Government

Fired DCI agent's whistle-blowing claim heads back to court

Larry Hedlund reported SUV carrying Branstad was going 'hard 90'

Larry Hedlund
Larry Hedlund

The Iowa Supreme Court says Larry Hedlund, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent fired in 2013, has a right to make a whistleblower claim because his termination happened after he complained about troopers not pulling over a speeding sport utility vehicle carrying then-Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and then-Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

This one aspect of a three-pronged appeal will go back to Polk County District Court for review, according to a ruling released Friday.

‘Defendants ... contend that Hedlund is nothing more than a ‘chronic complainer’ and that his disclosures are not whistle-blowing.” the majority opinion said.

“Hedlund’s April 29 email recounted ‘the [well-known] dangers of traveling at a high rate of speed’ and how the speeding state vehicle ‘can quickly put others at risk’,” the ruling states. “This information is not some trivial matter or a subjective disagreement with the actions of a supervisor; the disclosures could reasonably evidence ‘a violation of law or rule, mismanagement, a gross abuse of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety’.”

Hedlund, who worked at the Iowa Department of Public Safety for 25 years, filed a lawsuit in August 2013 against the state and administrators.

Hedlund had been off duty April 26, 2013, and driving east on Highway 20 to Fort Dodge when he spotted a state-owned SUV driving a “hard 90” in a 65-mph zone. Hedlund called in the speeding vehicle, but state troopers decided not to pull over the driver because they determined the SUV was carrying Branstad and Reynolds, The Gazette has reported.

Hedlund complained to his supervisors about the decision and several other unrelated matters, including “supervisors’ condoned misuse of agent time off and the encouragement to ignore lawfully issued parking citations,” the ruling states.

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The court determined these were issues that could construe a “type of wrongdoing” and the District Court should consider whether his actions trigger whistleblower protections.

The high court agreed with the lower court Hedlund did not have viable claims for age discrimination or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to a department termination letter. Hedlund’s firing in 2013 was for insubordination, using a disrespectful tone to his supervisor and driving a state car on his day off. A state investigation showed Branstad and his staff did not influence the firing.

Trooper Steve Lawrence later was given a $181 speeding ticket in connection with the April 26, 2013, incident on Highway 20. Branstad pledged troopers driving him around the state would no longer speed, but another trooper transporting the governor and lieutenant governor was stopped for speeding in August 2013.

• Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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