A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on Monday in the US District Court for the Southern District of Iowa accusing Jerry Rea, the former superintendent of the Glenwood Resource Center for people with intellectual disabilities, of using the Iowa-owned care center to exploit patients through sexual arousal research.
The suit, filed by formerly Glenwood-employed Drs. John Heffron and Michael Langenfeld and a number of other former employees of the state-run facility, claimed there was a conspiracy to “silence, punish and retaliate” against them after they attempted to speak out about the violations of state and federal laws that were occurring. All five plaintiffs were terminated between 2018 and 2019.
The suit alleges that upon being hired in September 2017, Rea attempted to convert Glenwood, a care center for people with intellectual disabilities, into a research facility for medical experimentation that exploited its “extremely fragile and dependent residents” through sexual arousal research and other studies.
The court document notes that Glenwood has over 200 adults at its facility who possess a range of disabilities which make them extremely vulnerable, non-ambulatory and non-communicative.
Defendants Rea, Richard Shults, Jerry Foxhoven, Mohammad Rehman, Glenwood and the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) were said to have been involved in a scheme that crippled the facility’s “organizational protections, policies and reporting systems” so that they could unilaterally allow Glenwood to funnel money into research while also reducing funding for care provided to residents of the facility.
The defendants claim that Rea, a child psychologist and assistant research professor at the University of Kansas, was hired to oversee operations at Glenwood “in part, due to his close personal relationship” with Shults.
The court document alleges that as part of Rea’s plan for “creative destruction,” he eliminated weekly team meetings with management and made it so that he himself would be the sole individual responsible for Glenwood’s management and policy decisions.
In addition to spending an estimated $60,000 in state funding to renovate his personal quarters at Glenwood, Rea also spent taxpayer dollars on boxer shorts, sexual lubricants, pornography and a dedicated computer, software program and joystick for his sexual arousal research, according to the lawsuit.
Despite the plaintiffs’ attempts to report these expenditures, higher-ups such as Shults allegedly overruled their efforts.
“DHS is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of those we serve, and our employees,” DHS spokesman Matt Highland said in an email to the outlet. “We continue to take all necessary action to address all allegations.”