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University of Iowa officer named in lawsuits is a defendant in separate case

Administrators 'covered up performance issues with younger employees,' suit says

University of Iowa Police Captain Mark Bullock takes a phone call on the sidelines during a football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City in 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
University of Iowa Police Captain Mark Bullock takes a phone call on the sidelines during a football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City in 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Captain Mark Bullock, one of the younger University of Iowa public safety administrators identified as having received preferential treatment in a trio of age-discrimination lawsuits, is a defendant in a separate case alleging he broke the law by unlawfully terminating an officer who had been called to military duty.

Jeffrey Williams, who worked as a UI police officer from July 2016 until his termination in May 2018, in January received deployment orders to the Middle East with the Air National Guard, according to a lawsuit he filed in May in Johnson County District Court.

Before he arrived for his last shift on April 19, according to the lawsuit, Bullock entered Williams’ locker and seized his firearm, ammunition, badge and other equipment.

Williams contacted Bullock about the missing equipment, and Bullock — who also took the officer’s duty rifle, police ID, weapons permit and credentials — placed Williams on paid administrative leave.

Bullock, under direction from UI Department of Public Safety Director Scott Beckner, launched an internal investigation related to a search Williams performed days earlier involving drug paraphernalia found at a residence hall, according to the lawsuit.

But the department received no complaint about Williams’ involvement in the search, and his record had been “spotless” before his termination on May 3, according to the lawsuit.

Williams in his lawsuit accuses Bullock and Beckner of violating Iowa veterans’ laws. That case is ongoing — with a judge over the summer intervening after the university failed to meet deadlines. But earlier this month, the department was slapped with three more lawsuits describing a corrosive culture within the department — alleging Beckner, among other things, treats “younger, white male employees more favorably than employees protected by the Iowa Civil Rights Act.”

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The lawsuits accuse department administrators of perpetuating a climate of discrimination, favoritism, retaliation and disregard for rules, noting their refusal to “order internal affairs investigations on younger, male employees who were reported to have violated department or university policies, as well as state law.”

The three lawsuits filed by former Associate Director of Public Safety William Searls, 57, former Capt. Ian Scott, 54, and former Capt. Loren Noska, 51, target as defendants Beckner, Associate Director David Visin and Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz.

But they name Bullock throughout as one of the younger officers promoted swiftly through the ranks despite his lack of experience and education and in disregard of “performance issues.”

“Beckner and Lehnertz have covered up performance issues with younger employees, such as Visin and Bullock,” according to the lawsuit.

Visin, 49, while serving as acting director of UI public safety in early 2016, was accused by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office of interfering with and obstructing an investigation involving his stepson.

In connection with that incident, according to the recent lawsuits, Visin was accused of destroying and withholding documents subject to open-records laws.

The Johnson County Attorney’s Office opted not to file charges, and Lehnertz allowed Visin to stay with the department as associate director.

In his lawsuit alleging discrimination, former Associate Director Searls — who had been in law enforcement for 30 years and with UIPD for more than 10 until his termination in summer 2017 — said he met with Lehnertz at Pullman Lounge in 2016 and reported complaints, misconduct, mismanagement and safety issues, including some concerning Visin.

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Visin was behind the swift promotion in 2015 of Bullock, who had been on the job less than a year and had just a high school education. Without advertising for an open captain’s position, Visin moved Bullock into an interim captain role, before making the appointment permanent in August 2016.

“Bullock had a mere six months of experience as a supervisor, working as patrol sergeant,” according to Searls’ lawsuit. “Bullock never served as a lieutenant, which is the rank between captain and sergeant at DPS.”

The university hired Becker in summer 2016, and he earned more than $210,000 in the last budget year — making him the highest-paid peace officer in the state, according to the lawsuit. Shortly after he started, Beckner told Searls he was reorganizing but said “he would not cut anyone as part of the reorganization,” according to the lawsuit.

But on April 20, 2017, Beckner provided Searls with a letter eliminating his job as “a result of organizational realignment of resources and duties.”

The university, in response to the lawsuits, told The Gazette Beckner decided to reorganize “after careful review of the department’s governance structure, budget and priorities.”

The Gazette in August 2016 reported an internal audit had found a laundry list of shortcomings within the UI Department of Public Safety, prompting the new director to re-evaluate police patrols, job duties, billing and financial procedures, and training.

The university is in the middle of a wide-ranging review of its employment practices, after former UI athletics employees Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum won a $6.5 million settlement from UI in a gender-discrimination case.

It’s unclear whether that review will involve the UI Department of Public Safety.

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

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