IOWA CITY, Iowa — A secretary at Iowa’s school for juvenile offenders has been fired after using her job to purchase pain pills from a former student who later demanded monthly payments to keep quiet about the transaction, records show.
Kelly Reed lost her 19-year position at the State Training School for Boys in Eldora in March after reporting what she called a 9-month blackmail scheme to the institution and police, according to records related to her termination and request for unemployment benefits obtained by The Associated Press.
The former student threatened that, if he was not paid, he would tell the school and news outlets of the purchase she made last year when she was desperate to relieve back pain, Reed alleges. In reporting the case, she said she could no longer tolerate the threats and wanted them to stop.
The Division of Criminal Investigation and the county attorney are now investigating the purchase of pills, which occurred off school grounds, and the alleged threats and payments that came afterward. So far no charges have been filed against Reed or the former student, who was not identified in the records.
The State Training School is for boys ages 12 to 18 who have committed felonies involving violence or substance abuse and have been ruled delinquent. There, they can undergo a range of treatment and education programs designed to transition them back into society. The school has a history of controversy that includes assaults of employees by students and allegations that boys are placed in isolation rooms too frequently and mistreated in other ways.
Reed hasn’t returned messages seeking comment. But at a recent hearing in her unemployment case, she testified that the former student had left the program about five years earlier and called the school in May 2018 seeking a copy of his transcript. Reed said she was suffering from pain that was unbearable at the time. She had a rapport with the ex-student and called him back to ask if he could help her obtain prescription drugs. Her doctor was planning to reduce her pain medications before she planned to enrol in a program at the Mayo Clinic in a couple months.
“I was going to go to Mayo on July 9. I needed a little help to get there and asked (the former student) if he would help me out and he said yes,” Reed testified, according to audio obtained by the AP.
She said she wasn’t thinking clearly because of the pain but that she knew her actions were wrong. The man got her some prescription pain medications and then “started blackmailing me once a month,” she said.
“He was going to go to my employer and the media and smear my name,” she said.
Reed said after receiving a threatening text message in February of this year, she reported the alleged blackmail to leaders of the training school and was placed on paid administrative leave. She testified that she had been making the payments to protect the school, herself and her family but “I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I came forward.” Reed said that she turned over text messages and other information to the DCI.
Reed, 38, had worked at the school since 2000 and had no prior record of discipline. She testified that she did not expect to be terminated given the circumstances. She said that she completed a three-week pain rehabilitation program at Mayo and that her “life was much better” afterward, a fact confirmed in a letter from her therapist to state officials.
The Department of Human Services, which operates the school, ended Reed’s employment on March 8 after an internal investigation, her termination letter shows. The department concluded that she had violated several policies, including those that bar unauthorized contact with former students and illegal conduct.
Administrative Law Judge Christine Louis denied Reed’s claim for unemployment benefits. Louis said she understands that Reed was in a “dire mental state at the time the situation occurred” but that her actions nonetheless amounted to serious misconduct.
The school’s human resources supervisor, Ed Gilliand, testified at the hearing that the misconduct in Reed’s case “would kind of be off the charts” since it involved multiple violations.
“It was truly an egregious act,” he said.
Ryan J. Foley, The Associated Press