IOWA CITY — The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office asked prosecutors whether it was appropriate to file criminal charges against University of Iowa Interim Public Safety Director Dave Visin for his apparent hindrance of an investigation last summer involving his stepson.
“We asked for an examination by the county attorney to see if they thought there was a probable cause to file an interference charge, and they said, ‘No,’” Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek told The Gazette on Tuesday. “What we want or didn’t want is irrelevant,”
Over the summer, Visin became involved in a Sheriff’s Office investigation of Sean Crane, 33, who is Visin’s stepson.
Deputies suspected that Crane on June 25 crashed his truck into two cars in a parking lot outside the Eagle Club, where Visin told investigators he had met Crane earlier that day, according to documents described by the Associated Press.
Witnesses reported the hit-and-run and, connecting Crane’s truck to the crash, deputies visited his home that night — just as Visin and Crane left in Visin’s truck, according to the AP report.
When 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 and left before officers arrived.
During his phone conversation with Kunkel, Visin said he needed to get home to drop off a trailer. Visin, in a later conversation with an AP reporter, blamed his actions on diabetes, which he said he was hiding to avoid discrimination.
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Officers later arrested Crane on a drunken driving count, and Kunkel told superiors he believed Visin interfered with his investigation and lied.
Pulkrabek told The Gazette that Kunkel was “bent out of shape” about Visin’s involvement, and the sheriff said he defends his deputies, “especially when I believe they’re right.”
“I don’t have a problem with how he handled it,” Pulkrabek said about Kunkel’s phone call to Visin and his subsequent complaints.
According to emails obtained by The Gazette, Visin met with both Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness and Sheriff Pulkrabek in early July — days after the incident. After those meetings, Visin emailed Kunkel saying Pulkrabek suggested he reach out “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.”
That note did not mention Visin’s diabetes or a need to drop off a trailer on the night in question.
“Lonnie (sic) suggested I write you a letter and let you take it for what it is worth,” Visin wrote in the email. “I am going out of town for a couple of days and I want to spend some extra time on this. Many of these details are embarrassing to my family, but I think you have a right to know.”
About his meeting with Visin in July, Pulkrabek said he can’t remember what was said.
“We had a conversation,” Pulkrabek said. “I made him aware of what the deputy informed me of, which was put in his report. … It was a cordial conversation.”
The sheriff said he doesn’t think the incident involving Visin would prevent the agencies from working together in the future.
“I think we’re all professionals, and I think we all have a job to do,” he said.
When asked, however, if Visin’s actions created trust issues, Pulkrabek said, “I trust members of the University of Iowa law enforcement agency.”
In response to The Gazette’s request for comment, Visin said Tuesday that “I am at a point where I am not going to discuss this situation. I believe it has been covered enough.”
In his email to Kunkel, Visin said about the letter he planned to write, “I would hope you would take the time to listen.”
“I never thought I would have to be dealing with family who would do things like this, nor be in a situation where I cannot solve a problem,” he wrote. “I try to separate myself when it gets bad, only to reach out at times to make it better.”
Visin also conceded that he would have felt the same way as Kunkel, if he had been the responding officer.
“But I want to let you know I never intended to have you feel I disrespected you in any way,” he wrote.
In its report, the Associated Press wrote that Lyness initially refused its request for investigative reports related to the incident and produced them only after a threat of a complaint accusing her of violating open records laws.
Lyness has not responded to repeated emails and phone calls from The Gazette.
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Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman on Tuesday said all nine regents learned of the situation in the press this week, and they have no information other than what was reported.
“The Board does not have any additional comment,” he said.
Visin took over as interim director in January 2015 after former Director Chuck Green announced his retirement. Visin has had the “interim” title ever since, as former UI President Sally Mason announced her retirement at the same time and officials wanted her successor to have a say in administrative vacancies.
UI President Bruce Harreld took office in November and last week received approval from the Board of Regents to remove the “interim” label from Vice President of Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz’s title. Visin — along with two other interim administrators — report to Lehnertz’s position, which is why UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said decisions regarding those jobs have been on hold.
“No specific timeline has been established for decisions regarding those interim positions,” she said.
Visin, who had served as the UI public safety department’s associate director since 2006, earned $125,233 in his interim director role in the 2015 budget year. In that role, he oversees about 75 employees, including 25 police officers and 19 security officers.
Kim Wadding, assistant director of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, said the state has had officers with diabetes and it has not been a problem in the workplace “as long as it’s treatable and being monitored.” He said applying officers who pass the standard tests receive conditional job officers pending background checks, medical assessments and polygraph exams.
“A lot of officers have a lot of other medical situations,” Wadding said, adding that they shouldn’t hinder a person’s employment as long as they’re controllable and don’t interfere with central functions of the job.
About the ethics involved with one agency inferring with another agency’s investigation, Wadding said, typically, “there is an investigation that is ongoing.”
“So I don’t want to offer an opinion,” he said.