116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A former Iowa City police officer is suing the city, saying he was “coerced” into resigning in February after the police chief told him he had two hours to submit his resignation or he would be fired.
The city said Friday that Officer Emilio Puente “resigned in lieu of termination for misconduct,” noting the officer had been under investigation for his conduct while breaking up a fight in downtown Iowa City in November.
Puente, 24, an Iowa City officer for about three years, claims in the lawsuit he resigned “under duress” and wants his resignation letter rescinded, which the city refused to do April 15.
He states in the lawsuit filed last week that senior co-workers told him if he didn’t resign, he wouldn’t be allowed to work in law enforcement again.
Puente also stated he was unaware a resignation would end his compensation for a nerve injury he received to one of his legs while dealing with a bar fight Nov. 21.
Puente said he was still off duty with the injury when police Chief Dustin Liston called him into his office Feb. 3 to discuss an inquiry that started in January regarding Puente’s actions while arresting a man who resisted arrest Nov. 7.
Liston told Puente he had two hours to submit his resignation or his employment would be terminated. Puente stated he didn’t have a lawyer and took the advice of his co-workers and resigned.
City officials, in a statement Friday, said Puente was involved in a call for service Nov. 12, instead of Nov. 7, as stated in the lawsuit, in downtown Iowa City. The police department launched a formal review of Puente’s conduct after receiving a “bystander video of the incident.”
“Following the investigation, Officer Puente resigned in lieu of termination for misconduct on Feb. 3, 2022,” according to the statement. “Because this matter is the subject of pending litigation, the city of Iowa City cannot comment further.”
According to court documents, the charge of harassment of a public official or employee was dismissed against Jasper Verrohn Kennell Washington, 27, of Iowa City, whom Puente and other officers arrested Nov. 12.
The city also released a video of the incident. In the video, Puente, the officer on the right with his back to the camera, seems to punch Washington twice while he’s on the ground with another officer on top of him.
A criminal complaint stated officers were flagged down for a fight at Pints bar.
When officers arrived, the participants were separated, and officers gave Washington a chance to leave, but he refused and walked away when they asked for identification. Washington then fought officers trying to handcuff him after being told he was going to jail.
Washington admitted to drinking earlier in the night and consented to preliminary breath test that showed 0.083 blood alcohol content.
Washington pleaded guilty to two charges — public intoxication and interference with official acts, both simple misdemeanors — and received deferred judgments and probation for one year.
Civil service appeal
The lawsuit stated Puente had filed an appeal with the Iowa City Service Commission in an attempt to withdraw his resignation and be reinstated.
According to the commission’s May 5 agenda packet the city asked the commission to dismiss Puente’s appeal.
By law, the city said, Puente’s appeal had to be filed within 14 days after his “removal, discharge, demotion or suspension,” which would have been Feb. 17.
In the commission documents, the city stated Puente was given notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing on Feb. 1, and it stated Puente was entitled to have a lawyer, union representative or other department employee at this hearing, according to the city’s document.
On Feb. 3, after the meeting with Liston, Puente submitted his resignation, which Liston accepted that day. Union representatives coordinated the return of Puente’s city property.
Puente’s resignation letter, included with the city’s documents, thanks Liston for the opportunity to have served as an officer and thanks him for his time during their Feb. 3 meeting.
“I believe it is in the best interest and the best interest of the Iowa City Police Department to tender my resignation at this time,” Puente wrote.
Peter Sand, Puente’s lawyer, made a written request to the city to rescind his client’s resignation letter and reinstate his employment April 13, according to the city.
Iowa City Attorney Eric Goers, on behalf of the city and Liston, declined the request.
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