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University of Iowa police officer fired days before deployment, UI says due to illegal search

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) — A former University of Iowa police officer that is suing officials with the UI Department of Public Safety says he was wrongfully fired days before he was deployed. The university says it didn’t involve the deployment but an illegal search.

The former UI officer, Jeffrey Williams, is a member of the National Guard. In a lawsuit by Williams against UI Director of Public Safety Scott Beckner and Police Captain Mark Bullock, he claims he was illegally fired days before his deployment and that it violated his rights as a military veteran.

In the suit, Williams asks to be reinstated by the department.

“Officer Williams had the right to have notice of the charges against him. He had the right to only be terminated for misconduct or incompetency. The university has the burden to prove that by a preponderance of evidence. He had a right to have a hearing and none of those things happened,” William’s attorney, Sylar Limkemann, said in a phone interview.

In a summary provided in the court records, Beckner said Williams was afforded a hearing and was advised of charges against him.

Newly public court records from the university say Williams was fired because of an incident that stems from an illegal search at Catlett Residence Hall.

On that day, April 14, documents say that UI dorm staff contacted UI police about drugs found in a student’s room.

Those same documents state Williams then entered the room when the students were not there. Court records go on to say Williams then searched through personal belongings and confiscated drugs.

“This was not a case where he charged anybody or he arrested anybody. All he did was search the immediate area of where illegal items and contraband were found in plain view by residence staff,” Limkemann said.

Williams’ search methods were reportedly questioned by the dorm employee, to whom Williams claimed to have 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.”

The documents submitted in the case, say the actions and words were captured on Williams’ body camera.

Williams reportedly also left a business card that said, “I took your weed.”

Beckner said Williams actions violate the 4th amendment and the school’s search and seizure policy, which requires a warrant to search the personal property. Williams, a ten-year police veteran, argues he is accused of violating a “vague policy”.

Beckner also wrote, in the report, that Williams’ conduct was unprofessional.

“It is my belief that Officer Williams was maliciously conducting an illegal search. His actions, demeanor, and statements were not professional,” Becker writes.

Limkemann argues differently.

“That’s their opinion. They don’t have a single ruling from a judge, there’s no case law, no stature and there’s no policy that says what Mr. Williams did was illegal. Period. That is Director Beckner’s opinion,” he said.

In Beckner’s report, he added that Williams didn’t have a sense of wrongdoing and that suggests the behavior would continue.

“The position of the University and the position of Officer Williams cannot be mitigated. The University is seeking to uphold Officer William’s termination,” Beckner wrote. “Officer Williams’s position is so steadfast that he did nothing wrong.”

Limkemann said that’s because he and his client believe he didn’t do anything wrong.

Williams is currently still deployed overseas. Limkemann said due to military confidentiality and security he cannot say where Williams is deployed.

Limkemann said the case is expected to move forward later this spring or when Williams returns to the United States.

The university’s housing contract from 2017-18 states students have a right against unreasonable entry, search and seizure. It adds that university officials may enter if there’s a perceived risk to safety or health, suspicion of a policy violation, or a search warrant from an officer.

Hayley Bruce, a spokesperson with the university, reiterated the university’s stance on the decision in a statement.

“The University of Iowa terminated Mr. Williams following an investigation that resulted in a founded complaint of an improper search and seizure and additional violations of departmental standards of conduct. It was not related to his deployment,” it said.