Affair With Chief’s Wife A Terminable Offense

William Bowker was a police officer with the City of Fort Madison, Iowa. For approximately 16 months, he was assigned to a county narcotics task force. He was removed for not being an effective member and returned to his regular duties with the Fort Madison Police Department.

Shortly thereafter, Bowker began a romantic relationship with a reserve officer who was also the wife of the Fort Madison Police Chief. On learning of the relationship, the Chief confronted Bowker, who initially denied the allegation.

The Police Chief took his concerns about the relationship to the Fort Madison City Manager, who authorized an investigation. The investigation was expanded to include allegations of misconduct while Bowker was part of the narcotics task force. Following the investigation, the City Manager terminated Bowker’s employment.

Bowker sued the City, claiming his termination violated local civil service laws. Bowker argued that his affair with the Chief’s wife could not be considered “misconduct” under the civil service rules.

The Iowa Court of Appeals upheld the City’s right to terminate Bowker. The Court reasoned that “Bowker’s affair with the Chief of Police’s wife, who was also a reserve officer, and his lack of candor about the affair violated the Civil Service Rules because the conduct (a) brought the Department into disrepute; (b) reflected discredit on Bowker and the Chief; and (c) impaired the operation or efficiency of the Department and Bowker. The affair and the subsequent deceit about the affair also violated the Canons of Ethics. The act of lying or deceit about the affair could constitute moral turpitude under the rules.

“Several witnesses testified that Bowker’s conduct was detrimental to the public interest. The City Manager testified that the affair affected the chain of command and the Chief’s ability to perform his duties. He noted that the Chief’s ‘ability to possibly discipline or do other types of reassignments’ might have been jeopardized. The Chief seconded this opinion, stating that Bowker was within his chain of command and he was responsible for promoting him, disciplining him, and giving him assignments.

“There was evidence that the very public affair gave the Department a black eye and caused some officers to question whether they would want to work with Bowker. We recognize that other officers in the Department were not disciplined for having affairs. The key difference in those cases was the absence of evidence that their affairs implicated the chain of command. In light of this distinction, we conclude the decision to terminate Bowker was not arbitrary or capricious, as he contends.”

Bowker v. City of Fort Madison, 2013 WL 4502308 (Iowa App. 2013).