Attorney general denies approving experiments on Glenwood residents

nterior of an empty courtroom with gavel and sounding block on the desk.
A Sioux City attorney accused of witness intimidation and repeated acts of dishonesty is facing a possible suspension of his law license. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Iowa attorney general’s office is denying allegations that it approved or was involved in plans to conduct sexual-arousal experiments on the mentally disabled residents of a state-run care facility.

In a lawsuit filed by former employees of the Glenwood Resource Center, the six individuals allege they were ousted in retaliation for the concerns they expressed about the former Glenwood superintendent’s efforts to alter the treatment plans of the profoundly disabled residents of the western Iowa home and use them as “guinea pigs” in experiments related to sexual arousal.

The lawsuit, filed in Mills County District Court, is based largely on claims made earlier this year in a separate lawsuit filed in federal court. In October, the federal case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. As the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Wednesday, the newly filed case in state court includes new allegations that Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office approved the plans for the research and that the attorney general’s office was involved.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that in April 2018, Glenwood’s then-superintendent, Jerry Rea, wrote that he had “received a commitment from the Iowa special assistant attorney general to begin work” on various psychological research programs, and that this assistant attorney general was “quite excited about the prospects” for work involving “in-vivo assessments of sexual arousal.”

Lynn Hicks, spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, initially declined to comment on that allegation, but on Friday issued a statement that said, “We plan to respond in court that the claims made in this lawsuit about our office’s role are untrue. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office did not approve any experiments at the Glenwood Resource Center, and that is not our role. The center’s former superintendent mischaracterized the reaction of a special assistant attorney general.”

The lawsuit also cites Glenwood staff-meeting minutes from 2018, alleging those minutes indicate the experiments were “discussed and approved by the highest levels of Iowa state government.” The lawsuit claims the former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, Jerry Foxhoven, discussed and approved the research with one of his top administrators at the time, Rick Shults. The two then made plans to present the program to the governor’s office, according to the lawsuit.

“On information and belief, the governor’s office approved defendants’ illicit research programs in 2018,” the plaintiffs’ petition alleges.

Pat Garrett, spokesman for Gov. Reynolds, has not responded to a request for comment on that claim.

About the lawsuit

The plaintiffs in the case are Kelly Brodie, a former interim superintendent of Glenwood; Dr. John Heffron, a physician who worked at Glenwood for close to 10 years; Katherine King, a former treatment program administrator at Glenwood; Dr. Michael Langenfeld, a physician who worked at Glenwood for nine years; Katherine Rall, the facility’s former director of quality management; and Jamie Shaw, a nurse practitioner who worked at Glenwood.

The defendants in the case include the Iowa Department of Human Services, which runs Glenwood; Foxhoven, who resigned as the department’s director in June 2019; Shults, the now-retired former director of DHS’ Division of Mental Health and Disability Services; and Rea, the former Glenwood superintendent who was fired in December 2019 after he allegedly initiated plans to turn the home into a research center through medical experimentation.

The lawsuit claims Rea and others at DHS “intended to use, and did use, highly vulnerable Glenwood Resource Center patients as the subjects, or guinea pigs, in research experiments” involving sexual arousal. They allegedly did so without first obtaining authorization from the residents, and “were forced to later scramble to get consent on behalf of the patients who had been experimented on, after receiving notice of a new Department of Justice investigation” of Glenwood in 2019.

Court records indicate the research at Glenwood is now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, Iowa Board of Medicine and the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Investigation.