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Judge upholds decertification of deputy for sex with minor

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A former Sac County deputy sheriff who admitted to having sexual intercourse in 2018 with the 17-year-old stepdaughter of one of his superiors should lose his certification as a law enforcement officer in Iowa, a judge has ruled.

Alex Ladwig, 29, challenged his decertification by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy last year and argued that he had done nothing wrong that should permanently preclude him from being an officer in Iowa, according to court documents associated with his appeal in district court.

He was hired by the Sac County Sheriff’s Office in 2015, according to court records. He previously worked for a year as a police officer in Lake View.

In Sac County, Ladwig was a defensive tactics instructor and helped execute high-risk warrants. He was part of a regional task force and did community outreach at local schools.

Ladwig had no disciplinary actions against him before he was fired for the sexual relationship with the girl.

Ladwig first met her in 2016, when she was 14 or 15, court records show. The two communicated via SnapChat starting in 2017 and about a year later had sex twice at his house. Ladwig told the girl, who was still in high school, to park her vehicle away from his house and asked her not to tell anyone about the relationship and to keep it secret. He is about 10 years older than her.

The encounters came to light when a Sac County jail inmate — who knew a relative of the girl — told another deputy about the relationship in April 2019.

“Ladwig laughed it off and denied the allegation” when the other deputy asked him about the girl, court records show.

The sheriff’s office launched an investigation and put Ladwig on administrative leave on April 26, 2019. Three days later, Sheriff Ken McClure fired Ladwig after he confirmed the relationship in a conversation with the girl.

The girl told McClure that Ladwig told her to come to his house one night after he had been out drinking alcohol with his friends, court records show. She said she felt uneasy at first when he started touching her but had sex with him. They agreed not to have sex again, but it happened once more before the girl stopped going over to his house.

She said Ladwig continued to contact her via SnapChat and asked her to come over, but she didn’t.

Ladwig appealed his termination and was reinstated before he later resigned as part of an agreement in which he was paid a lump sum for his remaining paid time off. His last paycheck totaled $4,462.16, according to county records.

A change-in-status report from the sheriff’s office to the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy said Ladwig was dismissed for “immoral conduct.”

McClure said he continued to receive reports about Ladwig “of potential misconduct with adult women, although no charges were filed as a result,” court records show.

Later that year, in October 2019, the Lake City Police Department hired Ladwig as an officer. The police chief at the time, Bobby Rist, recruited Ladwig after he learned Ladwig was no longer working for Sac County, court records show.

“Chief Rist provided a glowing review of Ladwig’s service to his agency,” according to court records.

But in April 2020, the academy petitioned to decertify Ladwig. Later that year an administrative law judge permanently revoked Ladwig’s law enforcement certification and said Ladwig’s actions were consistent with “grooming” the girl for sex. The judge said it was likely the girl “felt compelled to have relations with him,” court records show.

On Dec. 31, 2020, Ladwig resigned from his job in Lake City under the threat of termination because he lost his certification, according to a change-in-status report sent to the academy.

“He got along fine with us here, but the history caught up with him,” said Eric Wood, the city administrator for Lake City.

Ladwig appealed his decertification to district court in January and denied that he had groomed the girl.

In court documents filed by his attorney, Ladwig contended that the difference in age between him and the girl was “not so significant” and that the girl “knew Ladwig only on a personal level and not as a person of power over her.”

“Arguably, (the girl) had just as much power in the relationship,” Ladwig’s attorney wrote in a petition for judicial review of the decertification. The girl “was accustomed to being around law enforcement, as her immediate family were law enforcement officers. Her stepfather was Ladwig’s immediate supervisor, and (the girl) knew that Ladwig wanted to keep the relationship quiet from him.”

The girl’s mother wrote a letter in support of Ladwig regaining his law enforcement certification, court records show. More than a dozen other officers also supported him with letters.

In February, District Judge Scott Rosenberg temporarily reinstated Ladwig’s certification during the appeal after his preliminary review of the facts of the case because Ladwig “is likely to prevail.” Rosenberg said people have differing views of what is moral and what is not, and that some of those notions might be “unreasonable, impractical or archaic.”

However, the same judge ruled against Ladwig late last month and said his decertification should stand because the judge is precluded from second-guessing the law enforcement academy’s decision unless it is not supported by evidence or is “shockingly unfair.”

Rosenberg cited the administrative law judge’s previous ruling, which said:

“The integrity of the law enforcement system depends on having officers who exercise good judgment on duty and off. It depends on an officer having an understanding of the power and control that they wield over vulnerable citizens. It depends on an officer being honest about and taking responsibility for his actions. Ladwig failed on all of these accounts. Ladwig’s actions, starting from the time he engaged (the girl) in Snapchat conversations when she was 16, to having sex with (the girl) when she was 17 and being deceptive about the relationship, are contrary to what society expects from those entrusted to protect us and are sufficient grounds for decertification as a peace officer.”

It’s unclear whether Ladwig will appeal the most-recent decision to uphold his decertification. His attorney did not respond to a request to comment for this article, and Ladwig could not be reached to comment.

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