IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A second Iowa law enforcement officer fired after being accused of hazing a fellow recruit during a basic training academy in 2008 will get his job back and, unlike the first, will receive more than eight months of back pay, officials said Monday.
Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Andrew Harrelson will be reinstated with pay and benefits dating back to his Feb. 6 firing, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Scott Bright.
Arbitrator Clair Brooks ordered the reinstatement Friday, finding that Harrelson's termination was not justified. State officials were withholding his written decision from the public, so Brooks' rationale was unclear. In any event, the ruling is another blow to the department in an unusual case.
Harrelson and Iowa State Patrol trooper Joshua Guhl were fired after another trooper accused them and others of handcuffing him to a bed, taking off his pants and rubbing powder on his buttocks during the 2008 academy at Camp Dodge in Johnston. The trooper did not file a complaint over the alleged incident, which he considered a humiliating assault, until May 2012. Guhl admitted to hazing while Harrelson repeatedly denied involvement.
Their union, the State Police Officers Council, filed grievances seeking reinstatement and was successful in both cases.
Harrelson, 28, said he wanted to thank friends and colleagues who "overwhelmingly supported me throughout this whole ordeal."
"It was stressful, and I'm just glad that it's over and can get things back on track," he said.
Harrelson will return to his $45,000-per-year job as a gaming enforcement officer based at the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs after updating his training to make up for his time off, Bright said. His back pay could cost taxpayers more than $30,000.
Earlier this month, arbitrator Harvey Nathan ordered Guhl reinstated but declined to award back pay. Nathan said the time since Guhl's Jan. 31 firing should be considered an unpaid suspension for what he called an unjustified attack on a weak and innocent bunkmate.
But Nathan found Guhl's termination wasn't appropriate. He said that academy leaders failed to uncover the assault or discipline any of the others who were present and didn't intervene.
The victim says he did not complain at the time because of the academy's hostile atmosphere and he came forward later after continuing to suffer emotional distress. The Polk County Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges.
Guhl, a trooper based at the Stockton post in eastern Iowa, has testified that he carried out the hazing in an attempt to humiliate his bunkmate and force him to quit the academy. Guhl, a former Marine who was a leader among the recruits, has said that he believed academy leaders wanted him to pressure the man to shape up or quit.
The department says some training records — which Guhl says could prove his claim that academy leaders were aware of the hazing at the time — have disappeared from a locked storage unit. No one claims to know what happened.
Department of Administrative Services attorney Neil Barrick, who represented the state during the arbitration hearings, said in an interview this month that investigators could not get a clear picture of who was involved, in part because of the time lapse and hazy memories.
He said some may characterize the incident as a harmless prank while others will see it as extremely inappropriate.
Unlike Guhl's decision, the public may never know the arbitrator's opinion in Harrelson's case because of an effort to withhold the decision from the public.
Brooks, the arbitrator, told the Public Employment Relations Board that the parties wanted the document kept secret so he did not send a copy when he submitted his invoice for hearing the case, said board employee Sue Bolte.
The board, which manages labor disputes at public agencies, considers the decisions public records and released Nathan's 28-page ruling in the Guhl case after receiving a copy.
Bright, the DPS spokesman, said the department considers the ruling a confidential personnel document exempt from Iowa's public records law.
Harrelson said that he wants the ruling released but that he'd leave the decision to union executive director Sue Brown, who didn't return messages from The Associated Press.
The AP last week filed a complaint asking the newly created Iowa Public Information Board to declare that arbitration decisions in employee disciplinary matters are public records.
The news cooperative wants the Department of Administrative Services to release copies of nine decisions involving employees whose firings have been upheld since last year. Based on advice from the Iowa Attorney General's Office, the agency is withholding those records.
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