Arbitrator closes fired officer hearing to media

DES MOINES – An arbitration hearing was closed to the media Thursday for an Iowa State Patrol trooper who was recently fired for an alleged hazing incident at a police academy in 2008, after the arbitrator decided that allowing public access could affect the integrity of the case.

The former trooper, Joshua Guhl, and a Division of Criminal Investigation agent are challenging their January firings as part of a union grievance process. The Department of Public Safety accused both men of hazing and verbally intimidating a 21-year-old fellow recruit, who is now a state trooper.

Guhl has declined interview requests, but records obtained by The Associated Press show he became a trooper in Stockton in 2008 and was fired in January. The other accused agent, DCI agent Andrew Harrelson, has strongly denied any involvement in the incident. Harrelson told the AP the accusations include handcuffing the recruit to a bed and putting powder on his buttocks during the DPS basic training academy at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

The Associated Press had asked to attend Guhl’s hearing at the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s headquarters in Des Moines. But the arbitrator, Chicago-based attorney Harvey Nathan, closed the meeting because he believed attendance by outsider parties would “affect the integrity of the proceedings,” DPS spokeswoman Jessica Lown said.

Such hearings don’t appear to be covered by the state’s open meetings laws, so the arbitrator was likely within the law, said Kathleen Richardson of the Freedom of Information Council, a nonprofit consortium of newspapers, broadcasters and others interested in open government.

Grievance complaints that lead to arbitration are considered confidential personnel records and are exempt from Iowa’s public records law, said Department of Administrative Services spokesman Caleb Hunter. The department represents state agencies during arbitration proceedings.

However, final arbitration awards are public documents. The arbitrator must file a decision within 30 days.

Harrelson, who was a gambling enforcement officer at Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs until he was fired in February, also is challenging his dismissal. His hearing is set for next month.

The State Police Officers Council, a union representing 650 state workers, is defending Guhl and Harrelson in the hearings.