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September 22, 2019

9/12/2019 7:26:00 AM
The mysterious case of the walking quorum letter writer
What does 'writing' mean, and was the cover-up a cover-up?

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

So who really wrote the letter - the letter being a Jan. 30 missive questioning Rhinelander city council president George Kirby's leadership that has become the subject of a walking-quorum complaint in court?

There were five letter signers - mayor Chris Frederickson, and council members Ryan Rossing, Steve Sauer, Andrew Larson, and David Holt. The city administrator, Daniel Guild, was also involved.

We may never really know, and any guess depends upon whose statements to law enforcement one believes. It also depends upon what one means by "writing." Does a person who types a letter write it? Does typing a letter qualify as "drafting" it? If a person feeds the ideas and content to the typist, is that content feeder the "writer"?

What is reasonably certain is that either former Oneida County detective sergeant Ryan Rossing wrote it, or Guild did, though others might have been involved in the letter's editing. However, in what one sheriff's investigator called "a finger-pointing mess," most of the fingers have pointed at Rossing.

For example, in a conversation that Oneida County sheriff's department investigators say they had with him, Guild allegedly says Rossing was the "principal author." But, in his interviews with investigators, Rossing says Guild wrote it.

In addition, Frederickson told a Department of Justice investigator that he was told Rossing wrote it, and Larson told that same investigator that Rossing told him Rossing wrote it. Rossing says that's mistaken.

After The Lakeland Times filed a walking quorum complaint over the letter, the sheriff's department suspended Rossing and launched an investigation into Rossing's conduct in the matter. He submitted his resignation to the department Aug. 9 and was hired by the Eagle River Police Department.

The sheriff's 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, and, perhaps most important, on what Rossing says was his attempt to cover up the letter's authorship.

Where it started

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 on Jan. 30 after that 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.

"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."

All along in the interviews, Rossing said he assumed 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 him to write it and that some of Rossing's ideas were incorporated into the letter.

At first, Rossing said the letter did not come up in the meeting he had with Guild and Sauer but later changed that story, saying they opted for a letter rather than a public discussion and that Guild offered to "put something together," Rossing said.

And that's what he did, Rossing claimed, sending it out in an email that Rossing saw on Sauer's phone at the mayor's house on Jan. 30. Sauer took it to his nearby house, Rossing said, and printed it out, but there was no question Guild had sent the email with the letter that was on Sauer's phone.

"It came from Daniel, I think out of our frustration," Rossing told investigators on April 19. "My comments to him. He drafted this letter. It was sent in draft form. Steve went and printed it out. I looked at it, liked it, signed it, and then left the mayors's house ..."

Significant parts of that latter response would subsequently change during Rossing's interview but not the part that Guild drafted and composed the letter - whether or not Rossing was aware he was going to do so -and sent it to Sauer and possibly others.

Still, Rossing said he did not have that email himself. Though he thought it had been sent to him, when he searched his email accounts, he could not find it. Later in the interview, investigators returned to the question of who wrote the letter.

It was Guild, Rossing told them.

"Well, I wasn't there when the keystrokes were being pressed, but I'm assuming, like I said before, that since it was sent by Daniel, that he wrote it," Rossing said.

The problem was, investigators continued, Guild had made a statement to the newspaper saying he didn't write it. Was that a lie? they wanted to know.

In that interview, Guild told Jamie Taylor of the River News: "I had, was aware of a draft, and I had provided some suggestions and comments for how to better communicate what I thought council members were trying to achieve. I was aware of the fact that there was a composition. I was aware of some things that they were trying to say, and because I was aware of the fact that there was a great deal of frustration following the meeting of the 28th, and I was trying to offer some suggestions and guidance on ways to communicate their emotions without necessarily elevating or escalating the situation ..."

Rossing refused to characterize that as inaccurate as such because, he said, "over the years there's been stuff that hasn't been printed correctly or been printed in a way to benefit the way that it sounds."

Rossing said he believed Guild wasn't "screaming at the top of his lungs to admit" he wrote the letter: "I think at the time he was probably trying to keep it discrete, if I were to guess," Rossing said.

But, well, there's a problem

But there was a problem with Rossing's ongoing assertion that Guild wrote the letter, the investigators said.

The problem was, the investigators continued, when the Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) interviewed the other letter signers about the matter - it did not interview Guild - one of them said Rossing told him that Rossing was drafting the letter, and the other said he was told Rossing wrote the letter. No one implicated Guild.

