Ex-cop: Police covered up disappearance

Published 9:54 am Friday, September 2, 2011

Former officer says others possibly involved in TV anchor’s ’95 abduction

By John Skipper

Mason City Globe Gazette

MASON CITY — A former Mason City police officer said Thursday two Mason City police officers and a retired state DCI agent may have been involved in the abduction and possible murder of KIMT-TV news anchor Jodi Huisentruit.

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Further, she alleges police officials may be covering up what really happened by their failure to follow up on leads she has provided.

Maria Ohl, who was terminated from the police department last month, made the accusations while speaking to the media after a Civil Service Commission meeting at City Hall Thursday.

The commission set 9 a.m. Sept. 13 as a date for a hearing she requested concerning her termination.

Huisentruit, a KIMT morning anchor, disappeared in June 1995.

Ohl said she received credible information from an informant implicating Lt. Frank Stearns, Lt. Ron Vande Weerd and Bill Basler of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, who is now retired.

Ohl said she first received information in 2007 that police officers might have been involved in some way in the abduction. In 2009, she said, she received further information.

To her knowledge, nothing has been done with the information she supplied.

Ohl was put on paid administrative leave from the Police Department last year and was terminated Aug. 4. Ohl said the reason given for her termination was her handling of the Huisentruit information.

“All I want is for the truth to come out. I’m trying to get it out in the open so it won’t be a secret any more,” she said.

“Never in a million years would I believe people would commit crimes they prosecute others on.”

“It’s horrifically disturbing. They’re still working on the taxpayers’ dollar — the whistleblower was put on administrative leave and terminated,” she added.

Police Chief Mike Lashbrook said, “With the pending civil service hearing and pending litigation, there a lot of things at play here that prohibit me from commenting at this time.”

City Administrator Brent Trout said, “The civil service hearing is public and will give both sides an opportunity to tell their sides.

“There will be a time when we may be able to discuss in detail the procedures the city took, but there’s a process in place and it’s best now to allow it to play itself out before we comment.”

Stearns declined to comment, saying Lashbrook should be the Police Department’s spokesman.

Neither Vande Weerd nor Basler could be reached for comment.

Ohl, 36, grew up in Coulter. She joined the Mason City Police Department in 2001.

Last year she filed claims of sex discrimination, religion discrimination and retaliation against the department with the Mason City Human Rights Commission and filed a lawsuit in federal district court.

In a deposition filed with the court, Ohl claims she was subject to ongoing harassment and discriminatory treatment because of her sex and denied training and promotion opportunities.

She said she has repeatedly been subjected to inappropriate behavior, including a male officer pointing an unloaded gun at her head and pulling the trigger; and several instances of lewd language and gestures.

Ohl said Thursday the officer who pointed the gun at her was Sgt. Steve Klemas. She said the harassment began long before the Huisentruit case and has continued since then without any appropriate response to her complaints.

Regarding the religion discrimination, Ohl said in her deposition her church affiliation may have played a part in her being denied promotional opportunities. She said Thursday it also may have been a factor in the harassment she allegedly received.

Ohl is a member of Christian Fellowship Church which earlier this year was awarded nearly $85,000 in a settlement of a suit against the city, Lashbrook and Lt. Logan Wernet. It was filed by The Rev. Shane Philpott, church pastor.

The suit claimed both Lashbrook and Wernet made damaging remarks about the church.

The remarks allegedly led to an Internal Revenue Service investigation of the church’s financial records. The IRS cleared Philpott and the church of any wrongdoing.

Click here for the story at GlobeGazette.com.