By JOHN SKIPPER
MASON CITY — Mason City Police Chief Mike Lashbrook said Monday he is sorry the reputations of three law enforcement officers were damaged by a fired officer who based her allegations on a “drunken rant.”
On Friday, the Mason City Civil Service Commission upheld the termination of Officer Maria Ohl.
She was fired for violating department regulations concerning handling of potential evidence in the 1995 disappearance of KIMT-TV morning anchor Jodi Huisentruit and for being judged “unfit for duty” by a psychologist who examined her.
Prior to the hearing, Ohl told the media she had information linking Lt. Frank Stearns, Lt. Ron Vande Weerd and retired Division of Criminal Investigation agent Bill Basler to the Huisentruit disappearance and possible murder.
Testimony at the hearing revealed her information came from an informant who was heavily intoxicated and who later denied ever mentioning the three officers.
“I’ve been in this business almost 32 years. One of the things I’m most proud of is the day I became a Mason City police officer,” said Lashbrook.
“The most difficult time of my career has been the past two weeks.”
Lashbrook said Ohl’s wild allegations have not only had an impact on the officers involved but on their families and on the Police Department as a whole.
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“I wanted to say something when the allegations were first made but there was a process in place I had to follow,” said Lashbrook.
“I felt confident once the public had the chance to see the other side of the story they would see the reasonableness of our actions.
“These officers, including Bill Basler who I have known for years, have devoted a good part of their lives to policing in this community and they were accused of murder.
“Even though we didn’t come out publicly, I fully supported the officers as did the city administrator, the mayor and the City Council.
“We felt like when the truth came out and our side was known, the public would understand and support us.”
Regarding the Huisentruit disappearance, he said it remains an open case.
Frequently, said Lashbrook, the public will provide leads that have already been checked out and found to be false.
“And yet it sometimes looks like we are ignoring them.”
He said one tip has been called in or mailed in several times over the past several years and was discounted as unfounded a long time ago.
Regarding Stearns, Vande Weerd and Basler, he said, “These are fine officers. Nobody wants the Huisentruit case solved more than they do because they have been investigating it from the start.”
As for his thoughts about the department in the wake of the Ohl investigation, he said simply, “We move on.”
Mayor Eric Bookmeyer said Monday, “Our prayers are with the Huisentruit family and our confidence is solid in all the members of the Mason City Police Department.”