Former Iowa trooper continues to collect disability benefits despite new role as security guard
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa trooper who was granted early retirement for mental stress after shooting a suspect during a high-speed chase continues to collect disability benefits while working as a school security guard, The Associated Press has found.
State law says retirement benefits received by disabled officers “shall cease” if they get another job in “public safety” or “protection” occupations. But Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan said the dual compensation for Tim Sieleman is allowed because his security position with the Des Moines Public Schools isn’t considered such a job under the wording of the law.
The law lists several jobs that would end benefits for disabled retirees — from jailer to airport safety officer — but doesn’t mention school security work among them.
Sieleman, 48, has received a $42,000-annual pension since the board of the state officers’ retirement system found him “totally and permanently incapacitated for duty” due to mental stress in 2014. Despite that finding, he now works to help patrol the 70 school properties owned by Iowa’s largest district.
“As a taxpayer, I find that kind of outrageous,” said attorney Bill McGinn, who represented the suspect shot by Sieleman in 2013. “Somebody ought to look at it.”
McGinn said school security sounded like a “public safety” job to him.
The board that governs the retirement system can order medical exams annually to determine whether disabled officers have improved enough to return to work, but it hasn’t done so since granting Sieleman benefits three years ago. One trustee, retired trooper Gail Schwab, said he was unaware of Sieleman’s job but doubted the news would spur any action.
“We’re not going to finger somebody because we think he’s out here performing a job that he or she probably shouldn’t be doing in somebody’s opinion,” he said.
The board declined to order re-examinations of Sieleman and 16 other disabled retirees in 2015.
Trustee Michael Fitzgerald, the state treasurer, said he’s heard concerns about whether some retirees are “gaming the system.” But he said the board must follow medical opinions on whether officers are incapacitated, and he called it a “legal question” as to whether Sieleman’s new job should disqualify him.
Des Moines schools spokesman Phil Roeder said Sieleman started Feb. 18 as an unarmed guard, earning $18.43 hourly. His duties include monitoring surveillance cameras, responding to building alarms and patrolling schools.
Sieleman, a former Council Bluffs-based trooper, declined comment.
His Iowa State Patrol career ended after a 2013 chase in which he used his cruiser to ram a suspect’s truck off the road. Both vehicles went into a ditch, where Sieleman fired his pistol 10 times and injured Timothy Lee as Lee made a failed effort to drive out. Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber ruled the shooting justified but suggested the patrol could do more to avoid risky chases.
Lee claimed in a lawsuit the shooting was excessive force and resulted in serious injuries to his left arm. A judge dismissed the case last year after Lee’s lawyer, McGinn, took too long to find Sieleman to serve him with legal papers. McGinn said he was unaware that Sieleman was on disability retirement.
In September 2014, then-retirement board chairman Larry Noble expressed concerns about the “accuracy and wording” of the evaluation that was submitted about Sieleman’s condition by the board’s doctors at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, minutes show. The board asked for clarifications, received a “corrected” letter the next month and granted Sieleman retirement benefits, worth 60 percent of his salary.
Sieleman later filed a workers’ compensation claim, saying he was disabled from “emotional trauma and stress” from the 2013 shooting and previous incidents of gunfire. The state disputed “the nature and extent” of his disability but paid $27,593 to settle.