For example, when DCI interviewed Larson, he told the DCI investigator, as summarized in the investigator's report: "Ryan Rossing called Larson, and told Larson he was drafting a letter asking about Kirby's actions. Rossing said [to Larson] that it was written by Rossing and Sauer, and that they showed it to Daniel Guild for input."

Rossing told investigators that that conversation was actually about a cover-up he was undertaking to bolster Guild's public assertion that Guild did not write the letter. Guild's statement to the press made him angry, he said, but he felt the need to give Guild cover and so he was offering to say Rossing wrote the letter, though it wasn't true.

"Some of the people that were on there, I didn't tell them I wrote the letter," he said on April 19. "I may have said, 'Hey, if they ask, or if somebody asks you, prior to law enforcement getting involved, I'm going to say I wrote the letter.'"

Rossing said he undertook the cover-up because of Guild's "stupid" comment to the paper: "And I said I don't really want Daniel to be the one that said that he actually wrote the letter."

The conversation with Larson came after the letter was drafted, Rossing said.

"This was probably weeks after that, where I knew this walking quorum thing was becoming an issue and I had told Andrew that if somebody is going to take the fall for writing the letter, I'll say I wrote it," Rossing said.

But, Neuman wanted to know, why would Larson tell the DCI that the phone call was made prior to the letter. Rossing said again that he talked with Larson after the letter was drafted and that he did not write the letter.

Rossing went on to say he believed Larson's words were either misinterpreted or that Larson got the conversation wrong when Rossing called to tell him to tell people Rossing wrote the letter.

But the problem with that was, the investigators continued, Frederickson had also said Rossing wrote the letter. Indeed, in his interview with DCI, Frederickson said Sauer told him the letter was Rossing's work.

"On Wednesday evening, ..., Sauer was at Frederickson's house for a drink, as Sauer is a neighbor and friend," the DCI's report of its interview with Frederickson states. "Sauer told Frederickson that there was a letter about Kirby's action on Monday night, asking Kirby some very specific questions. Sauer said Rossing had written the letter."

The point is, Neuman told Rossing, these guys are saying you wrote the letter again: "Why are these people saying this? That is my question to you."

Rossing again attributed their statements to the cover-up in which he told them to say Rossing wrote the letter.

"There was a lot of conversation about me taking the fall for writing the letter before it was going to be investigated by law enforcement," Rossing told the investigators.

Neuman pushed hard against Rossing's defense.

"Unfortunately for you, or whatever it may be, you making that statement, you putting yourself out there, has created this mess," he told Rossing. "And this mess is, they're all accusing you of writing the letter and you're saying, 'I didn't write the letter.'"

So guess what, Neuman continued.

"On the one hand you say, 'I wrote it,'" Neuman said. "On the other hand, you say, I didn't write it. Whether it be intent or whatever you intended to make that work for, whether it be for somebody - to cover for somebody, or to take the blame for something. You know as well as I do, Ryan, everybody in this room, we're experienced cops, if you say one thing over here and say another thing over here, what your intent was doesn't matter, and makes you what? What does that make you?"

Rossing denied he was a liar, but Neuman pressed on.

"For whatever reason, and you had your own reasons for doing it and great for you, but the problem lies, is that when you did that and then you said, 'Yeah, I did it,' and now you're saying, 'No I didn't.' What do I do with that. Because it makes you a liar."

Rossing said he wished the River News had never asked Guild about the letter, and he further added that once law enforcement got involved, he wasn't going to lie or cover up any more because to lie to a cop would be obstruction, and he told at least Sauer and Guild that he wouldn't lie about any of it to law enforcement.

"But the problem again is," Neuman responded, "these people were interviewed and they're pointing the finger at you. That's the problem."

The truth shall set us free

At one point, Rossing wondered why whether he wrote the letter or not was important.

"The reason why it's being questioned is because there's a lot of inconsistencies from a lot of people of whether you wrote the letter or not, and you taking the role of saying, 'I did write the letter,' and telling other people that directly," Young told Rossing.

One of those inconsistencies involved Frederickson.

At the point law enforcement got involved, Rossing said he told Frederickson that everyone needed to be honest and truthful, and he said that Frederickson told him that "the truth on this is going to set us free."

The trouble is, Young told Rossing, when he was interviewed by DCI, Frederickson still pointed his finger at Rossing.

"That's after you met with them, and Frederickson says that, you know the truth shall set us free statement, and he still says that you drafted the letter," Young told Rossing.

