MASON CITY — The Rev. Shane Philpott carries a gun because of his fear of some members of the Mason City Police Department.
That information was contained in a deposition given almost a year ago by his sister-in-law, former Mason City police officer Maria Ohl.
Ohl, a member of Philpott’s church, Christian Fellowship Church in Mason City, and whose sister is married to Philpott, was terminated from her job Aug. 4 for allegedly violating Police Department rules, including mishandling of evidence related to the disappearance and possible abduction of KIMT-TV morning anchor Jodi Huisentruit in June 1995.
Ohl has appealed her termination to the Civil Service Commission. The commission heard testimony Tuesday and will reconvene Friday.
Ohl alleges Lt. Frank Stearns, Lt. Ron Vande Weerd and former Iowa Division of Investigation agent Bill Basler had involvement in the Huisentruit disappearance.
Ohl also claims Lt. Logan Wernet was involved in a coverup related to the 1999 unsolved murder of Gerald Best in Mason City.
Philpott and Ohl claim Philpott contacted police in 2007 with information about possible police misconduct in the Huisentruit case and claim the department did not investigate it. Huisentruit has never been found.
Mason City Police Chief Michael Lashbrook says he was made aware of the alleged police misconduct on Sept. 22, 2010, when Ohl was giving a deposition in connection with an unrelated case, a civil lawsuit the church had filed against the city.
It was in that deposition that she mentioned Philpott carrying a gun.
Lashbrook recounted the circumstances in a memo dated Sept. 24, 2010, and submitted as evidence in the Civil Service case Tuesday.
“She stated the purpose for him to carry a gun was for protection from Mason City police officers,” said Lashbrook. “When asked why, she advised that she was aware of Mason City police officers being involved in homicides.”
Lashbrook testified Tuesday he was shocked to hear her allegations.
After she mentioned the possible police misconduct, the deposition was ended and Lashbrook made arrangements for Ohl to see him so he could learn more about her allegations.
She met with him and Capt. Dennis Bengtson in Lashbrook’s office the next day, according to Lashbrook’s memo.
Regarding the murder of Best, whose throat was slashed in his apartment in December 1999, Ohl said Wernet had information about the murder and assisted in covering it up.
According to Lashbrook’s memo, Ohl told him Stearns, Vande Weerd and Basler knew Huisentruit had been killed.
“Information Ohl had received states Huisentruit was going to come out with some sort of information on the Police Department or city of Mason City officials and that these three officers arranged for the kidnapping and murder of Jodi Huisentruit to silence her,” according to the Lashbrook memo on what Ohl told him.
Ohl said information on both homicides came from the same person and was received when she and another officer responded to a fight call on Seventh or Eighth Street Southeast on Dec. 25 or Dec. 26, 2009. By the time they arrived the fight was over.
One of the people involved, who she said was very intoxicated, told her Mason City had “crooked cops.”
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Ohl said the informant implicated Stearns, Vande Weerd and Basler in the Huisentruit abduction, according to the Lashbrook memo.
The informant told her Huisentruit is buried on a farm a mile south of a sawmill on Highway 69 just south of Forest City.
Ohl said the conversation was recorded via the police in-car recording system. She also said she drove to Forest City and located a sawmill but wasn’t sure if she was at the right place because “Sawmill” might be the name of a business.
At Tuesday’s Civil Service hearing, it was disclosed Ohl made her own recording from the in-car recording of the informant’s claims about police misconduct. She also secretly recorded her conversation with Lashbrook that was the subject of his memo. Her alleged mishandling of evidence in a criminal case, her unauthorized trip to the sawmill and her secret taping of her superior officer are all cited in the grounds for her dismissal.
According to Lashbrook’s memo, Ohl also told him about information her brother-in-law, the Rev. Philpott, received from an informant named Don Milk.
Lashbrook wrote, “According to Ohl, Milk supposedly worked with some of the people who were involved in the Huisentruit abduction/homicide and that these people had discussed their involvement in front of Milk.”
She said Milk apparently had seen one of Philpott’s television sermons and contacted him some time in 2007.
She said Philpott contacted the Police Department about Milk’s information but nothing was ever done about it.
Ohl also told Lashbrook she had contacted several other law enforcement agencies about the alleged Mason City police misconduct but police were unable to verify any of the calls she allegedly made.
Similarly, there is no Police Department record of Philpott contacting them in 2007 and none of the officers he reportedly spoke to have any recollection of talking with him.
On Sept. 30, Ohl was placed on paid administrative leave for alleged violations of department policies.
The city hired Neil Shultz, a retired Polk County investigator, to do an independent investigation to determine if he believed Ohl violated department policies.
In his report, dated Dec. 10, 2010, Shultz said the following rule violations are applicable: neglect of duty; interfering with an investigation; failure to secure records; and insubordination.
The department also asked clinical psychologist Eva Christiansen of Des Moines to evaluate Ohl in terms of her “fitness for duty.”
In her report, Christiansen noted Ohl’s lack of trust of other officers and fear for her own safety and concluded, “she cannot function adequately as an officer in the department” and is therefore “not fit for duty.”
Lashbrook terminated her on Aug. 4. It is that action she is appealing to the Civil Service Commission.
The second day of testimony begins at 9 a.m. Friday in the Mason City Room of the public library. The hearing is open to the public.