IOWA CITY - The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy hired an instructor even though he had been demoted from his previous job for harassing a female cadet, the academy's director confirmed Tuesday in the latest questionable personnel decision revealed at the institution.
The Ankeny Police Department downgraded Curtis Pote from sergeant to officer in 2011, after a 26-year-old officer candidate reported that he texted her a picture of himself shirtless and repeatedly requested a similar photograph of her. Pote was hired by ILEA the next year to teach about several subjects, including domestic violence, for a job partially supported by federal Violence Against Women Act funding.
His hiring, over 55 other candidates, raises more questions for the institution that trains officers, dispatchers and jailers statewide under the motto, "Professionalism through training." The academy's assistant director, Michael Quinn, was barred from working on the Violence Against Women Act grant earlier this year after female recruits and employees reported he repeatedly made sexual comments. Pote also stopped teaching about domestic violence under the grant this summer.
Advocates for rape and domestic violence victims asked Gov. Terry Branstad last month to review the academy's hiring practices after The Associated Press reported on Quinn's misconduct. The groups have been disappointed by the silence of Branstad, who appointed Arlen Ciechanowski as academy director after complaining about its former director's management during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
"I don't understand why we haven't heard anything from the governor's office. This revelation about Mr. Pote is exactly what we were inquiring about," said Perry Police Chief Dan Brickner, board chair of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Ciechanowski told the AP that Pote's demotion was uncovered through a background check authorized after Pote was deemed the top candidate for the instructor job. A Division of Criminal Investigation agent interviewed the woman who received the text messages and other colleagues about Pote.
Ciechanowski said he was satisfied the text messages were "an isolated incident" that would not happen again. He said they didn't cause him to take another look at the 16 other qualified candidates who were interviewed.
"We had just decided that Curtis would fit that role perhaps better than the rest of them," he said.
Ciechanowski rejected suggestions that his personnel decisions have created a hostile environment for women and saw no reason to review them, saying he carefully follows state hiring procedures.
Pote, 37, didn't mention he had been a sergeant in his cover letter or resume when applying, records show. But he said he disclosed his demotion, when asked, during discussions with Ciechanowski and Quinn.
"I will say that I made an error in judgment but that I have moved on," Pote told the AP, adding that he considered himself a highly qualified instructor.
According to the woman's written statement about the text messages, Pote met her while she was applying to become an Ankeny officer. Her then-boyfriend was an officer who reported to Pote, who started sending her texts asking about her personal interests. She answered his questions and sent a picture after he requested one to use with her contact information, not wanting to offend him during the application process.
He sent her a picture of himself in uniform and then one shirtless the next day, saying it was her turn to send a photo. Pote became defensive after she declined to send one, she wrote.
"Sgt. Pote continued to text me asking for a photo and in one text implied he thought he could trust me to send one," she wrote. "I was completely uncomfortable and felt the situation had gotten out of control."
The woman complained to her boyfriend, who confronted Pote.
Ankeny Police Chief Gary Mikulec said he demoted Pote from sergeant to officer so he would no longer have direct supervision or training responsibilities of other employees.
"I took very firm, decisive and strong action so that there would not be a repeat of any problems again," he told the AP.
Mikulec said he recalled speaking "rather honestly and candidly" about Pote's demotion with Ciechanowski before ILEA hired him.
At the time, Quinn, the academy's assistant director, was under investigation because female recruits and employees had complained that he made inappropriate sexual and violent remarks. Quinn, 70, asked females taking a sex abuse investigation class whether "penis size matters," talked about his sex life, and said that his "package is on ice" after he underwent a vasectomy.
He also warned instructor Nancy Brady, who had filed a complaint about his remarks, that he would "slit your throat" if she spent too much time talking at the front desk.
Ciechanowski warned Quinn but let him keep his $91,000 per-year job. He later downplayed an AP report that showed Quinn was hired at the academy in 2000, after he'd been asked to resign from his previous job when a female subordinate accused him of harassment and bullying. Meanwhile, Ciechanowski fired Brady in January, claiming she was a workplace threat, which she has denied.
Outraged after learning of Quinn's behavior, the state Crime Victim Assistance Division barred him from working with the Violence Against Women Act grant funding, which it administers. The division was unaware of concerns about Pote, but also removed funding for Pote's salary from the grant out of a desire to start over with employees who'd been carefully vetted, division director Janelle Melohn said.