Young then clarifies that Frederickson said he was told Rossing drafted the letter, but Rossing was still baffled: "He knows I didn't draft the letter," he said. "I don't know why he would say that."

Lying to the city attorney

Throughout the two interviews, Rossing maintains that the only person he actually lied to was the then city attorney, Carrie Miljevich.

But, the investigators wanted to know, why was it okay to lie to the city attorney but not OK to lie to law enforcement? What was the difference?

"I knew of her hatred for Daniel [Guild]," Rossing responded.

Plus there were unrelated issues and she also just kind of blurted out the question, asking him point blank who wrote the letter, Rossing said. And, finally, he said, she wasn't law enforcement.

"It was not her job to investigate this," Rossing said. "If I tell her something, I felt as though it was not obstructing."

But how could the city attorney represent the city's best interests when she was being lied to, the investigators wanted to know. Was Rossing certain she wasn't conducting an investigation, they asked.

"Maybe she was doing an official inquiry, and trying to figure out, maybe somebody came to her, a citizen came to her, or there was a complaint filed, and she was looking into it," Neuman said. "... Are you certain that none of that was going on behind the scenes? That she wasn't acting in her official capacity as the city attorney?"

If she was, that was another issue, Neuman said.

"Because if she was conducting city business, and she was asking for a reason, and you lied to her, wouldn't that be a problem as a city councilperson?" Neuman asked. "Aren't you tasked with telling the truth? [T]o have the best interest of the city in your direction, and that's what you're supposed to answer to?"

Rossing said he did not know whether the city attorney was conducting an internal investigation.

Finally, in the May 14 interview, Young and Neuman informed Rossing that, though Guild never interviewed with DCI, they had been able to talk with him, and they said Guild, too, said Rossing was the principal author of the letter.

Rossing said Guild had called him and told him about their meeting, and that Guild told him he had explained to the captains that he saw a difference between writing a letter and being responsible for the letter.

Neuman wondered if Guild had told Rossing that Guild allegedly told the captains that Rossing was the major architect of the letter.

"He didn't tell you that he told us, quote, 'Ryan Rossing was the principal author of the letter?'" Neuman asked. "He didn't tell you that he told us that? Would that be a lie or is that the truth?"

Rossing said that would be lie. But he then sought clarification: "The principal author of the letter?"

Neuman said that was a straight quote from Guild.

"That's what he told us, that's a quote," Neuman said. "He said Ryan Rossing was the principal author of the letter, and then he went on to say, he said if you asked me that I would tell you, 'Yes he was,' and then he went on to say, if you asked me if Ryan Rossing contributed to the letter, he quote said, 'Yes he did.' Did he tell you that he said that to us?"

Guild also said Rossing was responsible for refining the final product, the captains said, and that led to a discussion about whether Rossing's changes were significant or not.

Somewhere in between, Rossing replied.

"I don't remember a lot at the top being changed," he said. "I remember saying something about this sentence here, some of us would like to inquire further if you have the composure necessary to continue to serve as council president. Something about council president I know there was some sentences that might have been altered like that ...."

Neuman also alleged that Guild said it was Rossing's ideas that were put into the letter.

Rossing said he had previously acknowledged that a lot of what he and Sauer had discussed with Guild after the Jan. 28 council meeting had gone in the letter.

But Neuman alleged that Guild said nothing about Sauer.

"He didn't say Steve," Neuman said. "I didn't tell you Steve. He said, 'Ryan was a huge part of the letter. It was his ideas.' And I think, the way he talked to us, if Guild thought Steve Sauer was part of it, he would have said Steve. He didn't say Steve, he said Ryan. 'It was Ryan's ideas that were put into the letter.'"

Rossing said he knew that a lot of what he talked about with Guild had gone into the letter but that he didn't know if it was just from him or the back-and-forth conversation.

After a discussion about it being hard to figure out who was telling the truth and about who had added signature lines on the letter, Young concluded the May 14 interview by reminding Rossing that in the first interview he began by saying he had no knowledge of the letter before arriving at the mayor's house on Jan. 30.

"You said you knew nothing about a letter prior to that," Young said. "All of a sudden you're called down here, there's a letter, you liked the content, you thought it looked good, and therefore it was signed by you, Frederickson, and Sauer."

Rossing admitted that was not the truth.

"The first time I saw the letter in Word form was that night, but you're right, the first discussion about the letter, and what Daniel said, 'Let me see what I can come up with,' yes, that was the night before," he said.

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