Review: Branstad had no role in agent’s firing

IOWA CITY – Gov. Terry Branstad had no role in firing a criminal investigator who faced disciplinary action days after filing a complaint about the governor’s speeding SUV, a review commissioned by Branstad concluded Wednesday.

Branstad took a hands-off approach toward the investigation and July termination of Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Larry Hedlund, and the governor’s position “was painstakingly followed by his staff,” former Iowa Chief Justice Louis Lavorato wrote.

Lavorato said he found no direct evidence that Hedlund’s superiors in the Department of Public Safety retaliated against him for initiating an April 26 pursuit of the governor’s speeding vehicle or his complaint days later that the incident jeopardized public safety. But he said he reached no conclusions on whether there was retaliation, saying such cases are typically proven through circumstantial evidence.

Branstad had appointed Lavorato to look into Hedlund’s firing, amid mounting criticism.

“This report demonstrates that my office in no way interfered with, nor directed, the investigation into Larry Hedlund,” Branstad said, thanking Lavorato for a thorough and independent investigation.

Lavorato interviewed every member of Branstad’s office, Hedlund’s superiors at DPS and DCI, and internal affairs investigators who looked into Hedlund’s conduct. Hedlund didn’t cooperate, arguing the case should be decided in a court of law.

He filed a lawsuit earlier this month claiming he was wrongly terminated for blowing the whistle on the governor’s speeding and other misconduct. His lawsuit names DPS Commissioner Brian London, DCI Director Chari Paulson and Assistant DCI Director Gerard Meyers.

Hedlund also filed a separate petition contending that state officials violated the law when they shared a confidential 500-page disciplinary report with Lavorato for his review. Lavorato didn’t quote from that document in Wednesday’s report.

Hedlund’s attorney, Tom Duff, dismissed the Branstad-ordered review as a “political stunt to subvert the legal process and exonerate himself” without facing a jury. He said he does not know whether the governor was involved in Hedlund’s firing, but will investigate that question during discovery.

Duff did praise Lavorato for noting that jurors will have to look at all the circumstances, including the fact that Hedlund was placed on leave immediately after his complaint, that he had served 25 years with no prior discipline, and that London had been hired months earlier by Branstad.

“I don’t see this as any exoneration of the governor or certainly not of the people that are in charge of the Department of Public Safety,” Duff said. “Whether the governor had a direct conversation with Brian London where he said, ‘you need to fire Hedlund,’ I have no idea. But London certainly knows who the boss is and he certainly may have been motivated by desire to protect the governor.”

Democrats dismissed the report as an attempt by the Republican governor to seek cover.

“The governor got the result that he asked for, no surprise here,” said state senator and potential gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch. He’s been running an ad titled, “Smokey and the Branstad,” that uses footage of the speeding SUV and concludes with Hatch saying, “Nobody’s above the law.”