Officers fired after Iowa hazing inquiry
IOWA CITY (AP) — An Iowa trooper and a gaming enforcement officer are seeking their jobs back after being fired earlier this year following an investigation into a 2008 hazing incident at a police training academy, The Associated Press has learned.
Former Division of Criminal Investigation agent Andrew Harrelson said Wednesday that he was fired in February after the Department of Public Safety accused him of hazing and verbally intimidating a 21-year-old fellow recruit, which he denies. Harrelson said the recruit, who is now a state trooper, accused him of putting powder on his buttocks after others handcuffed him to a bed during the department’s training academy at Camp Dodge in Johnston.
Harrelson said he was shocked to be accused by the trooper, who waited years to come forward with a complaint, and that he categorically denied any involvement. Trooper Joshua Guhl, who was fired Jan. 31 and also accused in the incident, declined an interview request.
“I don’t remember it happening. I don’t remember seeing it happening. But I’m told that it happened,” said Harrelson, who was based at the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Jessica Lown said Wednesday that Harrelson and Guhl were separated from their jobs, but she could not discuss the reasons while their administrative appeals are pending.
She said the Division of Criminal Investigation conducted an investigation after a trooper filed a complaint in May 2012 alleging he was assaulted by academy classmates in 2008. She said she couldn’t identify the suspects of that investigation.
“The Department of Public Safety takes allegations of criminal activity seriously, regardless of where they occur,” she said.
The Polk County Attorney’s Office confirmed that it declined to file charges last October after reviewing a DCI report alleging “a recruit was hazed by being handcuffed and subject to other assaultive conduct” after a training day. A three-year statute of limitations that applies to most crimes in Iowa had expired by the time the allegations came to the office’s attention in May 2012, assistant county attorney Jeff Noble told AP.
Guhl and Harrelson have filed union grievances over their firings, arguing their terminations were not justified.
The State Police Officers Council, a union representing 650 state workers, is defending them during arbitration proceedings. Guhl has a hearing today in Des Moines, while Harrelson’s hearing is set for next month, said Sue Brown, the council’s executive director and general counsel.
“I think both of them have an excellent case for arbitration,” she said.
Brown declined comment when asked whether Guhl admitted involvement in the hazing incident and what his defense would be, saying she’ll save her arguments for the hearing. She said she is considering calling the initial criminal investigator, recently fired DCI Special Agent Larry Hedlund, to testify.
The union’s contract requires arbitrators to issue final, binding decisions within 30 days after a hearing.
Guhl, Harrelson and the accuser were among 32 recruits who completed a 20-week training course to become agents, troopers and fire investigators at the academy, learning tactics such as driving techniques, firearms use and emergency response.
State police applicants have to clear several hurdles including a physical fitness test, a background check and a psychological evaluation before they can be admitted to academy. Recruits are required to stay overnight at Camp Dodge in a military barracks during the week but go home on weekends.
Guhl, 33, worked at the Iowa State Patrol’s District 12 based in Stockton in eastern Iowa. Harrelson, 28, worked for the DCI’s gaming division.
Harrelson said he was never otherwise disciplined during his DCI career or during his 11 years in the Air Force, where he works part-time on aircraft electronics. He said he has pored through an 830-page investigative report issued after his firing, and claims there is no evidence that he was involved other than “a terribly inconsistent statement” from the accuser.
Harrelson said he was intimidated by senior investigators who insisted he was involved, adding that he regretted allowing them to “introduce doubt into me.”
“I think it’s absolutely absurd,” he said. “I told them from the get-go that I did not do this ... I never put my hands on him. I never sprinkled baby powder on him, and I never verbally intimidated him.”
Harrelson said the department has informed him that it cannot find the records from the 2008 academy.
Guhl declined his interview request through his mother, Coleen Guhl, who said she believed there had been a sharp increase in disciplinary action under first-year Public Safety Commissioner Brian London.
“It’s not a good situation at all down there,” she said. “Little things are blown totally out of proportion.”