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Iowa hate crimes suspect got breaks after earlier arrests

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Polk County (Iowa) Jail shows Nicole Marie Poole, who also goes by the name Nicole Franklin. A trial has been scheduled for Franklin, accused of hate crimes in the Des Moines area, including intentionally running over a girl she thought was Mexican. She is charged with assault in violation of individual rights in connection with an incident at a convenience store and is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 3 in Des Moines. Court documents indicate she also goes by the name of Nicole Franklin. (Polk County Jail via AP, File)
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Polk County (Iowa) Jail shows Nicole Marie Poole, who also goes by the name Nicole Franklin. A trial has been scheduled for Franklin, accused of hate crimes in the Des Moines area, including intentionally running over a girl she thought was Mexican. She is charged with assault in violation of individual rights in connection with an incident at a convenience store and is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 3 in Des Moines. Court documents indicate she also goes by the name of Nicole Franklin. (Polk County Jail via AP, File)

IOWA CITY, IA – She was charged with stabbing one boyfriend in the chest in 2017 and, months later, with threatening another with a butcher’s knife. She allegedly told her ex-husband that she was going to kill him during a child custody dispute.

Despite her violence and threats, chronic drug use and mental health problems over the last three years, Nicole Poole caught several breaks from Iowa’s criminal justice system, court records show. The 42-year-old unemployed white woman was allowed to stay out of prison and treatment before she allegedly committed a shocking string of racially-motivated attacks this month.

Police allege that on Dec. 9, Poole intentionally drove her SUV onto a sidewalk to hit a 14-year-old girl outside a suburban Des Moines junior high school. She told police that she targeted the girl, who was hospitalized for two days with injuries, because she was Hispanic.

That same day, Poole is charged with driving over a curb to strike a 12-year-old black boy who was walking home from school in Des Moines. She allegedly fled after both crashes. But she was arrested later that day after going to a gas station where she called an employee and customers racial epithets, threw items at a clerk and left without paying. Police said that she admitted to using meth hours earlier and that she was “extremely fidgety” and had dilated pupils.

Poole is charged with two counts of attempted murder, assault in violation of individual rights and second-offense operating while intoxicated, among other offenses.

Poole has been jailed since her arrest and is being held on a $1 million cash-only bond. An assistant state public defender representing Poole declined to discuss the case.

While she faces up to 25 years behind bars for each attempted murder charge, Poole has avoided prison time for recent transgressions.

In July 2017, West Des Moines police officers responding to a domestic disturbance found Curtis Jones, a 60-year-old black man, bleeding from a severe laceration on his shoulder outside an apartment building, records show. He was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Poole admitted that she used a knife to stab Jones, her then-boyfriend, and she was arrested on charges of willful injury and domestic abuse assault with a dangerous weapon, according to a criminal complaint. Police called the attack unprovoked.

The charges — which carried more than a decade in prison — came at a terrible time for Poole. A month earlier, her probation officer recommended that she face jail time for repeatedly testing positive for drugs and alcohol and skipping mandatory treatment sessions over the last seven months. A hearing on the request was set for days later.

Poole was put on probation in 2016 after fleeing from police and driving with a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit. After the stabbing arrest, a probation agent cited Poole’s “continued substance abuse and escalated threat to the public” in asking a judge to impose the one-year jail sentence that had been suspended.

But the prosecution collapsed after Jones denied that he was stabbed and told doctors his wounds were cuts from glass, assistant Polk County attorney Thomas Miller said Friday. Miller said the office does prosecute domestic violence cases over the objections of victims in extraordinary cases, but that “it's not possible to do that in every case."

“I’m sure there’s more the system could do in the thousands and thousands of such cases if there were the resources to do it,” he said.

Under a plea deal, the stabbing charges were dismissed and Poole pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct for “loud and raucous noise.” A judge in November 2017 gave Poole credit for jail time served after her arrest, 79 days, resolving the probation violations as well.

Her troubling behavior continued.

In January 2018, a judge noted that Poole appeared unstable and gave rambling answers during a hearing on whether her ex-husband should get custody of their daughter. Poole was not employed, would not cooperate with child welfare investigators and refused a drug test, the judge noted in awarding the ex-husband custody.

The next month, Poole allegedly bit her new boyfriend in the arm, picked up a butcher’s knife “and repeatedly said she would kill him,” a criminal complaint shows. The man fled the home and called police. Poole was charged with domestic abuse assault and harassment.

In a court filing, her attorney in that case said he was concerned that her “pre-existing psychiatric diagnosis and the status of her mental health treatment” made her unable to stand trial. A judge ordered an expert to evaluate her and concluded in November 2018 that Poole was competent to stand trial.

But like the stabbing case, that prosecution ended after the victim refused to cooperate and the county attorney's office dismissed the charges in January 2019, court records show. The victim had filed a statement after Poole's arrest saying that he only wanted her to get crisis treatment and didn't want her prosecuted. The two got married some time after the assault, Miller said.

Poole’s ex-husband James Gabriel had sought a no-contact order against Poole in January 2017 after she allegedly told him on the phone she was going to kill him.

“She is out of control and has mental health issues also is drinking and may be using drugs,” Gabriel wrote. “I’m scared for my daughter and my safety.”

A judge dismissed the petition after a hearing, saying Gabriel failed to prove “that she presents a credible threat."

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Follow Ryan J. Foley on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rjfoley