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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