Man Fired for Mocking Mentally Ill Inmates and Visiting 'Sexual' Sites

Fired Officer Photoshop
AP
Mocking those less fortunate than you is generally considered in bad taste. When you do it to people you're paid to watch -- or if your actions can be interpreted that way -- it can become an offense that can get you fired, as John Powers learned.

The 29-year-old former correctional officer of North Liberty, Iowa was fired from a psychiatric hospital inside a prison last fall, according to the Associated Press. He allegedly used photo editing software to place pictures of the heads of patients, inmates, and employees onto the bodies of celebrities, animals, and babies. He was also cited for visiting online "sexual in nature" sites during work hours. He is currently appealing his dismissal.

Jan. 24, 2014, 11:05AM: In an interview with AOL Jobs, Powers claimed that the term "sexual in nature" was highly misleading. "The web sites I visited were not pornography, and there was not even nudity," he said. "The images were no more than what you would see in Maxim magazine, and some of the items brought into question were articles directly from the website of Men's Health, a magazine that is subscribed to by almost all the units in the institution. And there was only one picture made in a mocking fashion. The others I made to bring humor to an otherwise dreary environment. The patients asked for copies."

Powers had worked at the Oakdale Medical Classification Center's Forensic Psychiatric Hospital for seven years. He reportedly admitted using a state computer to retrieve patient photos from databases and combining them with other images, as the Des Moines Register reported. He would then send the results to co-workers. Powers would even receive requests for specific image combinations from others.

His last work -- he announced his "retirement" after learning of a patient's complaint over two such photos -- was a Star Wars poster parody. He called the image "Tard Wars," using demeaning slang for people who have intellectual development problems. According to AP, other combinations included "a lieutenant's face on the body of singer Meatloaf, a Republican colleague embracing President Barack Obama at a campaign rally and Powers' face on actor Channing Tatum's body."

As the Register reported, in his email saying that there would be no more images, Powers wrote:

Did you get my final masterpiece? Cleaned out my pictures after that one. I'm hanging it up, getting out of the rat race. I'm out of the herd. Time to grow up and be a man. Love, Powers.

However, his decision to "grow up" was apparently too little, too late, as state investigators confronted him about his hobby. Powers said that it had "snowballed" and gone "way beyond anything I ever intended."

Powers pleaded for his job in a letter to hospital officials, according to the Register:

"I am at a point in my career where I have reached a fork in the road," he wrote. "Do I want to continue to under-achieve and get by making people laugh, or do I want to finally live up to my potential and become a valuable piece to a great team?"

The letter changed nothing and he was fired. Powers said to the AP that he thought he should have faced suspension and that his supervisors were long aware of the photos. A colleague of his did something similar, but used only pictures of employees and, as a result, faced only a ten-day suspension. Dipping into the database of patients as Powers supposedly did violated confidentiality rules.

Powers claimed that his duties never suffered from his activities, including visiting adult websites, because he only did so during slow times. He did apply for unemployment but was denied at a hearing in December. Hospital director Marcy Stroud said, "The line got really crossed."

The Register reported that Powers was paid $49,000 last year.

There is a chance that Powers will be successful in his appear. As a union employee, his termination is likely governed by a set of steps and procedures for disciplinary action. If the hospital skipped those steps, Powers could potentially win his job back through an arbitration process.

Jan. 24, 2014, 11:05AM: "I'm not an insensitive pervert who sat around making fun of mental patients," Powers said to AOL Jobs. "I took a lot of pride at being able to help them and was actually a favorite of the patients. I would guarantee that if I walked onto that unit today, four or five of the eight patients would try to come up and hug me."

Iowa Corrections Officer Fired Over Allegedly Altering Patient Photos

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estimatorone

Kind of hard to feel sorry for the guy. The fact that he
got away with what he was doing for seven years is
amazing in itself. .

January 19 2014 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

He should concider himselp lucky that he is not arrested and fined for violation of the Hippa Act. The news articles just may bring it to federal attention, Then he would have been just lucky to only have lost his job for this.

January 19 2014 at 12:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

I hope his union does the right thing and lets him swing in the wind, but probably not. Too often they defend their members blindly. This clown deserves to lose his gig.

January 18 2014 at 11:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kathy

Why are so many of the people in the comments calling the patients inmates? Do you really think that people who suffer from mental illness are criminals? How naive, in this day and age. One would think, with everyone talking about depression that even the average person would understand that clinical depression (more than just sad feelings), bipolar disease, and many other mental illnesses need people to be temporarily (a few, permanently) hospitalized so they can improve. What makes you think that these are not your neighbors, friends, or people you come into contact every day as you go into businesses? You probably know at least one person (if even casually) who has or has had a severe mental illness episode, and you don't even know it about them. Do not mock them...it could be you, your spouse, or your child some day.

January 18 2014 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kathy

Wasn't warned properly? Since when would anyone of sound mind have to be "warned" not to look at porn on a work computer instead of doing one's job? That is the most inane excuse to fight a firing I have ever heard, and it and this guy should be summarily dumped out the door on his rear! The comment that this guy was just making "good natured" comments about the patients needs to be schooled that calling someone a "tard" is not, nor has never been good natured. It is quite the opposite since it is mean spirited and cruel. Also, sending the photoshopped pictures, no matter how cruel, is also this guy NOT DOING HIS JOB. Whether it was this activity or any other, it was NOT his job duties; and on that basis, he should be FIRED!

January 18 2014 at 11:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
airborneinore

Making fun of mentally ill patients and viewing porn while working ? Who was the morons that had the balls to tell him to fight these charges ?

January 18 2014 at 10:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
gdaycomatose

ahole!!!!

January 18 2014 at 8:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jennypenny06

I simply cannot believe some of these comments. I can't get over how many people are defending this guy! Or how many people think of the mentally ill. I have read comments calling these people retards, criminals, freaks, and not real human beings. It's disgusting how ANYONE can think like that. Mental illness and developmental handicaps are DISEASES that people do not CHOOSE to have!

The problem is how we deal with the mentally ill in our society. They need proper care, and yes, sometimes they need to be restrained. We ignore many of the mental issues that people have, then we scoff at them when they end up homeless or commit criminal acts.

January 18 2014 at 6:33 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
eddalton17

whats the big deal? these people don't even know theyre being mocked. theyre not even real people if you ask me. and they are worthless criminals to boot. who cares. just hang them all from a tree, use them as a piñata and see what falls out. they are freaks

January 18 2014 at 5:32 PM Report abuse -13 rate up rate down Reply
Elena

He is lucky that fired is all he got. I am sure there are plenty of inmates that would shank him given the chance.

January 18 2014 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Elena's comment
Tom

Care to share your inmate experience with the rest of us? You seem to be quite exposed to jail & shanking...

January 18 2014 at 4:52 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

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