MUSCATINE — A Muscatine police officer has filed a petition with district court to overturn his termination by the city, alleging the city violated the law when he was fired earlier this month.
Officer Benjamin L. Varela, a veteran, claims the city of Muscatine fired him from the Muscatine Police Department without holding a hearing to determine incompetence or misconduct, as required by state code.
In court records, Varela, 26, claims he was verbally terminated from his position July 12 and given written notice of termination July 17 by the city of Muscatine. On July 30, Varela claims he received notice the city would hold a hearing on Aug. 2 pursuant to state code chapter 35C regarding veterans preference.
A week after Varela was told he would be fired, he was charged with one count of assault by the Muscatine County Sheriff's Office for an incident in early July.
In a criminal complaint filed July 19, Varela allegedly struck a handcuffed female in the face during an on-duty arrest. Muscatine Police were called around 8:16 p.m. Friday, July 5 to the 2000 block of Oneida Street for a multiple-person fight, the complaint read. During the on-scene investigation, a female was handcuffed and placed on the ground.
Varela then allegedly "took control" of the female. "Once on her feet, the female appears to move around slightly then is punched in the face by Varela for no apparent cause or justification," the document read. The female then fell to the ground and was treated by paramedics on the scene.
According to Section 35C.6 of Iowa code regarding removal and review of public employees, "No person holding a public position by appointment or employment, and belonging to any of the classes of persons to whom a preference is herein granted, shall be removed from such position or employment except for incompetency or misconduct shown after a hearing, upon due notice, upon stated charges, and with the right of such employee or appointee to a review by a writ of certiorari or at such person’s election, to judicial review in accordance with the terms of the Iowa administrative procedure Act, chapter 17A, if that is otherwise applicable to their case."
The petition states, as a veteran, Varela should have received a hearing prior to his termination. Through administrative appeal, he's asking the court to direct the city to reinstate Varela into his position with full back pay and benefits dating back to July 12.
Varela was hired Dec. 20, 2016, to the Muscatine Police Department and formally sworn in as an officer April 20, 2017, before Muscatine City Council. According to previous reporting, Varela joined the military in 2011 and was honorably discharged in 2014.
Varela has pleaded not guilty to the charge. A trial date is set for Jan. 6 in Muscatine County Court. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Dec. 26. Des Moines County Attorney Lisa Schaefer will prosecute the case. Varela is represented by attorney Brandon J. Brown of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown and Bergmann, LLP.