these issues. If this is not the appropriate body to approach, please let me know.

I’d like a written response to this request, please.

Thank you for your service to our community.


Heather McMeekan, president
Democratic Women of McDonough County

Mr. Erlandson’s response:

On Tue, Jan 19, 2021 at 9:51 AM Joe Erlandson wrote:

“Dear Ms. McMeekan:

After the public comments offered during the last meeting, I have been examining the role of the Law & Legal Committee.

The Policies and Procedures of the McDonough County Board specify that the role of the Law & Legal committee is to oversee the use of County resources in the following areas: Sheriff’s Department, Supervisor of Assessments and GIS, Veteran’s Assistance Commission, and Landfill/Tri-County Waste Management.

I have done some additional research on this to further clarify. The States Attorney indicates that the Law & Legal committee does not have any authority to investigate any alleged criminal wrongdoing by any elected official.

As a result of this legal opinion, I do not plan to add your request to the agenda.

Thank you.


Joe Erlandson
Law & Legal Committee

Ms. McMeekan responded on Jan 19, 2021:

Dear Mr. Erlandson,

Thank you for your response.

I wish to reiterate our “ask” on being put on the agenda. We are NOT asking the Law and Legal Committee to investigate criminal complaints, nor individual complaints which are currently in process in the justice system.

We are asking to be put on the agenda for the following reasons:

1) To make your committee members and the county board AWARE of the complaints we are receiving about the sheriff, jail staff, and operations of the jail

2) To ask questions about policies, procedures, oversight protections, transparency, and accountability

3) To help our community members know and understand what/how the existing administrative structure functions, and

4) To identify fixes to such internal administration; to make updates to best practices standards; to ensure we, as taxpayers, can be assured that they are in keeping with updated trauma-informed administrative structures so that we have a basic measure of assurance that detained/incarcerated individuals dignity and constitutional, criminal, and civil rights are being upheld by those we employ with our tax dollars to care for those in our custody.

Please reconsider our request. If the County Board will not allow a discussion, what hope is there for those of concerned with these issues to even begin addressing them? I respectfully request a written response.

Heather McMeekan, president
Democratic Women of McDonough County

Mr. Erlandson’s Response:

From: Joe Erlandson <>
Date: Wed, Jan 20, 2021 at 9:16 AM
Subject: Re: 2nd Request for discussion to be on agenda of County Law and Legal Committee
To: Heather McMeekan

Dear Ms. McMeekan:

I believe my previous response remains applicable.  This will be my final response on this.  

Thank you.
Joe Erlandson
Law & Legal Committee

Then, the night of the meeting, we discovered that the committee had canceled the plans to use Zoom, requiring public attendance only. We were unable to attend, and Mr. Erlandson again claimed our “ask” was for a criminal investigation. It was not, and he knew it.

He distorted the public record to justify his refusal to put a discussion on the agenda.

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