Former prosecutor charged with harassment wins jobless benefits

By: - August 4, 2021 1:13 pm

An Iowa nursing home worker who was fired after refusing to let a visitor enter the building due to COVID-19 restrictions has been awarded jobless benefits for keeping residents of the home safe. (Photo by Getty Images)

A former Iowa prosecutor now facing criminal charges of harassment for allegedly using his position at work to threaten or extort his ex-fiancée is entitled to unemployment benefits, a judge has ruled.

Ryan McCord, 41, was employed as an assistant county attorney for Des Moines County last summer when he allegedly began harassing his ex-fiancée after they ended their relationship.

According to court records, the woman worked as a physician at the Great River Medical Center in Burlington and was in the United States on a visa. McCord allegedly told the woman, falsely, that he had a pending domestic violence complaint against her at the sheriff’s office and that charges could be filed if they didn’t get back together. “I could file the charges any time in the next two years,” he allegedly told the woman in one social media message.

McCord also is accused of suggesting to the woman that she had committed a felony that could threaten her employment and her immigration status and lead to her deportation.

According to state unemployment records, the matter came to light when the sheriff’s office told the county attorney’s office the fianceé had contacted the sheriff to determine whether there were, in fact, any active criminal complaints against her, suggesting McCord was using the claim to extort her.

An investigation was launched and McCord was placed on paid administrative leave. According to prosecutors, when McCord was interviewed by investigators, he was asked whether he’d made any remarks to his ex-fiancée that could  be construed as threats to her employment or immigration status. McCord allegedly replied, “Probably.”

McCord was fired by the county on Aug. 28, 2020, and was criminally charged with misdemeanor harassment in October 2o2o. He has pleaded not guilty, and a jury trial is scheduled for Oct. 5 in Monroe County.

Judge: County attorney’s office lacks policy on off-duty conduct

In a recent decision awarding McCord jobless benefits, Administrative Law Judge Dawn Boucher noted the county attorney’s office had no written handbook or policy regarding off-duty conduct or conduct in the workplace. Boucher wrote that she found McCord’s sworn testimony to be more credible than that of the employer, and noted that McCord was given no warning that his alleged conduct could lead to his dismissal.

“If an employer expects an employee to conform to certain expectations or face discharge, appropriate (preferably written), detailed, and reasonable notice should be given,” Boucher stated in her ruling.

Her ruling indicates McCord had few job-performance issues while working for the county, although, in October 2019, he missed traffic court which he had been assigned to cover. A colleague had to cover for him after a judge called the office to say no one from the prosecutor’s office was present in court.

Iowans who refused to wear a mask lose benefits

Several Iowans who lost their jobs after refusing to wear a mask at work to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been denied unemployment benefits recently.

Among the Iowans:

  • Rhonda Combs, who quit her job at G4S Secure Solutions where she worked as security officer from 2010 through September of last year.  The company had a COVID-19 mitigation policy that required its security officers to wear a mask if they could not maintain six feet of distance from others. After Combs refused to wear a mask, she was offered a 30-day personal leave of absence with the possibility of being called back to work if any assignments that didn’t require a mask became available. When no such assignments materialized, Combs was told she’d have to wear a mask or be terminated, and so she quit. “It appears (Combs) just does not like wearing a mask for personal reasons,” Administrative Law Judge Sean Nelson ruled on Combs’ subsequent claim for unemployment benefits, adding that Combs “is free to hold those opinions of masks. However, the employer is not subject to charge for the claimant’s separation that was caused by her personal preferences regarding mask use during a global pandemic … Benefits are denied.”
  • Amanda Wilson, who was a Casey’s General Store employee from 2016 through February 2021, when she was fired for violating company policy. Wilson’s store manager had allegedly reviewed video footage of Wilson working the cash register at the store with her face mask pulled down, rather than worn over her nose and mouth, while customers were inside the store. She had previously been warned about failing to properly wear her mask while working. She was fired and later collected $2,282 in unemployment benefits, plus $2,100 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits.  Wilson’s “conduct could have placed the health of everyone present in jeopardy,” Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth A. Johnson ruled, declaring Wilson ineligible for benefits. Wilson was ordered to repay the state and federal benefits already collected.
  • Colby Wise, who worked for Hy-Vee Foods as a full-time gas station manager from 2018 through January 2021 when he was fired for repeatedly refusing to wear a mask.  The store had allegedly disciplined Adams in November and December for failing to wear his mask properly, and he had been warned additional violations could result in his termination. Subsequently, about half the time a supervisor came into the gas station to check on Wise, he was not wearing his mask as required, triggering customer complaints. After he was fired, he collected $2,958 in unemployment benefits, plus $1,800 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. Administrative Law Judge Andrew B. Duffelmeyer discounted Wise’s claim that he had “tried” to wear his mask as required, noting that “whether or not to secure a mask properly is ultimately a choice exercised by the wearer, not something that is out of the wearer’s control and they merely try or attempt to do … (Wise) repeatedly failed to wear his mask properly after being formally disciplined and informally counseled on it.” Duffelmeyer ruled the benefits already paid out in the case must be repaid.

 

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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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