Branstad commissions review of agent’s firing

IOWA CITY – Gov. Terry Branstad appointed a former Iowa Supreme Court justice on Friday to independently review the firing of a criminal investigator who was removed from duty days after complaining about the governor’s speeding vehicle.

Branstad asked former Chief Justice Louis Lavorato to examine the firing of Larry Hedlund, a special agent in charge with the Division of Criminal Investigation, and report his findings publicly. The governor said he ordered the review in the hopes of disproving Hedlund’s accusation that his firing was retaliation for complaining about the April 26 speeding incident.

“Iowans may continue to have questions and doubts about the allegations made until they know the whole story. I want Iowans to know the truth,” Branstad said in a statement. He said Justice Lavorato is a respected statesman who “will offer a fresh, independent review of this matter.”

But the review quickly hit a potential roadblock. Hedlund’s attorney, Tom Duff, said that he did not believe the state could legally share a 500-page disciplinary report by the Department of Public Safety’s Professional Standards Bureau with Lavorato since it contains confidential personnel information.

Duff said that he was considering seeking a court injunction next week to block the disclosure, saying the report was a “ginned up, manufactured, one-sided” document that falsely paints Hedlund as a security problem.

“One of the witnesses that they interviewed said, ‘it kind of seems like a witch hunt’. I couldn’t agree more,” Duff said.

Also Friday, the Department of Public Safety said its investigation into the speeding incident led to a ticket and “appropriate discipline” against Steve Lawrence, the trooper who was driving Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds in the governor’s SUV. Lawrence was cited Thursday for going 84 in a 65-mph zone on Highway 20 in Hamilton County and paid a $181.50 fine.

The trooper who declined to pull Lawrence over, Matthew Eimers, will not be disciplined because he followed policies in responding to the call for assistance and was within his discretion not to stop the vehicle, DPS spokesman Lt. Rob Hansen said.

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor was satisfied with the outcome. “The governor was not driving, and will not be paying the ticket,” he added.

Hedlund had reported that the governor’s SUV zipped past him doing “a hard 90” and called a dispatcher to send a trooper to investigate. The Chevy Tahoe was clocked at 84. After racing to catch up, Eimers ended the pursuit after seeing the vehicle was “Car 1,” the governor’s.

Hedlund filed a complaint April 29, warning Public Safety Commissioner Brian London that the three-vehicle pursuit through traffic endangered safety and that the governor should not be above the law.

DCI Director Chari Paulson responded by asking Hedlund why he was driving his state vehicle on a vacation day, and the 25-year veteran was soon placed on administrative leave. Hedlund, who said he had worked part of that day, had no prior discipline.