Rhinelander alderman and former Oneida County detective sergeant Ryan Rossing said he lied to the then Rhinelander city attorney about who wrote a letter to city council president George Kirby last January questioning Kirby's leadership and tried to engineer a broader cover-up about the letter's authorship, according to an Oneida County sheriff's department investigation.
The Lakeland Times has alleged that the Jan. 30 letter - signed by Rossing, three other council members, and mayor Chris Frederickson - constituted an illegal walking quorum, and Heather Holmes of The Times has filed a verified complaint to that effect in circuit court.
The sheriff's department subsequently suspended Rossing and launched an investigation into Rossing's conduct in the alleged walking quorum and, specifically, his role in the letter that prompted the complaint. He submitted his resignation from the department Aug. 9 and was hired by the Eagle River Police Department.
The department released the records of its investigation on Aug. 28, which, among other things, included two interviews of Rossing by sheriff's department captains Tyler Young and Mark Neuman, one on April 19 and another on May 14.
The interviews focused on Rossing's role in writing the letter to Kirby - when he first had knowledge of the letter, when he first saw it, his truthfulness about who wrote it and whether he was involved in editing it, and, perhaps most important, his alleged attempt to cover up the letter's authorship.
As they hammered away at Rossing's honesty in the interviews, the exasperated investigators at one point described the whole situation as a "finger-pointing mess." Indeed, so many different stories were told, the investigators said, it was hard to believe that anybody involved could tell the truth.
But they had Rossing in the cross-hairs - he was the subject of the investigation as an employee of the sheriff's department in a matter with Brady List implications, a list containing the names of officers whose credibility can be impeached at trial based on information about past dishonesty.
Over the course of the two interviews, Rossing's stories changed multiple times, especially about when he first learned of the letter and his role in editing and composing it.
Throughout the interviews, too, Rossing denied writing the letter, saying it was the work of city administrator Daniel Guild, while investigators pointed out that multiple letter signers either said Rossing wrote the letter or were told Rossing wrote the letter, as did Guild.
"That's the problem," Neuman said at one point. "Lot of people are saying you did write the letter."
For his part, Rossing attributed those assertions, some of which had been made in statements to a Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) investigator during an earlier inquiry, to confusion that Rossing himself created by undertaking a cover-up of the letter's authorship.
Rossing said he undertook the alleged cover-up after Guild went public with a statement that he did not write the letter but offered suggestions and comments. Rossing said he orchestrated a cover-up to try to "fall on the sword" for Guild by proclaiming that in fact Rossing and not Guild wrote the letter.
As part of the alleged cover-up, Rossing acknowledged to detectives that he lied to the then city attorney, Carrie Miljevich.
"I probably shouldn't say this, but I told our city attorney," Rossing said to the captains on April 19. "I looked her in the eye and I said, 'Yeah, I wrote the letter,' when I didn't."
Rossing admitted the possibility that he might have told the same thing to sheriff Grady Hartman or to captain Terri Hook, or to both, as part of his cover-up, though he didn't remember doing so and did not think he actually did.
"That might have been during cover-up mode where I told her that - I don't think I said that I actually drafted the letter," he said. "I don't remember saying that to her like that."
He said he didn't remember saying that to Hartman, either.
In any event, Rossing told investigators, he absolutely did not lie once he found out law enforcement would be involved in an investigation, and he told other letter signers - at least alderman Steve Sauer and Frederickson - and Guild he would no longer participate in a cover-up about the letter.
Throughout the interviews, Rossing said he was sorry for the role he had played in the letter and in the attempted cover-up.
"If I could go back, I would do it differently, for sure," Rossing told investigators. "I wouldn't have signed that letter. I wouldn't even have been involved in signing any letter. I would probably have gone up to George and asked, why did you do that? I thought at the time it was the more noble thing to do. I didn't think the letter was going to be an issue of a walking quorum and I said earlier that I didn't want to make a public spectacle."
Ditto for the cover-up, he said.
"I know that what I said in trying to fall on the sword and say I wrote the letter was a huge mistake," Rossing said.
It should be noted that during the probe of Rossing, the investigators also interviewed Guild, who they say continued to assert that Rossing was the principal author of the letter. Much of the controversy over the letter's authorship could well turn on the definition of "writing" the letter - who provided the content and who actually typed it - and that issue will be explored in an upcoming article.
However, if Guild's view is accurate, there would have been no cover-up and no lie to the former city attorney because Rossing would in fact have written the letter. But that would create another falsehood by Rossing, who continually maintained he didn't really write the letter - even if his concerns had prompted it - but only pretended to write it for a while.
