Iowa parole officer fired for role in illegal home search

July 3, 2019 GMT

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa parole officer has been fired after an investigation concluded that she abused her power by conspiring with a detective to conduct an illegal search of a drug suspect’s home.

After a judge ruled the search was illegal and suppressed the evidence, parole officer Kari White wrote in an email to a prosecutor that she wasn’t bothered by the outcome. “Oh well, at least it cost him a lot of money” to challenge the search, White wrote of suspect Daniel Vinnece.

The details of White’s “egregious” misconduct were detailed in an April 30 decision by the Department of Correctional Services that terminated White’s 23-year employment. White has challenged her firing, claiming that her actions were appropriate and that she was disciplined only after Vinnece threatened to sue the state over the search.

White worked out of the department’s Second Judicial District office in Ames. Her firing stemmed from her unusual role in a criminal investigation of Vinnece, who was on parole for drug crimes and lived in Boone, a city of 12,500 in central Iowa.

White was not Vinnece’s parole officer. But Boone Police Department investigator Joshua Olsen was in contact with White while looking into suspicions that Vinnece was involved in drug trafficking. Olsen sought White’s help entering Vinnece’s home without a warrant while Vinnece remained under supervision.

“I’d really like to get into his place before he goes off parole,” Olsen wrote.

Unlike police, parole officers can conduct home visits to check on parolees without a warrant. White and Olsen went to Vinnece’s home unannounced on April 20, 2018, days before Vinnece was to be released from parole. Vinnece let them in. White began asking questions while Olsen looked around and found some marijuana. Based on that discovery, police obtained a warrant to further search the home and seized some drugs and paraphernalia.

“Hoping you guys can charge him and get it to stick,” White texted to Olsen that night, saying she was “sick of” suspects who get away with crimes.

Vinnece was charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine as a habitual offender. Vinnece’s parole officer had been aware that Vinnece was using marijuana recreationally and didn’t believe a home visit was necessary before his pending discharge from parole.

Despite pushing for the search, Olsen claimed in his police report that the visit was White’s idea and that he was just there to provide security until he saw the marijuana.

Vinnece’s attorney, Matthew Boles, argued that the search violated his client’s rights. District Associate Judge Stephen Owen agreed, ordering the drug evidence seized during the search to be suppressed.

“Law enforcement desired to search the home but had not developed probable cause to do so and used the authority of a parole officer to conduct a home visit as an end run or pretext for a warrantless search of the defendant’s home,” Owen wrote last December.

Assistant Boone County Attorney Matthew Speers dropped the charges against Vinnece days later, saying the ruling left insufficient evidence to proceed.

White overstepped her authority by conducting a home visit on a parolee who was not her client and that had no parole-related purpose, according to the firing decision by the department’s district director Amanda Milligan. White also violated policy by failing to document the visit and did not tell the truth when she testified under oath twice in the criminal case, Milligan wrote.

“The behaviors in question are egregious and her conduct failed to meet the standards of ethical and professional behavior the Department has a right to expect,” Milligan wrote.

White declined an interview request but claimed in an email that she is the victim of mistreatment.

“I would hate for anyone else to go through what I have been through,” she said.

A hearing is scheduled July 17 on the department’s motion to dismiss her appeal. Vinnece was arrested in May on new drug and gun charges and is in the Boone County jail.