A former Shenandoah police officer says that in an effort to land a job with another police agency, he quit his job last summer amid an excessive-force investigation related to his conduct.
City officials say they didn’t inform the state police academy of that investigation. They now call it a confidential personnel matter despite a state law that says such matters are to be treated as public information.
The case, outlined in police, court and state unemployment records, details one of the ways police officers facing termination for misconduct can attempt to find work with other police agencies.
Last year, in what Gov. Kim Reynolds called “one of this Legislature’s finest hours,” lawmakers introduced, debated and unanimously passed House File 2647 in a single day. As Reynolds described it, the law would prohibit police officers “fired for serious misconduct from being rehired” at other agencies.
Just days after that law took effect, Dustin Terry resigned from the Shenandoah police force, where he had worked for three years. When he quit, Terry specifically told his superiors not to inform him of the outcome of their recent investigation into an excessive force complaint filed against him by a fellow officer.
He would later say this was his way of protecting his reputation and his credibility: He could truthfully say he quit without knowing of any pending disciplinary action.
Terry was working the overnight shift on July 13, when he responded to a call about a breaking-and-entering complaint. He later reported that he stopped and talked to a man, Toby Pritchett, who had a warrant out for his arrest due to a felony drug charge and a probation revocation.
Pritchett “took off on his bicycle,” Terry said in his written report, but was quickly apprehended. Pritchett “fought with me for a second and then gave up,” Terry wrote in his report, then was charged with possession of methamphetamine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
During the arrest, Terry was joined at the scene by fellow city police officers Michael Cisneros and Mitchell Nicholas, as well as Fremont County Deputy Matthew Volker.
The next day, Cisneros allegedly told a police sergeant that while on the previous evening’s call, Terry had violated the police department’s policies on pursuit and the use of force. Terry was placed on administrative leave and an investigation was launched.
According to a recent ruling by Iowa Workforce Development Administrative Law Judge Daniel Zeno, the city quickly concluded that Terry had, in fact, violated the department’s policies on pursuit, the use of force, and the use of deadly force.
On July 17, the city’s assistant chief of police called Terry and asked him to come in to discuss the findings of the investigation. Zeno’s ruling indicates Terry then met with the police chief, the assistant chief, and the city administrator, at which point the assistant chief said he could inform Terry of the investigation’s outcome, but that if he did so, Terry would lose the option of resigning.
Terry said he was resigning, after which the assistant chief allegedly offered to share the outcome of the investigation. According to Zeno’s ruling, Terry declined the offer, saying he wanted to “maintain his credibility” so he could get a different job with another law enforcement agency.
Terry subsequently filed a request for unemployment benefits. The city challenged that request, which led to the hearing before Zeno, who recently ruled that Terry “voluntarily quit for the sake of his reputation” and was therefore ineligible for benefits.
In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Terry said his chosen method of resigning was intended to “save my reputation and my future in law enforcement.”
The situation raises the question of whether an Iowa police officer can preserve his employability by simply refusing to be informed of his or her pending termination.
Possibly. The new law that’s designed to prevent accused officers from bouncing from one police agency to the next applies to officers facing termination for “serious misconduct” — a term that’s defined as including “repeated acts” of excessive force. There’s no public record of Terry having a prior history of excessive force, so the new law might not even apply to him.
Shenandoah City Administrator A.J. Lyman and Police Chief Josh Gray declined to comment on Terry’s actions or the circumstances leading up to his resignation, calling it a confidential personnel matter. Under Iowa law, “the reasons and rationale” for the resignation of a police officer in lieu of termination is considered to be a public record.
The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy has a form that cities are to fill out when an officer’s status with a police department changes. The city is to state whether the officer resigned, was fired or quit in lieu of being terminated. The form also calls for the city to state the reasons behind the officer’s departure.
Lyman and Gray say they informed the academy only that Terry “resigned” and did not inform the academy of the excessive-force investigation, adding that the form they used is different from the one now posted on the academy’s website.
Terry says his Iowa law enforcement certification has not been revoked by the state and he’s still looking for a job in policing — though he acknowledges that may be more difficult now that the investigation into his conduct is a matter of public record.
“The only reason the findings came out was because I appealed the unemployment claim,” Terry says. “I was heavily pressured to resign, and my main concern at the time was my future career in law enforcement.”
Terry denied the excessive force allegations and claimed he had been “targeted” by his superiors.