IOWA CITY — One month before federal investigators detained a former University of Iowa medical student they suspected of pursuing the murder-for-hire of a UI medical dean, UI police received a call that the man had a gun on campus and was threatening to kill himself.
Steven Anthony Arce, 35, who was in the Medical Education Research Facility, told a witness he would kill himself “if I flunk this test,” according to UI Department of Public Safety documents.
After police checked on Arce’s welfare, they released him “with advice from medical staff” and with a plan to forward information for a follow-up. A UI police detective, according to the federal criminal complaint, told investigators Arce was allowed to leave that day after determining he wasn’t a threat to himself.
The university, in response to a request from The Gazette for records related to Arce, provided only the Dec. 14, 2018, threatened suicide report. The UI redacted most of it, citing confidentiality laws.
Officials didn’t say if police found a gun in Arce’s possession that day, or how they followed up with him.
Having started as a graduate student in the UI Carver College of Medicine in May 2017, Arce’s status changed to former student by December 2018, according to UI officials. They didn’t provide details.
Two months earlier, on Oct. 3, 2018, Arce was arrested in Black Hawk County on suspicion of drunken driving and carrying weapons.
On Dec. 21, 2018, one week after the suicide threat, investigators believe Arce illegally sold an AR15 rifle for $1,000 to a felon, a police informer who had started providing information about Arce in November 2018.
The informer wore a wire and recorded a conversation during which Arce asked about hiring someone to kill a UI medical professor, according to the criminal complaint. In providing more information about the intended target, Arce wrote on a yellow sticky note: “Christopher Cooper Carver College of Medicine MD Urology,” according to District Court search warrants.
University officials confirmed for The Gazette the campus took extra steps to ensure the safety of Cooper, senior associate dean for medical education and urology professor. Cooper said in an email he was “incredibly grateful” to the campus, local and federal officials on the case.
“We are fortunate that these dedicated individuals are willing to work in a dangerous world for our protection,” he said. “Unlike my profession, the majority of these caring professionals rarely receive recognition or thanks for the service they provide. I think what these people are doing on a daily basis is heroic and inspirational and in my opinion is the major story here that might be of interest and comfort and inspiration to your readers.”
At one point, Arce pressed pause on the plot, records show, because he had an upcoming appeal hearing with the medical college. In suggesting the delay, Arce asked the informer whether they could nonetheless intimidate Cooper into letting “Arce back into medical school,” records show.
Arce, the informer and the undercover agent met Jan. 3 to discuss plans and Arce suggested killing his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend instead, according to authorities. He noted he might eventually want Cooper killed, but “that would be at a later time.”
Arce told the agent he would pay one automatic rifle up front and one after the murder. He also talked about an automatic Uzi he was building, records show.
Authorities arrested Arce on Jan 14 on two counts of knowingly transferring or selling a firearm to a prohibited person. They have not filed charges on the murder-for-hire allegations.
Arce, who remains in custody, has a jury trial scheduled for April 8.
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