Caregiver fired for abuse keeps his name off state registry of abusers

By: - November 22, 2021 3:50 pm

An Iowa caregiver accused of physically abusing dependent adults was fired from his job this year after state officials offered him a deal to keep his name of the registry of known abusers. (Photo by Getty Images)

An Iowa caregiver accused of physically abusing dependent adults was fired from his job this year after state officials offered him a deal to keep his name off the registry of known abusers.

State records indicate Joseph K. DeVries was fired in July from Opportunity Living in Lake City where he had worked for eight years as a direct-support professional caring for dependent adults.

On Dec. 6, 2020, one of DeVries’ co-workers alleged that DeVries had instructed a dependent-adult client to physically strike another dependent-adult client, and that DeVries had hit one of the organization’s clients with a fly swatter. There was also an allegation made that DeVries had kicked a dependent-adult client in the buttocks.

The organization began investigating the matter, sent DeVries home, and reported the allegations to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.

After completing its internal investigation, the organization told DeVries it could not prove the allegations and so he was allowed to continue working, but at a different worksite. In May of this year, the organization gave DeVries a written warning for livestreaming onto a social media platform the behavior of a person who was on drugs and acting out in front of his worksite. The person who was on drugs happened to be the brother of one of DeVries’ co-workers.

A DIA investigator later contacted DeVries and, according to the findings of the judge who later reviewed the matter, the investigator offered DeVries a deal regarding the earlier charges of abuse: He would not have to admit any guilt and DIA would rule that the allegations were “confirmed,” as opposed to “founded.” The effect of such a ruling would be that DeVries’ name would be kept off the state’s Dependent Adult Abuse Registry. If the deal was rejected and the allegations were ruled “founded,” DeVries’ name would go on the registry.

DeVries accepted the deal, and DIA reportedly issued its findings of “confirmed” abuse. DeVries received a copy of the agency’s written conclusions and brought it to his employer, which then fired him, citing DIA’s confirmation of abuse.

DeVries applied for unemployment benefits and a hearing was held recently before Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno, who ruled that Opportunity Living had “presented credible evidence that Mr. DeVries committed dependent adult abuse.”

Zeno noted that although the organization’s internal investigation found no proof of abuse, DIA”s “confirmed” report meant the state agency had concluded DeVries’ actions met the definition of abuse, even though it was judged to be minor, isolated, and unlikely to reoccur.

DIA’s findings were “enough for the employer to establish misconduct,” Zeno ruled in denying DeVries’ request for benefits.

State records indicate that in 2018, DeVries was given a written warning at Opportunity Living for writing “p—y wash” on a female dependent adult’s bottle of body wash. In December 2016, the employer gave DeVries a verbal warning for writing about a co-worker on social media while at work.

More unemployment cases

Other Iowans who recently sought unemployment benefits after being fired or forced to resign due to workplace conduct include:

Craig A. Nelson, a teacher formerly employed by the Des Moines Public Schools. Nelson had worked for the school district for 14 years, most recently as a science and horticultural teacher.

He was fired in late May for refusing to accept a transfer that stemmed from a finding of theft; gross insubordination; violations of purchasing policies; failure to account for district property; failure to implement cash controls; violating the district’s prohibition on the co-mingling of funds; and violating the district’s nepotism policy.

He also was accused of job abandonment and insubordination for defying directives to return to work after being placed on an unpaid suspension.

According to state records, he had been on a paid leave of absence from May 2020 through January of this year while the district conducted an investigation into allegations made against him. In January, Nelson was placed on a 20-day, unpaid leave of absence due to numerous policy violations. In February, he reportedly returned to the school where he had worked, packed up all of his personal effects and left, never returning

Administrative Law Judge Darrin Hamilton recently rejected Nelson’s claim for unemployment benefits, ruling that he had quit his job without good cause. Nelson has already collected $7,395 in unemployment benefits, but will not have to repay that money, Hamilton ruled.

According to state auditors, Nelson was responsible for overseeing the district’s horticulture program, the finances of the program’s greenhouse operations, the annual community plant sale, and the annual international trip for students.

Auditors identified $19,509 of improper disbursements, including $18,114 in payments to Nelson’s spouse and $1,395 of Menard’s rebates which were used for personal purposes. Nelson also deposited to his personal bank accounts $6,252 from students for costs associated with international trips, and reimbursed students $12,964 from his personal bank accounts, auditors alleged.

Rosa Meza, who was fired in March from Sioux County where she worked as a jailer for two and a half years. State records indicate the county discovered in March that Meza had been charged with shoplifting in late February and then failed to immediately report the arrest to her superiors.

When her bosses inquired about the incident, Meza allegedly admitted shoplifting, saying her friend had dared her to put store merchandise in her purse and she was caught leaving the store with the item.

She was recently denied unemployment benefits and will have to repay $171 already collected. Court records indicate Meza was convicted of fifth-degree theft for stealing $187 worth of merchandise from Scheels Sporting Goods.

Amanda Long, who in May quit her job at the Crisis Intervention Services in lieu of being fired. CIS, also known as the NIAD Center for Human Development, is an agency that serves victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and attempted homicide.

In May, Long was asked to immediately follow up with a victim in an extremely volatile abuse case that had potentially lethal implications. A day later, the organization found that Long had not done anything on the case, despite prior warnings regarding a lack of timeliness in her work.

Administrative Law Judge Blair Bennett denied Long’s request for unemployment benefits, stating that “maintaining quick contacts with victims in essentially life-threatening situations” was central to her duties at the organization.

Pam Lane, who was fired in December 2020 from her job as Guthrie County’s human resources director. She was fired shortly after refusing to provide basic employment information to a financial institution that was attempting to confirm an individual’s work history as part of a mortgage-approval process.

The county’s board chairman intervened in the matter, telling Lane the information sought by the lender was public record. Lane continued to refuse to release the information but eventually relented.

According to the judge who later reviewed Lane’s request for unemployment benefits, the county attorney and the sheriff at that time were “openly hostile to the notion of a board-hired human resources director” and to the idea that Lane was directed to create an employee handbook.

There was an “escalation of discord” after Lane was hired in 2019, Administrative Law Judge James Timberland found. He ruled that while Lane “lacked the temperament and skill set to effectively navigate” conflicts among county offices, and had become a “lightning rod for criticism,” her actions did not rise to the level of misconduct. Lane was awarded unemployment benefits.

Ed Chalstrom, a former park maintenance supervisor for the City of Marion, who was fired in July after 21 years of employment with the city.

In June of this year, one of Chalstrom’s subordinates complained that Chalstrom had told him an offensive and sexually explicit joke. He also complained that for several years, Chalstrom had referred to him using gay slurs and had also called him an “old man,” despite his repeated objections.

Chalstrom was fired after witnesses corroborated the complainant’s allegations, and Chalstrom admitted to them. Previously, he had been counseled at work for using offensive words in referring to a subordinate and he had been warned that further incidents would likely lead to a suspension.

He was denied unemployment benefits.

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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.