Education

Records: UI officer fired over illegal search

But he asserts he was ousted just before Guard deployment

University of Iowa Police Capt. Mark Bullock watches as fans begin to enter at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
University of Iowa Police Capt. Mark Bullock watches as fans begin to enter at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A former University of Iowa police officer who served in the Air National Guard said he was fired from the campus force after he received deployment orders, but court records assert he was let go for conducting an illegal drug search in a residence hall.

Jeffrey Williams, 31, in a May lawsuit, accused UI Public Safety Director Scott Beckner and Capt. Mark Bullock of violating his veteran rights by firing him days before his deployment. But in court documents this month, administrators cite an illegal search, unprofessional behavior and lack of remorse as the real reasons.

“Based upon the evidence presented, the severity of the actions by Officer Williams, the impact it caused in breaking the trust of students, and the dramatic differences in each party’s respective positions, I find the termination shall stand,” Beckner wrote in a May 30 letter upholding the firing decision.

The director wrote that because Williams’ position is “so steadfast that he did nothing wrong,” there was an “overwhelming indication that he will continue to conduct searches in this manner.”

Neither Williams nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

The newly released records tell of Williams’ involvement in an April 14 search in the Catlett Residence Hall.

Dorm staff contacted UI police after encountering drugs and paraphernalia in a student room. When Williams arrived, according to footage from his body camera cited in records, he searched the dorm room by opening doors, pulling out drawers and unzipping bags.

UI policy requires adherence to federal search and seizure rules, meaning officers must obtain a search warrant or consent before going through personal items.

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During Williams’ search, according to the recording, he said, “I leave for deployment in a few days, so if they want to throw a fit over me, then they have to wait a while to deal with it.”

Williams left a note on a business card in a drawer he opened that read: “I took your weed.”

Residence hall staff expressed concern to Williams as the search was happening, with one noting, “We’ve never had DPS do a search of their belongings.” Williams replied: “I am because they’re not here, and I just don’t want to have to come back.”

During his search, he found a locked container attached by cable to a bed — prompting him to suspect more contraband related to possible drug distribution and sales.

But Williams acknowledged during a grievance hearing he didn’t search the container due to legal ramifications, and was considering returning later to “obtain consent to search the box from the residents when they were present.”

Though Williams said he was acting to protect the hall’s residents “from dangerous drugs and the noxious smell of marijuana,” the UI said he had never conducted a search without consent or a warrant before and “took no other action to protect the health and safety of the other Catlett Hall residents such as evacuating the area.”

The university sent an April 19 letter to Williams placing him on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

On May 3, Bullock sent Williams a letter notifying him the investigation had found he more likely than not had violated multiple policies. The letter notified Williams he was being fired immediately.

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Despite the newly-public evidence, Williams during the grievance process said he had not been advised about the specific policies he violated and that the department had not received a complaint about him.

He said Beckner never advised him of his expectations as an officer, and he demanded an apology.

Williams said in a statement in the record he was accused of violating a “vague policy” and thought he was “looking out for the well-being of thousands of residents of Catlett Hall that night.”

Beckner noted, however, that Williams had been thoroughly trained — having been a police officer for a decade and with the department for two years, during which time he’d been a firearms instructor, facilitator with the “Better Men Better Hawkeyes” program and member of the special response team.

Beckner, along with other UI administrators, is the target of three new lawsuits filed by former campus officers who accuse department administrators of age discrimination, among other things. In the suits, the officers say they were pushed out while younger officers including Bullock were promoted.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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