The Lakeland Times reached out to Rossing for these articles, but by press time he had not responded.
What did he know and when did he know it
After a Jan. 28 council meeting, when Kirby had refused to take his seat and temporarily denied the council a quorum to convene, Rossing and fellow council member Steve Sauer met with Guild in his office and vented their frustrations about Kirby.
In the opening minutes of the April 19 interview, Rossing maintained he had never heard of any letter and had not seen any letter before arriving at Frederickson's house a day or so after the council meeting and after the session with Guild. Sauer was also at Frederickson's house that night and had the letter on his phone, on an email, Rossing told investigators.
For the longest time, Rossing said, he thought he too had received a draft of the letter from Guild, but he could not find it later on any of his email accounts.
"So I must have looked at it on Steve's phone when I went - I ended up going to the mayor's house that night," he said. "... So at the meeting, or, at his house, I looked at the letter, I said, I think this sounds fantastic."
So the bottom line was, asked captain Tyler Young, the first time Rossing had any knowledge of the letter, or saw the letter, was that night at the mayor's house?
Rossing said that was correct: "That night at the mayor's house," he confirmed.
Earlier Young had also asked if Rossing had any knowledge of the letter being drafted before arriving at the mayor's house. Rossing replied, "No."
All along in the interviews, Rossing said Guild composed the letter but Rossing felt that the venting he and Sauer did in Guild's office after the Jan. 28 council meeting prompted Guild to write it and that some of Rossing's ideas were incorporated into the letter.
But Rossing said the letter did not come up in the meeting he had with Guild and Sauer.
"I don't remember, in my venting to the administrator, he never said, 'Here's what I am going to do, I'm going to put this letter together and have you guys take a look at it,'" Rossing said. "I don't remember that conversation, anything like that."
But as the interviews went on, that version of events began to fall apart like a collapsing quorum.
During the May 14 interview, Rossing said the idea of a letter did come up in the meeting with Guild.
"There was a conversation about, I don't know if Daniel had said, 'You know, okay, you guys are venting about this, what do you want to do?'" Rossing told the investigators. "And I believe Daniel had said, 'You know, you could address it publicly, or, you know, we could write a letter' and, from what I recall that evening, a letter was what was thought to be the best most discrete option."
And while on April 19 Rossing said he could not remember Guild ever saying he would put something together for them to look at, on May 14 Rossing said that is exactly what Guild said.
"What I remember his words being were something like, 'Let me work on this, I'll put something together,'" Rossing said on May 14.
There was also the question of whether Rossing ever received the draft copy of the letter sent by Guild via email following the meeting to vent. As reported earlier, Rossing said he thought initially he had received a copy and deleted it but couldn't find it, and so he said he must have seen the letter for the first time at the mayor's house.
Rossing said also that he never cleared out any of his emails accounts, even the deleted folder, so it should have been there if he had received it.
"So that's what makes me think that I had gotten a phone call that said, 'Hey, you know, Ryan, I'm down at the mayor's house, you know this letter that Daniel sent, do you want to look at it,' and so I believe I went down there and that was the first time that I saw it was on his email, which was on his phone," Rossing told investigators.
But on May 14, Rossing was more certain that he had received the email, which meant he would have seen the letter before arriving at the mayor's house.
"I told you it was emailed," Rossing told the investigators. "I believe that I was part of that group that was emailed the letter by Daniel. I believe I deleted it that night when I had gotten it."
But it would have been sent to his personal Hotmail account, which Rossing said he could get into on his phone but was locked out from on his computer - for some reason for 30 days - and so he could not get into his computer to see if he had deleted the email.
"So to answer your question, I believe I had gotten an email from him, but I can't tell you 100 percent certain that I did," he said. "... I think what happened is, Daniel sent a text and said 'I sent you guys an email, take a look at it,' and I think that's what prompted a conversation with Steve Sauer, which ultimately led to me going down to the mayor's house that evening."
Yes, I did no editing
Beyond the inconsistency in his stories about when he learned about the letter and his uncertainty about whether he got an email from Guild, there were inconsistencies about whether Rossing edited the letter while at the mayor's house.
On April 19, Rossing first said flatly that he did not edit the letter.
"I had nothing to do with putting anything on that letter," he said, adding that he read it, he thought it sounded good, he signed it, and then he went home.
A little later, captain Mark Neuman asked Rossing again if Rossing edited anything, added anything, or deleted anything, or said that something should be put in the letter.
Rossing's short answer: "Nope."
Still later in the April 19 interview, that narrative also began to change.
The shift began after the investigators referred to interviews conducted in March with the letter signers by an investigator with the Department of Justice's DCI, which also conducted a probe of the circumstances surrounding the letter.
