IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has replaced its interim director of public safety, Dave Visin, after news broke this week of his alleged attempts to interfere with a Johnson County sheriff’s investigation of his stepson.
Rod Lehnertz, vice president for finance and operations, said he’s appointed Lucy Wiederholt to serve as interim director in Visin’s place. Wiederholt is a 30-year veteran who has served as associate director and UI police chief since 2010. Visin, has returned to his previous position as associate director in charge of compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act, departmental reporting, and support services.
“The decision to appoint Wiederholt was made to allow the UI department of public safety to remain focused on the work of creating a safe environment for our students, faculty, and staff,” Lehnertz said in a statement.
Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness over the summer met with Visin and Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek to discuss the June 25 incident, during which Visin is accused of driving his stepson, Sean Crane, away from authorities and refusing to stop when a deputy called his cellphone and asked him to pull over.
Lyness also spoke with Lehnertz in July about the incident, according to emails obtained by The Gazette. But she declined to file charges, according to Pulkrabek.
“What we want or didn’t want is irrelevant,” Pulkrabek told The Gazette.
Lehnertz, in a statement Friday, confirmed Lyness contacted him regarding the incident and indicated “their findings revealed no cause for any charges or action against Visin.” Lehnertz said Visin also independently disclosed information about the incident to Lehnertz.
“I reviewed the matter with UI legal counsel and departmental human resources,” Lehnertz said. “There were no legal actions or university policies violated, and based on the information shared with me at the time, I determined this was an internal personnel matter.”
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The university has started a formal search for a new assistant vice president and director of public safety. No timeline was given for how long that process might take.
About Wiederholt, who has been managing the department’s law enforcement division and its 35 officers, Lehnertz said, she “brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the position.”
“She and I will work closely to continue to ensure the safety of the university community during this interim period,” says Lehnertz.
Wiederholt said she’s honored to serve as interim director.
“We have a dedicated and talented team of officers who are committed to creating a safe environment for our students, faculty, and staff,” she said in a statement.
Visin had served as the UI public safety department’s associate director since 2006 before he was promoted to interim director in January 2015 following former director Chuck Green’s retirement. Visin made $125,233 in his interim director role in the 2015 budget year. Before that appointment, he made $100,459, according to 2014 statistics in the state salary book.
As interim director, Visin oversaw about 75 employees, including 25 police officers and 19 security officers.
UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the university can’t confirm whether Visin stepped down from his leadership role voluntarily or whether he was asked to do so, calling it a personnel matter.
The incident in question occurred June 25, after Visin and his stepson Crane, 33, met at the Eagles Club bar in Iowa City. According to a sheriff’s office report, deputies suspected Crane crashed his truck into cars in a parking lot outside the bar after witnesses reported the hit-and-run.
Deputies visited Crane’s home that night, just as Visin and Crane left his Visin’s truck. When sheriff’s deputy Brad Kunkel reached Visin by phone minutes later and asked him to pull over, Visin refused and instead dropped Crane off at a gas station — leaving before officers arrived.
During his phone conversation with Kunkel, Visin said he needed to get home to drop off a trailer. During a later conversation with a news reporter, Visin blamed his actions on diabetes, which he said he was hiding to avoid discrimination.
In emails obtained by The Gazette this week, Visin shortly after the incident tried to explain himself to Kunkel — but never mentioned diabetes.
“Lonnie (sic) thought I should reach out to you to provide an explanation of the entire situation with my stepson and the battles with substance abuse that my wife and I have been trying to address with him and our efforts to protect our granddaughter during this yearlong situation,” Visin wrote to Kunkel on July 8.
Officers later arrested Crane on a drunken driving charge, and Kunkel told superiors Visin interfered with his investigation and lied. Pulkrabek told The Gazette this week that he defends his deputies, “especially when I believe they’re right.”
The sheriff told The Gazette he doesn’t think the incident involving Visin would prevent the agencies from working together in the future. But when asked if Visin’s actions created trust issues, Pulkrabek said, “I trust members of the University of Iowa law enforcement agency.”
According to emails, Pulkrabek suggested Visin write Kunkel a letter to explain himself. Visin did that, the emails indicate, and then followed up with Kunkel on July 30.
“After struggling writing a 5-page single-spaced typed letter and having unsure what your response would be, I was wondering if it would be better if you would be willing to meet with me and talk about it,” Visin wrote. “I wanted to give you my assurances that I had to make some tough choices in dealing with my family members to make sure an incident like this does not repeat itself.”
Kunkel responded by declining Visin’s offer to meet.
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“The decisions you made that day were poor, and you are the one who has to deal with whatever ramifications there are down the road,” Kunkel wrote. “I don’t feel like you disrespected me; I stand by everything I said to you that day, and I treated you like anyone else in the same situation.”
Kunkel said the incident “was just part of another day at work for me because, as you know, the police deal with people who make bad decisions and lie to them every day.”
“I’ve moved past this, and you should too,” he wrote.
Visin responded with more explanation of his actions, saying his stepson purposefully deceived him — in part — by hiding injuries he suffered during the accident.
“I refused to provide him any assistant after I had knowledge of what was going on,” Visin said. “It has been a yearlong struggle with failed rehabs, excuses, lies, domestics, and threats of institutionalization. I do not wish this on anyone.”
The Gazette requested the university provide emails about the summer incident sent to or from Visin, former UI President Sally Mason, former interim UI President Jean Robillard, UI President Bruce Harreld, and several administrators within the public safety department.
UI officials said they had no emails sent or received before this week — except one, which they withheld citing privacy laws.
When asked about the incident during an unrelated event in Des Moines earlier this week, Harreld told Radio Iowa the situation was closed as far as he was concerned.
“We’ve talked to the county … they say to us there’s no basis for any criminal action or legal action whatsoever,” Harreld told Radio Iowa. “We’ve looked at it relative to our own policies … it seems there’s no there, there. If something surfaces, then of course we will take a deeper look. Right now, we’ve done all the work, and there is nothing there.”
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Lyness did not answer questions from The Gazette about why her office chose not to file charges against Visin.