Story County Attorney Asks ISU Police to Investigate Leath Flight to North Carolina [Updated]

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Editor’s note: This post was updated Nov. 8 with comments from Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds.

Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds has asked Iowa State University police to investigate a flight President Steven Leath took to North Carolina, where he owns a home, at the beginning of Spring Break, according to an Associated Press report Monday.

The university said Leath was conducting school business on the March 12 trip, which he took on the university’s smaller Cirrus SR22 airplane. That plane, according to the AP, stayed at the Jefferson, North Carolina, airport for just 37 minutes before returning to Ames without Leath, who was picked up three days later by ISU’s larger King Air plane. If Leath used the planes for a trip not involving university business, he could be found to have violated ISU policy and state law.

Reynolds passed along a complaint from David Wheeler, a critic of the Bruce Rastetter-run Iowa Board of Regents that oversees the state’s public universities, to ISU interim police chief Aaron DeLashmutt, whose boss reports to Leath. On Tuesday, she told the Informer that she forwarded the complaint to ISU rather than Ames police because the former has jurisdiction over the alleged misuse of university property.

“I have no idea if any crime has occurred and I won’t know until I see the results of a full law enforcement investigation,” Reynolds said. “I am not suggesting there was any wrongdoing. I merely forwarded allegations of a crime to law enforcement like I do in all other situations.”

Previously, Reynolds decided against sending the results of a public records request filed by state Assistant Attorney General Rob Sand to local police after the AG’s office found out about the request and ended the inquiry. The documents, which included an incident report of Leath’s hard landing of the Cirrus in the summer of 2015 at an Illinois airport, were passed along to Reynolds, who said then that she didn’t see any evidence of criminal wrongdoing in them.

When the Informer spoke with Reynolds then, she said she would have passed the information along to Ames police had she seen an allegation or evidence of a crime. Instead, she said, “there was a ‘rumor,’ according to the AG’s office, of something involving the Ames Municipal Airport.” On Tuesday, she said the Ames Police Department would have jurisdiction over the investigation of alleged crimes taking place at the city-owned airport.

When the AP report broke Monday, critics questioned why Reynolds forwarded Wheeler’s complaint to ISU instead of Ames police because of the apparent conflict of interest with the former department. That department, she said, “will assess the complaint, determine if they are conflicted out as investigators, and if so, call in another agency of their choice. This is an agency decision that must be made and not a decision I can make for them.”

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.