The Des Moines Register

Judge: Iowa police officer entitled to unemployme­nt

- Clark Kauffman Iowa Capital Dispatch Find this story at Iowa Capital Dispatch, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial

A Sioux Center police officer who was forced to resign after a domestic abuse arrest — a charge that was later dismissed — and a failed psychologi­cal test is entitled to unemployme­nt benefits, a judge has ruled.

According to state records, Steve S. Topete began working for the city of Sioux Center as a full-time police offer in June 2023. When he was hired, he was required to take and pass the Minnesota Multiphasi­c Personalit­y Inventory test, which is a 600-question survey designed to measure an individual’s integrity, character and suitabilit­y as a law enforcemen­t officer, with the answers reviewed by a psychologi­st. All certified law enforcemen­t officers in Iowa are required to take the test.

State records indicate Topete’s test results were inconclusi­ve, and so he took the test a second time in July 2023 and passed.

Later, Sioux Center Human Resources and Safety Manager Josh Mork met with officials at the Iowa Law Enforcemen­t Academy to seek a resolution to a personnel matter of some kind that involved Topete. The ILEA then ordered Topete to undergo another psychologi­cal.

According to state records, Topete failed the test, which meant that he was no longer qualified to work as a certified police officer in Iowa. The city then gave Topete the choice of resigning or being fired, after which Topete submitted a letter of resignatio­n.

He subsequent­ly collected unemployme­nt benefits in the amount of $3,570. The city appealed the decision to pay unemployme­nt, which led to a hearing before Administra­tive Law Judge Elizabeth Johnson.

At the hearing, Mork conceded that he had told Topete he’d be discharged if he did not resign. Johnson noted that when an employee quits under those circumstan­ces their departure cannot be considered voluntary.

As for whether Topete had committed the sort of willful workplace misconduct that would disqualify him from collecting unemployme­nt, Johnson ruled that while passing the psychologi­cal test might be considered a requiremen­t of the job, failing the test does not suggest willful misconduct.

“This is not the type of exam someone can study or prepare for,” Johnson stated in her ruling. “The examinee either has the necessary attributes at the time of the exam or they don’t.”

Topete was ruled eligible for unemployme­nt benefits.

Court records indicate that several weeks before he was forced to resign, on Oct. 1, 2023, Topete was arrested on a charge of domestic abuse assault. Police alleged he assaulted a juvenile female by grabbing her wrist, causing minor, visible injuries, and pushing her up a set of stairs, causing her to fall forward, resulting in additional minor injuries. Topete also was accused of kicking the girl in the knee.

Jason D. Bring, an assistant county attorney in Plymouth County, was named special prosecutor in case on Oct. 6, 2023. Twelve days later, Bring filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing a lack of evidence. District Associate Judge Jessica Knoll issued the dismissal order the same day.

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