Iowa police officer fired for switching off body camera amid unruly crowd

By: - March 14, 2022 4:18 pm

Body cameras and batteries are docked for charging and downloading video at the West Valley City Police Department on March 2, 2015 in West Valley City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

An Iowa police officer who repeatedly turned off his body camera while dealing with an unruly crowd of citizens committed job-related misconduct, an Iowa judge has ruled.

State records indicate Walter Pacheco was fired by the city of Eagle Grove from his job as a police officer last summer, several weeks after he began working for the city.

His termination stemmed from an incident last summer that involved Pacheco being assigned to handle crowd control at a bar. Pacheco was at the establishment for two to three hours, during which time about 200 people gathered. Some of the people were intoxicated and, at some point, the crowd began to get out of control. Some of the individuals made comments that Pacheco considered intimidating or that he interpreted as death threats, according to state records.

Although the employer’s policy requires police officers to have their body cameras turned on when interacting with the public, Pacheco turned his camera off multiple times while at the scene, saying later it was “dead time” that wasn’t worth recording.

Later that day, with his camera switched on, Pacheco was talking with a firefighter about the number of intoxicated people in the crowd and remarked that instead of arresting the people, he could have simply shot them.

The department later reviewed the footage and fired Pacheco for having switched off his camera while performing crowd control and for his remarks to the firefighter. In his defense, Pacheco said the remark about shooting people was a joke.

He was recently denied unemployment benefits, with an administrative law judge ruling that he had engaged in misconduct.

“Mr. Pacheco’s argument that he turned off his body camera only during ‘dead time’ and turned it back on when he interacted with the public is undercut by him keeping his body camera on while he spoke with the firefighter,” Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno ruled.

More unemployment cases

Other Iowans who were recently awarded or denied jobless benefits include:

Tara Klein, who worked for the Grandview Heights nursing home in Marshalltown since June 2020 as a full-time registered nurse. On Sept. 15 of last year, she was working a 16-hour shift. Around 10:30 p.m. that day, her supervisor called her and told her that she would also be scheduled to work 16-hours shifts the following Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Klein told the supervisor that she could not physically or mentally handle working that many hours or provide the residents of the home with the proper care. The supervisor allegedly hung up on Klein, and two hours later, a scheduler informed Klein she was scheduled to work the upcoming 16-hour shifts.

Klein told the scheduler it was physically impossible for her to do that, and after 19 hours on duty she went home. The next day, the home’s administrator allegedly sent Klein a series of text messages indicating that if she was not working the upcoming Saturday and Sunday shifts, the home would consider her employment to be over.

The home subsequently challenged Klein’s application for unemployment benefits. An administrative law judge ruled that the home “provided no evidence to establish misconduct on the part of Ms. Klein,” and awarded her benefits.

Joshua Statler, who was fired last April from Mercy Health Services where he worked as a full-time registered nurse. He was fired shortly after being suspended pending an investigation into an allegation that he was stealing medical supplies.

According to a ruling by Administrative Law Judge Andrew Duffelmeyer, Mercy concluded during the course of its investigation that Statler was stealing narcotics, as evidenced by electronic medication-dispensing records and logs. He was denied unemployment benefits. State records indicate no public licensing board action or criminal charges have been filed in the case.

Doug E. Kelley, who was fired last September from Mercy Health Services where he worked as a full-time registered nurse since 2003. A clinical manager had received an audit from a hospital pharmacy regarding Kelley’s withdrawal of narcotics over the previous two weeks.

According to an administrative law judge’s ruling, the audit indicated that Kelley withdrew a controlled substance 25 times for one particular patient, when during that same period nurses working other shifts had provided the drug one or two times. Kelley had also recorded a number on the pain scale in the patient’s chart despite the fact that the patient was non-verbal and could not provide such a number.

A review of other records uncovered instances in which Kelley would take three hours to one day to record having administered, or disposed of, medications. Kelley explained his actions by stating that he believed other nurses and doctors were undertreating patients’ pain, according to the ruling.

The judge ruled that Kelley showed “deliberate disregard” for his employers’ interests and ordered him to repay $2,284 in unemployment benefits already collected. State records indicate no public licensing board action or criminal charges have been filed in the case.

Marlene S. Helton, who was fired last spring from the Newton Village care facility where she worked as a full-time patient caregiver since 2012. On June 2, 2021, Helton allegedly notified the facility she would be late to work that day due to her use of marijuana.

A supervisor later requested that Helton take a drug test before working, and Helton refused. Helton was then told she could not begin working because she cared for elderly patients as part of her job, and it would not be safe. Two days later, she was fired after she again refused a request to take a drug test before beginning her shift.

An administrative law judge recently denied her request for unemployment benefits, ruling that her conduct “constitutes misconduct as it presents a safety hazard to the employee and the general public.”

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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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