Iowa Department of Public Safety rescinds patrol sergeant's firing, ending appeal

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FILE - In this file photo provided by the Iowa Department of Public Safety is Kevin Knebel. The Iowa Department of Public Safety has rescinded the firing of Knebel, a veteran state patrol supervisor, agreeing to reinstate him to a different job for one year to end an expensive disciplinary case. (AP Photo/Iowa Department of Public Safety, File)


IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa Department of Public Safety has rescinded the firing of a veteran state patrol supervisor, agreeing to reinstate him to a different job for one year to end an expensive disciplinary case.

The department on June 30 abandoned its 17-month misconduct case against Sgt. Kevin Knebel, former assistant commander of the Iowa State Patrol's post in Mason City, according to a settlement obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

Knebel's case was one of four disputed firings that happened during the tumultuous 11-month tenure of Commissioner K. Brian London, who resigned under pressure from Gov. Terry Branstad a year ago.

Commissioner Larry Noble agreed to a settlement that withdrew the department's termination of Knebel, but requires him to work for one year for the patrol in communications or technology based in Des Moines, about 115 miles from Mason City. Knebel must submit his resignation effective June 30, 2015, and the department has "the sole discretion" on whether to accept it, according to the settlement, obtained through the public records law.

The department paid Knebel, 52, roughly $118,000 in total salary while he wasn't working during a five-month misconduct investigation and then a yearlong termination proceeding. All along, he said he would have rather been on duty and that his removal was unfair after a spotless 20-year patrol career.

Knebel, who has an annual salary of $83,500, said he had no immediate comment Thursday.

Department spokesman Alex Murphy said, "The parties came to an amicable and mutually acceptable resolution to this dispute."

Three of the four employees fired under London have now been reinstated. The fourth, former Division of Criminal Investigation supervisor Larry Hedlund, has filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired in retaliation for pursuing a speeding state vehicle that was carrying Branstad.

The department had accused Knebel of not being truthful to officials about his actions on a night off with a friend.

Knebel said he went to a Mason City bar in October 2012 and that a friend, then-Clear Lake police officer Joel Vandekrol, met him there. The two later left for Clear Lake, 10 miles away, in Knebel's car. An officer saw them driving and reported it to Clear Lake's department because Vandekrol had called in sick that night, Knebel said.

Clear Lake investigated Vandekrol's absence and asked the patrol to get a statement from Knebel, who wrote a brief memo confirming he had been with Vandekrol. Knebel said he wasn't intoxicated and the memo didn't mention the two were driving.

The department removed Knebel from duty Jan. 28, 2013, putting him on paid administrative leave during a disciplinary investigation. Knebel said he didn't know for weeks what the department was looking into.

The department notified Knebel of his termination in June 2013, saying his memo "was not truthful or complete" and that he also lied to an internal affairs investigator. His termination notice said Knebel's actions "brought the department into disrepute and he brought discredit upon himself."

Knebel denied wrongdoing, saying he couldn't remember every detail of the evening when interviewed several months later. He argued the investigation was biased, saying his immediate supervisor had a grudge against him and that London was too quick to fire people.

Knebel hired Waterloo attorney Heather Prendergast to appeal his firing administratively. Under state law, fired Department of Public Safety supervisors retain their pay and benefits during appeals. His hearing was delayed several times. Prendergast and the Iowa Attorney's General's Office agreed to cancel a May 22 hearing, and finalized the settlement the next month.

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