Iowa cop with a history of misconduct sues to keep his job

A row of police squad cars. (Photo via Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

An Iowa police officer with a history of misconduct in Wyoming is now suing the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in a bid to keep his job.

Strawberry Point Police Officer Jeremiah Owens is on administrative leave while appealing a recent decision by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy to deny him certification as an Iowa police officer. Under Iowa law, police officers can work for up to a year without certification, and Owens had been on the job 11 months in June when the academy opted to deny him certification.

Court records indicate that in June 2019, Strawberry Point Police Chief Ryan Evans presented Owens to the city council as his top choice for the job of full-time police officer in the northeast Iowa town. The meeting minutes indicate council members met with Owens in open session to evaluate his professional competency, then voted unanimously to hire him.

In early May of this year, less than two weeks before Owens was scheduled to graduate from the training academy, ILEA Director Judy Bradshaw learned that in 2018 Owens had been decertified as a police officer by the state of Wyoming.

Although the reasons for that action weren’t yet clear to Bradshaw, she wrote to Chief Evans on May 5 to inform him of her “great concern.” She indicated Owens would have to appear at a hearing before the ILEA Council before he could be certified as an Iowa officer.

In advance of that hearing, the council collected personnel records from the Laramie, Wyoming, police department where Owens worked until he was fired in October 2016.

Those records show Owens was the subject of two separate complaints indicating he had been overheard in public using profanity and making “homicidal threats” to someone while on his cell phone.

He was also accused of failing to report his brother’s alleged involvement in a burglary, despite his knowledge of the crime. Court records indicate Owens explained his actions in that case by telling internal affairs investigators, in effect, “It was my brother’s doing and I could take care of it.”

The Wyoming Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission later concluded that by not reporting his brother’s role in the burglary, Owens was an accessory to the crime, and Owens’ police officer certification was eventually revoked by the state of Wyoming.

On June 4, the ILEA Council ruled Owens was not eligible to become an Iowa police officer, with the council citing Owens’ “moral turpitude, namely dishonesty and injustice.”

Owens is now suing the ILEA, alleging he was denied due process in the hearing and that ILEA violated its own rules in denying him certification. The lawsuit seeks judicial review of the council’s decision.

The academy has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

Evans declined to say whether the Strawberry Point City Council knew of the specific 2016 allegations against Owens when it chose to hire him.

“I know where you’re going with that that question, and I get it,” Evans said. “But I am not going to speak for (Owens), or for my city council, or whatever. I’m the one who hired him. They were aware he had lost his job. I explained the situation. They approved hiring him at my suggestion.”

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.