Iowa officer who had sex with his boss’ teenage stepdaughter blocks decertification

By: - April 9, 2021 3:45 pm

(Photo via Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

An Iowa police officer who admits to having sex with his boss’ teenage stepdaughter has, for now, successfully blocked the state’s attempts to decertify him as a law enforcement officer.

Court records indicate Alex Ladwig first became a police officer in 2014 when he was hired by the Lake View Police Department in Sac County. In October 2015, Ladwig resigned from the police department and began working as a deputy with the Sac County Sheriff’s Office.

Ladwig’s supervisor in the sheriff’s office has a stepdaughter, whom Ladwig met in 2016, when the girl was 14 or 15 years old. According to court records, Ladwig began conversing with the girl through Snapchat in 2017, while he was on duty. In November 2018, when the girl was a 17-year-old high school senior and Ladwig turned 27,  the two had consensual sexual intercourse on two occasions, according to court records.

State records indicate Ladwig was placed on administrative leave six months later, in April 2019, pending an interview with Sheriff Ken McClure. Ladwig said when he appeared for the interview, he was read his rights under the office’s internal investigation policies and was asked to resign. When he refused, he was fired based on his own admission that he had sexual relations with his supervising officer’s 17-year-old stepdaughter.

Ladwig appealed his termination and was subsequently reinstated pending the resolution of that appeal. A few weeks later, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy was notified of Ladwig’s termination for immoral conduct. At about the same time, Lake City Police Chief Bobby Rist successfully recruited Ladwig to join his department, and Ladwig has continued to work there, according to court records.

Last fall, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council sought to revoke Ladwig’s certification as an Iowa police officer. Administrative Law Judge Denise Timmins heard evidence in the case and upheld the council’s actions, writing, “Ladwig had sex with a 17-year-old high school girl … Should the high school principal trust Ladwig to be inside his school walls? Should a parent, knowing the details of this situation, feel comfortable sending their teenage daughter to the sheriff’s office to report a crime or trust Officer Ladwig to protect their daughter instead of take advantage of her? … The integrity of the law enforcement system depends on having officers who exercise good judgment on duty and off.”

Ladwig sued, seeking judicial review of Timmins’ decision, and in February, Polk County District Court Judge Scott D. Rosenberg placed a temporary stay, or hold, on the council’s efforts to decertify Ladwig. In his decision, Rosenberg wrote that Ladwig is “likely to prevail” in his attempts to maintain his certification as an Iowa police officer once the matter is decided by the court.

“The court understands the high standards of integrity we, as citizens, expect from public officials, especially those who protect us and enforce our laws,” Rosenberg ruled. “But each citizen has his or her own specific notions of such things as ‘integrity’ and ‘morality’ that may be outside the realm of ordinarily accepted values that may, under some circumstances, be considered unreasonable, impractical or archaic.”

Ladwig’s attorney, Karmen Anderson, argued to the court that “it is undisputed that Officer Ladwig did not commit a sex crime, as his relationship was not a crime.” In court filings, she stated that subsequent to Ladwig’s reinstatement during the appeal process, he entered into a settlement agreement with the county, whereby he agreed to resign. The lawsuit claims that Rist, the Lake City police chief and Ladwig’s current boss, has “provided a glowing review of Ladwig’s service to his agency” and that the teenage girl’s mother has written a letter supporting Ladwig’s continued employment as a police officer.

As part of the lawsuit, Ladwig’s attorney also argued the age difference between her client and the girl “was not so significant” and that Ladwig was “still relatively young at the time they engaged in a relationship.” She pointed out that the Iowa Legislature specifically decriminalized sexual relations with a 16-year-old female in 1976.

“Merely being a law enforcement officer in a private setting does not create a position of power” over others, the lawsuit claims. “If this were the case, then an officer could never engage in an intimate relationship as they would always be deemed to be in a position of power over the other therefore negating consent. This was not a scenario where (the girl) was being investigated or was pulled over by Ladwig. (The girl) knew Ladwig only on a personal level, and not as a person of power over her.”

Ladwig’s attorney also claims the state is attempting “push forward a theory that would punish law enforcement for their personal conduct, merely based on the opinions of a few. This opens the door for law enforcement to arbitrarily police the private lives of its employees and without any consistency of which values are acceptable and which are not.” Anderson said while her client’s actions “may cause one to pause and ponder whether or not having relations with a 17-year-old violates one’s moral compass, it does not rise to the level requiring decertification of Officer Ladwig … More than a dozen officers from all across the state readily drafted affidavits of support for Officer Ladwig.”

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for May 28.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Ladwig joined the Lake View Police Department after his termination by the county. Ladwig worked for Lake View prior to his termination by the county, and later joined the Lake City police force.  

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Clark Kauffman
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.

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