A state investigator fired Wednesday plans to sue the state for wrongful termination based on his belief he was fired for complaining state troopers didn't stop a speeding SUV carrying Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
Special Agent in Charge Larry Hedlund, a 25-year veteran investigator, had been lead investigator in the high-profile murders of two girls abducted from Evansdale in July 2012.
"This is not only a devastating blow to Larry Hedlund, but it's really a bad loss for the taxpayers of the state of Iowa," said Hedlund's attorney, Tom Duff. "If your child is missing or you are the victim of a crime, you would want Larry Hedlund on the case."
Hedlund was put on paid leave May 1, two days after writing an email to his supervisors complaining state troopers did not pull over a state-owned SUV clocked at 84 mph on U.S. Highway 20 on April 26. Hedlund spotted the speeding SUV and reported it to dispatch, which sent a trooper to follow the vehicle.
The trooper stopped pursuit when he determined the SUV was being driven by another trooper and was carrying Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety has said the leave, and subsequent discipline, were not related to Hedlund's complaint.
"While DPS is unable to provide additional information regarding the specific allegations of this investigation, SAC Hedlund, through his attorney, has already acknowledged the existence of potential work rule violations," DPS said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Hedlund's termination letter, which Duff provided The Gazette, says he was fired for “communicating negative and disrespectful messages” about DCI leaders in messages to his subordinate employees; addressing DCI Director Chari Paulson in a “disrespectful tone” during a conference call; and driving a state vehicle on his day off.
“After careful consideration, it is apparent that your employment with the Iowa Department of Public Safety has been counterproductive to the best interests of the Department,” Paulson wrote in the three-page letter. “Your actions and deportment represent behavior that is unacceptable and warrants discharge.”
The letter quotes from several messages Hedlund sent to subordinate employees.
- “Her [Director Paulson] position on this issue shows a glaring and fundamental lack of understanding and appreciation of what Agents do in the field."
- “… they are making plans to go backwards about 20 years with reports, in my opinion.”
- “If it [agents typing their own reports] continues it will only bolster the apparent plan to go that way 100% which to me is totally mindboggling.”
- “I can’t imagine that there is any perception in the chain of command as to the extent of bewilderment as some of the decisions being made, questions being asked, and the direction we appear to be headed.”
Paulson writes in the letter that Hedlund was deceptive about his work status on April 26, the day he spotted the governor’s vehicle speeding along U.S. 20 between Cedar Falls and Fort Dodge.
“You were deceptive about your work status on April 26, 2013, during a phone conversation with the DCI Director, informing her you were on vacation,” the letter states. “You later provided inconsistent accounts of that phone conversation during a subsequent administrative investigation.”
Duff said Hedlund was coming back from Cedar Rapids that day after a work-related meeting. He disputes these actions are grounds for termination.
"Take all three of these things and assume they are true -- which we don't agree -- should he have been disciplined in some way? Maybe." Duff said. "Does it justify termination of a 25-year employee? It seems disproportionate."
Duff said he plans to file a lawsuit against the state alleging wrongful termination and possibly age discrimination. Hedlund, 55, was paid $95,000, Duff said.
The firing effectively ends Hedlund's Iowa law enforcement career, Duff said. But the veteran agent may put his skills to use as a private investigator.