First Place Writing – Spot News


UI to take internal action against prof cleared in child-porn case

By Hayley E. Bruce

At the same time University of Iowa Professor Gary Hunninghake faked a stabbing and robbery in Chicago in April 2010, UI police were pursuing a child-pornography investigation against him, according to Chicago police documents obtained Thursday by The Daily Iowan.

UI police closed their criminal investigation without filing any charges against Hunninghake, and lawyers representing him maintain authorities found the child-porn accusations groundless.

“What’s important to recall is that law-enforcement authorities, based on the investigation of Dr. Hunninghake in Iowa, found no basis for any criminal charges in Iowa,” said his Iowa attorney, Leon Spies.

Nearly one year after the initial incident, an investigative report from the Chicago police released exclusively to the DI offers insight into a story that has been clouded with confusion and unanswered questions.

The 16-page document — obtained by the DI through a public-records request — details the falsified attack and detectives’ investigation that ended in the doctor being arrested on a felony charge for falsifying a police report.

And for the first time, it provides the reason the UI police were investigating the 64-year-old medical professor — information the department has refused to turn over to media in compliance with a lawsuit filed by Hunninghake on Dec. 22, 2010, to keep it sealed.

Now that the information has gone public, Hunninghake’s attorneys in both Iowa City and Chicago said it is important to note investigators found no reason to file charges.

“Whatever investigation that was conducted in Iowa was thorough, it was complete, it was concluded, and no laws were broken,” said Robert Fisher, Hunninghake’s attorney in the Chicago case.

When contacted on Thursday, Hunninghake told the DI he wished to speak with his lawyer before making a statement. Hunninghake, who chose to defer comment to Spies, is a married father of three who has been at the UI since 1981. He is the former director of the UI Institute for Clinical and Translational Science. His research interests include the areas of sarcoidosis, asthma, occupational lung disease, and interstitial lung disease.

Even though the criminal investigation was closed late last year, Hunninghake remains on paid leave from the university with an annual salary of $360,000.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said, for personnel reasons, he could not explain exactly why Hunninghake is still on leave. He said the university is “taking action” against Hunninghake but could not clarify what this means.

“The university is in the process of taking action against Dr. Hunninghake under university policy,” Moore said in a statement. “However, due to a pending request for an injunction filed by Dr. Hunninghake, we are not legally at liberty to discuss the details of this matter.”

Moore declined to comment beyond the issued statement.

In regards to the UI’s pending internal investigation, Spies said officials are “dealing with that in a professionally appropriate matter that we believe will reflect the full measure of Dr. Hunninghake’s contributions to the university and the professional and scientific mission” of the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the Carver College of Medicine.

“We’re dealing with a gentleman who has devoted his life and his professional skills to the institution that he loves, and this is horribly painful for him,” Spies said.

UI police officials did not return repeated e-mails and phone calls on Thursday seeking confirmation of the child-pornography investigation and further information.

Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said his department assisted with the forensic analysis of one of the computers seized from Hunninghake. Hargadine said they did not aid UIpolice in search warrants on his home and office.

Coralville Police Chief Barry Bedford said the only involvement his department had was standing by as UI police executed the search warrant at Hunninghake’s home in Coralville on April 23.

The falsified attack

The UI placed Hunninghake on paid leave on April 23, 2010. The next day, he traveled to Chicago for a medical conference.

The Chicago police documents show Hunninghake reported the following to police on April 24:

Hunninghake said he was jogging down the river walk on East Lower Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago around 5:30 a.m. on the cool morning when three unknown white men approached him in an aggressive manner. Feeling “uncomfortable” Hunninghake then took out his wallet and said “Here, you can have my wallet.”

After one of the “offenders” accepted the wallet, Hunninghake said he began to walk away, at which point he was grabbed by the remaining two men while the first stabbed him in the chest, stated “his skin is too thick,” and stabbed him again in the abdomen and shoulder. The “offenders” then fled, and Hunninghake walked to the loading dock of the Hyatt Hotel, West Tower, 151 E. Lower Wacker Drive, where security found him.

“I was robbed and my wallet’s over there,” Hunninghake said, according to the report.

Security searched for the wallet and called an ambulance; he was taken to Northwestern Hospital.

Hunninghake provided police with detailed descriptions of two of the “offenders”: one was 6-2, 220 pounds, had a long face, and wore dark clothes and a stocking cap. The other was 5-11, had a red face, red hair, and stubble.

A call from UI police

Chicago police investigated Hunninghake’s claims that three unknown men had robbed him and stabbed him four times. They visited him in the emergency room, interviewed witnesses, and searched for the suspects.

Then they got a call from UI police. Associate Director William Searls told Chicago police about the child-porn investigation and said he questioned the validity of the alleged incident that occurred in Chicago.

Searls told Chicago officers that as UI Detectives Brian Meyer and Terry Bringman searched Hunninghake’s home April 23, his wife called to tell him about the search warrant — less than 24 hours before he reported the stabbing to police.

When Meyer and Bringman later found out he was “robbed and stabbed” in Chicago, they were suspicious and immediately questioned him upon his return to Iowa.

There were reportedly “blatant” inconsistencies in the stories he told the two departments.

Eight days after the incident, Chicago detectives contacted Hunninghake by phone. Police told Hunninghake they found several contradictions during their investigation and asked Hunninghake to tell them what really happened that evening.

A false report

Once Chicago police brought up the issue of the ongoing investigation in Iowa City, Hunninghake immediately admitted he had, in fact, not been attacked or robbed.

He told the detective he paid cash for a set of steak knives and only kept one 6- to 7-inch blade to stab himself before throwing it in the river.

When asked if he was trying to kill himself or simply garner sympathy, Hunninghake said he was not sure what he was trying to do and said he was “in a strange state of mind” when he stabbed himself.

Chicago police decided to file charges on falsifying a report, and Hunninghake turned himself in on May 6, 2010.

Following the charge, Chicago police Superintendent Jody Weis told Chicago newspapers that Hunninghake embarrassed Chicago with his story.

“Why anyone would create such a story and waste the valuable resources of first responders is beyond me,” Weis told media at the time. “At a time when resources are already stretched thin, Mr. Hunninghake’s actions were not only criminal but irresponsible and unfair to the residents and visitors of our great city.”

Hunninghake told the Chicago Tribune the UI investigation had nothing to do with the incident.

“That’s [unimportant]. That’s going to blow over. That’s not the issue,” he said after a hearing in Chicago.

Where things stand

On Jan. 25, Hunninghake pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in Cook County Circuit Court.

He was sentenced to 14 months of conditional discharge and 40 hours of community service and ordered to pay $15,565 in restitution to the Chicago police.

As for his employment at the UI, Moore was unable to provide a timeline for when officials will make a decision on what action to take. He was also unable to clarify what “taking action” meant.

Moore said the UI is prohibited from discussing the details of Hunninghake’s employment status because of the injunction he filed against the university requesting all documents pertaining to the UI police investigation be sealed indefinitely.

No other law-enforcement agencies are currently investigating Hunninghake, Spies said.

A hearing on the records petition is set for April 1.