In his interview with the DCI, Sauer had said he thought Rossing actually talked with Guild while at the mayor's house about making modifications and edits, and a substantive one at that, "specifically pointing out that as council president Kirby sets a higher standard," the DCI interview with Sauer states.
At that point Rossing said he might have called Guild but he did not type the letter or make any modifications to the letter. But, Young followed up, did Rossing suggest any modifications?
Maybe, Rossing said.
"I don't really specifically remember that, but it's possible that I told - I called Daniel and said, 'Yeah, this really looks good but maybe this word is bad or this, you know, this sentence, this could be ....' I don't know," Rossing said. "I might have said that to him. I don't recall."
After some more dialogue, including what "modifications" meant and the fact that Sauer told DCI investigators he had received a second copy while they were at the mayor's house and he went to his nearby house, printed it out, and returned, Neuman asked Rossing point blank: Did you edit, or did you not edit some of the letter?
He reminded Rossing that Rossing had said he made no edits at the beginning of the interview and he told Rossing that now was not the time to cover up.
Rossing backed down.
"I didn't draft the letter," Rossing said. "I didn't type it, but, yes, I could have called Daniel and said, 'Wow, this word doesn't sound very nice, or doesn't' - so, yes, I may have said something to him that caused him to change the letter."
The fact was, Neumann said, Rossing did edit the letter, after all.
"Because if you talked - had a conversation, and something was changed, that's editing, and that's just simple, that's pretty basic stuff," Neuman said.
In the April 19 interview, Rossing changed his position about editing the letter by saying it was possible he may have suggested some modifications that caused the letter to change, though he really couldn't remember what he said to Guild. By May 14, however, more than three weeks later, Rossing's memory was suddenly sharper.
"There was a discussion that night - I remember placing a phone call, and this I know for sure because I had told Daniel when I read the letter, I pointed out a typo in the letter, and it was a spelling error or something, and he said, 'I left that in there on purpose.'"
Rossing said he wasn't sure why Guild would do that, just that he said he purposely left it in.
In about three weeks, Rossing had gone from making absolutely no edits of any kind to possibly making some edits of some kind to definitely making edits.
Who wrote the letter?
All those inconsistencies pale in comparison to those related to perhaps the most central issue of all: Who wrote the letter?
Rossing insisted throughout the two interviews it wasn't him - "I didn't write the damn letter," he said at one point - and that he assumed it was Guild. However, as investigators repeatedly pointed out during the interviews, other letter signers and Guild pointed their finger at Rossing.
Most astonishingly, for a time Rossing pointed his own finger at himself. Rossing told investigators that's because he felt responsible for Guild allegedly writing the letter, thinking it was prompted by the venting conversation he and Sauer had with Guild after the Jan. 28 council meeting.
When Neuman asked Rossing why he didn't just let Guild take responsibility for writing the letter, Rossing said he did not have a good answer for that, except that Guild was under attack from "certain people."
"I guess I felt somewhat responsible for the letter," he said on May 14. "You know, even though it was him that wrote it. I don't know all the conversation, he may have had a conversation separate from the one that Steve Sauer and I had with him."
Rossing said he wasn't certain about that, but he was certain about the conversation he and Sauer had with Guild.
"And so I felt responsible for that conversation," he said. "... I guess maybe that's part of the reason that I felt responsible to say I wrote the letter."
At one point, Guild had told the Northwoods River News that he did not write the letter but made suggestions and comments. Rossing told investigators that he wanted to back Guild up, and so he decided to take the blame for writing the letter.
"Whatever that was - that he said he made recommendations for changes, which is not accurate, it's not completely accurate," he said. "I was going to take the fall for writing the letter."
Rossing said he told other letter signers to say, if they were asked, that Rossing wrote the letter, and during that time he lied to the city attorney.
However, he said, once law enforcement got involved, he told everyone he would no longer lie, and Rossing said he believes that's where some confusion and some of the finger pointing came from.
That story - the cover up of the letter's authorship - will be covered in-depth in the next article, but on April 19 Neuman boiled it all down to what it meant for Rossing.
"You did lie," Neuman said to Rossing. "When you decided to take it upon yourself to take the hit for the letter, and tell these people, who believed in your own statement, believed that Ryan Rossing is the guy, based on what Ryan Rossing said, and we talked about that, what Ryan Rossing said, he's the man that wrote the letter because that's what Ryan Rossing said. You told a lie."
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.
Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Article comment by:
So why hasn't he been forced to resign his council seat? Has corruption penetrated to the level that no one in his precinct cares?
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