MASON CITY --- A clinical psychologist testified Tuesday that fired Mason City police officer Maria Ohl was unfit for duty because she feared she might be killed by fellow officers.

Also, an independent investigator testified Ohl broke several department rules that led to her firing and there was no excuse for her actions.

The psychologist, investigator and Mason City Police Chief Mike Lashbrook all testified Tuesday, the first day of a Civil Service hearing on Ohl's appeal to get her job back.

Testimony resumes Friday in the Mason City Room at the public library.

Ohl, who is acting as her own attorney, was terminated on Aug. 4 for allegedly violating several department regulations in the handling of evidence related to the 1995 disappearance of KIMT morning anchor Jodi Huisentruit.

Ohl alleges two Mason City officers, Lt. Frank Stearns and Lt. Ron Vande Weerd, as well as retired Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation agent Bill Basler, were involved in Huisentruit's disappearance.

She also claims Lt. Logan Wernet was involved in a coverup concerning the 1999 murder of Gerald Best, a crime that remains unsolved.

Attorney Susan Bernau of Des Moines, who is representing the city, called Ohl's allegations "outrageous."

Ohl was placed on paid administrative leave in September 2010.

Eva Christiansen of Des Moines, the psychologist, testified she was asked to examine Ohl to determine her fitness for duty after Ohl was placed on paid administrative leave last year.

"She stated her safety and the safety of her family were at risk, that they might be killed by members of the Mason City Police Department," said Christiansen.

"Law enforcement is a team effort. You need to count on each other. If you are as scared that you are going to be shot by the person backing you up as by the person you are confronting, you are unable to serve," she said.

Neil Shultz, a retired investigator from Polk County, was hired by the city to conduct an internal affairs investigation into the department's allegations of Ohl's misconduct by violating department rules.

He said he interviewed Ohl and several others and determined her violations of department policies included neglect of duty, insubordination and interfering with an investigation.

Shultz told of how Ohl reportedly got information from an informant on the street in Mason City about police misconduct.

The information was picked up on a recording in her squad car. She later re-recorded the information on her personal recorder. She also told Shultz she secretly recorded a conversation she had with Lashbrook.

Shultz said the re-recording of the informant's tip and her failure to submit the recording as evidence represented misuse of evidence.

The secret recording of her conversation with Lashbrook represented insubordination, he said.

Ohl contends many of her actions were because she didn't know who to trust within the department.

Shultz said she should have filed a written report and run it up the chain of command.

Lashbrook testified for more than three hours.

He said he was first made aware of the allegations of police misconduct when Ohl was giving a deposition in 2010 in a case in which Christian Fellowship Church was suing the police department.

Ohl is a member of the church. The Rev. Shane Philpott, church pastor, is her brother-in-law.

In the deposition, she testified Philpott carried a gun because he needed it for protection from the Mason City Police Department.

She then disclosed she and Philpott believed Mason City officers were involved with homicides.

Lashbrook testified he was shocked by her disclosures and asked the deposition be halted.

He asked Ohl to come to his office the following day to tell him more about her allegations.

Lashbrook said Ohl informed him that Philpott had first received information in a 2007 telephone call from Donald Milk, a Minnesota man who said he had information about police misconduct.

The information included the possible site of Huisentruit's burial near a sawmill near Forest City.

The chief said he told her he was shocked she had not come forward with the information for three years.

Lashbrook said he informed DCI and FBI agents of her allegations. The DCI issued a news release Friday saying there was no credible evidence to link police officers or DCI agents in the Huisentruit disappearance.

Lashbrook said Ohl was terminated for violating several department rules including misuse of evidence, withholding information in a criminal case and insubordination.

Lashbrook testified Ohl had driven to a sawmill near Forest City that was the alleged Huisentruit burial site. She had not reported any information to police about the possible burial site at that time but acted on her own.

In her cross examination, she asked Lashbrook if driving to the sawmill on her own time was a violation of department policy. Lashbrook replied, "When you receive information which you consider credible and you act on it on your own, you're violating policy. There has to be structure. I can't have 48 officers doing that."

Lashbrook said when he learned of Ohl's allegations in 2010, he informed the DCI so an independent investigation could be done. In his testimony, he told Ohl, "I was mapping out a course of action you were privvy to and seemed comfortable with."

He also testified he never received information that Philpott was trying to provide information on the Huisentruit case prior to Ohl's deposition in 2010.

Philpott and Ohl claim Stearns, Vande Weerd and Capt. Dennis Bengston, now retired, were given the information in 2007 and never acted on it.

The Police Department has no record of Philpott contacting police in 2007.

Attorney Beth Hansen of Cedar Falls, who is presiding over the hearing, said she anticipates all testimony to be concluded Friday.

When the hearing ends, Commissioners Mike Svejda, Matt Dodge and Dan Conway will determine whether Ohl should be reinstated.

 

(4) comments

IowanAtheist
IowanAtheist

Perhaps she should reassess that whole 'representing herself' decision. She seems to simply be digging herself a deeper hole.

gramma of 2
gramma of 2

I would be afraid also. She probably isn't lying about it and that is why she fears for her life. Dirty cops are out there but they don't get caught as easy as others because they know how to cover things up.

iowa41
iowa41

While this woman may be a flake that should never have carried a gun,some of the reasons to fire her are suspect.I have seen some police officers ignore evidence because they assume they know everything and the case was only solved by someone who looked things over on their own time.Also if a bully of a cop or a crooked cop made others nervous then he could get rid of everyone below him that didn't blindly trust him.
It seems like the police tell kids to think for themselves when it comes to drugs and alcohol,and not succumb to peer pressure but the adults in the police force are supposed to follow along with the others.

Steady
Steady

[quote]gramma of 2 said: "I would be afraid also. She probably isn't lying about it and that is why she fears for her life. Dirty cops are out there but they don't get caught as easy as others because they know how to cover things up. "[/quote]

OR, maybe the dirty cop was the one who was fired and is now pointing the finger at others. This incident was looked at by at least 4 seperate agencies and NONE of them found truth in what she is saying. They didn't trust her because of her actions, not the actions of the other officers.

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