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Crime

Former officers file wrongful termination lawsuit

Harlan Tribune of Harlan, Iowa

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HARLAN - Two former Harlan police officers have filed separate lawsuits against The City of Harlan and city officials, claiming they were wrongfully terminated from their positions in February, 2007.

Bradley E. Wendt and Aaron Holtz allege their terminations were retaliation for their participation in an alleged investigation of city attorney Joe Lauterbach by the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board, according to a petition filed in Shelby County District Court Jan. 26.

Besides the city, Lauterbach, Harlan Police Chief Frank Clark and Harlan City Administrator Terry Cox were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs' court documents say the two former officers were contacted by an investigator with the disciplinary board regarding an investigation into Lauterbach, and both fully cooperated with the investigation. The documents allege they were terminated in retaliation for their participation in the investigation.

A search by the Harlan Newspapers revealed no such investigative case under the Iowa Supreme Court Disciplinary dockets.

Background

Wendt and Holtz were fired from the police force Feb. 5, 2007. City officials said at the time the mayor, council and administrative officers of the city and police department came to the decision to terminate the officers, but offered no specific reasons as to their termination.

Officials did say at the time they had been reviewing the situation for months. "They just don't work here anymore," said Cox. "We felt this was the best for the City of Harlan and police department. Things just didn't work out."

At the time, both officers said they would fight the terminations and work to clear their names.

Lawsuit basis

In the lawsuits filed last week, both Wendt and Holtz say they were wrongfully terminated, and claim the defendants violated the Iowa Whistleblower Statute,

In court documents, both say they were contacted by the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board in mid-December, 2006, regarding an investigation of Lauterbach. They cooperated with the investigation, court documents said, and alleged Lauterbach, Clark and Cox were aware of that cooperation.

"Clark and the Harlan Police Department often consulted with Lauterbach when making major decisions, including employment decisions regarding the Harlan Police Department," the petition says. "Wendt and fellow officer, Aaron Holtz...were the only Harlan Police Department officers interviewed regarding Lauterbach's alleged misconduct.

"On February 5, 2007, defendants terminated Wendt's and Holtz's employment with the Harlan Police Department.

"Chief Clark, City Administrator Cox and City Attorney Lauterbach used the instrumentalities, prerogatives and discretion of the offices with which they were entrusted by the City of Harlan to injure and damage plaintiff," the petitions said.

The former officers allege in the petition that they "reasonably believed the information.... disclosed evidenced a violation of law or rule, mismanagement, a gross abuse of funds, an abuse of authority, and/or a substantial and specific danger to public safety," the petitions said.

The lawsuits seek damages for injuries, for reinstatement and other appropriate equitable relief, interest, fees, costs and expenses.

City officials referred all questions about the lawsuits to counsel, yet to be named.



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Original Publication Date: February 3, 2009



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