Two fired following Iowa hazing inquiry

IOWA CITY – An Iowa trooper and a state gaming agent are seeking their jobs back after being fired in February following an investigation into a hazing incident at a police training academy in 2008, The Associated Press has learned.

Former Division of Criminal Investigation agent Andrew Harrelson said Wednesday that he was fired after the Department of Public Safety accused him of hazing and verbally intimidating a 21-year-old fellow recruit – charges he disputes. Harrelson said the recruit, now a state officer, accused him of putting powder on his buttocks after others handcuffed him to a bed during the Department of Public Safety’s basic training academy at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

Harrelson said he was shocked to be accused by the officer, who waited years to come forward with a complaint, and that he categorically denied any involvement. Trooper Joshua Guhl, who was also fired and accused in the incident, declined an interview request.

“I don’t remember it happening. I don’t remember seeing it happening. But I’m told that it happened,” Harrelson said.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety has not responded to a July 19 request for information about the case from the AP. An agency spokeswoman said Wednesday she was working on it.

Harrelson said the department has informed him that it cannot find the records from the 2008 academy

The Polk County Attorney’s Office in Des Moines confirmed that it declined to file charges last October after reviewing a DCI report alleging “a recruit was hazed by being handcuffed and subject to other assaultive conduct” after a training day. A three-year statute of limitations that applies to most crimes in Iowa had expired by the time the allegations came to the office’s attention in May 2012, assistant county attorney Jeff Noble told AP.

Guhl and Harrelson have filed union grievances over their firings, arguing their terminations were not justified.

The State Police Officers Council, a union representing 650 state workers, is defending them during arbitration proceedings. Guhl has a hearing Thursday in Des Moines, while Harrelson’s hearing is set for next month, said Sue Brown, the council’s executive director and general counsel.

“I think both of them have an excellent case for arbitration,” she said.

Brown declined comment when asked whether Guhl admitted involvement in the hazing incident and what his defense would be, saying she’ll save her arguments for the hearing. She said she is considering calling the initial criminal investigator, recently fired DCI Special Agent Larry Hedlund, to testify.

The union’s contract requires arbitrators to issue final, binding decisions within 30 days after a hearing.

Guhl, Harrelson and the accuser were among 32 recruits who completed a 20-week training course to become agents, troopers and fire investigators at the 2008 academy, learning tactics such as driving techniques, firearms use and emergency response.

State police applicants have to clear several hurdles including a physical fitness test, a background check and a psychological evaluation before they can be admitted to academy. Recruits are required to stay overnight at Camp Dodge in a military barracks during the week but go home on weekends.

Guhl, 33, joined the Iowa State Patrol’s District 12 in Muscatine County. Harrelson, 28, worked for the DCI’s gaming division, based in Council Bluffs.

Harrelson said he was never otherwise disciplined during his DCI career or during his 11 years in the Air Force, where he works part-time on aircraft electronics. He said he has pored through an 830-page investigative report issued after his firing, and claims there is no evidence that he was involved other than “a terribly inconsistent statement” from the accuser.

Harrelson said he was intimidated by senior investigators who insisted he was involved, adding that he regretted allowing them to “introduce doubt into me.”

“I think it’s absolutely absurd,” he said. “I told them from the get-go that I did not do this … I never put my hands on him. I never sprinkled baby powder on him, and I never verbally intimidated him.”

Guhl declined his interview request through his mother, Coleen Guhl, who said she believed there had been a sharp increase in disciplinary action under first-year Public Safety Commissioner Brian London.

“It’s not a good situation at all down there,” she said. “Little things are blown totally out of proportion.”