Globe Gazette Editorial: Not believable officers involved in disappearance

Globe Gazette Editorial: Not believable officers involved in disappearance


Summary: We have seen no evidence of any kind that Mason City police officers or state DCI agents have had anything to do with the disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit other than trying to solve the case.

The charges seemed preposterous. Two members of the Mason City Police Department and a retired member of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation were accused of covering up evidence in the 1995 disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit.

Even more fantastic was an allegation that these three officers may have been involved in some way in committing the actual apparent kidnapping and murder of the local television news anchor.

To anyone who knows Mason City police officers Lt. Frank Stearns and Lt. Ron Vande Weerd and former DCI agent Bill Basler, the idea that they could be personally involved in the Huisentruit disappearance seemed absurd.

Yet there were conspiracy theorists and others who thought there could be some truth to the allegations, as judged by online comments to our coverage of the story.

Fantastic or not, the claims couldn't be simply dismissed. After all, they were being made by a 10-year veteran of the same Mason City Police Department.

The charges were leveled after a Civil Service Commission meeting dealing with former officer Maria Ohl's discharge for neglect of duty, interfering with an investigation, failure to secure records and insubordination.

Ohl's comments after that meeting began a period of allegations that eventually included her brother-in-law, the Rev. Shane Philpott (who had himself been involved in an unrelated defamation suit against the city of Mason City and police officers), claims of another officer being involved in covering up another unsolved murder, purported burial sites, information from drunken fighters, secret taping of conversations, meetings that may or may not have taken place and reports that may or may not have been made.

In the end the city Civil Service Commission upheld Ohl's dismissal.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said in a press release that there has been no credible information or evidence received by investigators that implicates any current or former DCI agents or Mason City police officers in the disappearance of Huisentruit.

The tale would have been little more than the source of some bizarre coffee talk speculation except for the real damage it did to the accused police officers' reputations.

Police Chief Mike Lashbrook said after the Civil Service Commission had made its ruling that "the most difficult time of my career has been the past two weeks," and he said Ohl's allegations had an impact not only on the officers involved but on their families and the Police Department as a whole.

"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," Lashbrook said.

We agree. We simply don't believe that Stearns, Vande Weerd or Basler had any connection to the Huisentruit case other than doing their best to solve it.

We also don't believe that the Mason City Police Department - including the current chief who wasn't even around when Huisentruit disappeared - has covered up any wrongdoing.

We suppose anything is possible, but some things are darn unlikely to the point of being ridiculous.

Someday, hopefully, the truth about Huisentruit's disappearance will be found. We'll continue to rely on Mason City and state law enforcement officials to do their best to make that happen.

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