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September 20, 2017

9/9/2017 7:29:00 AM
Welcenbach grievance decision made

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

After two more days of often contentious testimony this past week, the Oneida County Law Enforcement Grievance Committee has made a decision on the county's effort to terminate detective sergeant Sara Welcenbach.

The charges filed against Welcenbach, formerly known as Sara Gardner, by sheriff Grady Hartman, chief deputy Dan Hess, and the county's civil service commission allege, among other things, misconduct relating to missing departmental monies, conduct unbecoming an officer and making false statements.

On Friday, grievance committee chairman Alan Van Raalte said the committee had reached a decision in closed session and would be releasing it after he reviews the document and the parties are notified. That should be in several days, he said.

The River News will have full coverage of the decision and surrounding issues in upcoming editions.

The most serious charges related to missing monies from the drug unit Welcenbach headed in Oneida County. Criminal charges related to the case were filed, too, but those were dismissed on a prosecutor's motion.

In that matter, Welcenbach signed a diversion agreement in which she agreed to pay money to the department but did not admit guilt. She was also required to take an accounting course.

The county continued to press for her termination, however, leading to the grievance hearing.

Welcenbach has also filed a federal lawsuit against Hartman and the county, among other things alleging retaliation and deprivation of her civil rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In the lawsuit, Welcenbach claims she was told by then Lt. Terri Hook that the sheriff wanted her to press forward with charges against then deputy Lee Lech for an alleged rape of Welcenbach at an out-of-town training event - an allegation she had relayed to some members of the department - but she refused.

The sheriff was looking for reasons to derail a potential promotion of Lech, the lawsuit alleges Welcenbach was told, and the charges are in retaliation for her refusal to move press forward against the deputy.

The county denies that is so, and asserts that the charges of missing funds stand on their merits and have nothing to do with the Lech matter.

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