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home : news : county/state news August 17, 2017

3/7/2017 7:30:00 AM
Records again show widespread misconduct by Oneida County officers
Sheriff's department disciplined 17 employees since mid-2012

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

First of a series

A Times' open-records investigation

In what continues to be a long-standing pattern of misconduct inside the Oneida County Sheriff's Office, the department doled out disciplinary action against its officers and staff at least 17 times between the middle of 2012 and the end of 2016 - a period of just over four-and-a-half years - an analysis of departmental records obtained in an open-records request by The Times shows.

The disciplinary actions do not include allegations of rape against former deputy Lee Lech, who resigned after a fellow officer accused him of assault in 2014 and he was placed on administrative leave.

In addition, another complaint lodged against Lech during that time period never resulted in disciplinary action nor was completely investigated, records show.

The 17 disciplinary actions since mid-2012 follow years of similar misconduct inside the department. Between 2007 and 2010, for example, the department disciplined 14 jail employees for various instances of misconduct, ranging from sleeping on the job to the intoxicated use of firearms.

Outside the jail, in 2007 two Oneida County officers were disciplined for misconduct while on duty, one for allowing deputies under his supervision to gather at various homes and play video games for extended time periods; that same officer and another for trying to cover up the absence of a fellow officer without leave. Lech was investigated for a charge of excessive force in 2007 - a charge found not to be true - and in 2009 for letting a woman informant off the hook for an OWI. The 2009 incident resulted in an interview with Lech in which his superior advised him not to let people off for drunk driving.

Some of the disciplinary actions since June 1, 2012, involve two officers disciplined between 2007 and 2010, showing patterns not only of ongoing misconduct overall but recurring misconduct among specific officers, one of whom is still employed by the sheriff's department.

As in the analysis conducted by The Times for the years between 2007 and 2010, the more recent incidents range from relatively minor infractions such as sleeping on the job and insubordination to significantly more serious and potentially dangerous acts, including habitual failure to properly escort inmates; failure to conduct the proper number of inmate walkthroughs and ordering other officers not to follow the policy; failure to properly search inmates; unauthorized use of county computers; and neglecting E911 telecommunicator duties.

Other major disciplinary actions came for improper denial of records considered releasable to the public; failure to properly enter warrants into the Law Enforcement Records Management System; running an unauthorized and improper check of a person through a law enforcement data base for personal reasons; and failure to report important information to the sheriff, the latter a case involving an affair between two officers.

The implications

A review of the records leads to three conclusions with local implications.

First, as reported, the high number of disciplinary actions continues a pattern dating back to at least a decade ago. And misconduct within the corrections division remains high, with seven of the 17 disciplinary actions handed out among a much smaller jail staff.

To put the numbers in perspective, while the sheriff dispensed 10 actions against a non-corrections staff of about 64 (that is the current number) during that time period, or nearly 16 percent of the work force, the seven actions against 26 jail employees represented 27 percent of the current corrections work force.

That continued a pattern from the 2007-10 analysis of records, when a jail work force of 25 netted 14 disciplinary actions, more than half the employees, while then sheriff Jeff Hoffman took only six disciplinary actions during that period within the rest of the department, which numbered two-and-a-half times as many employees, 61.

The current calculation uses the present number of employees, and so there may have been small fluctuations since 2012, but clearly misconduct in the corrections division continues to proportionally dwarf such incidents in the rest of the department.

Also continued from the earlier review of jail records is an ongoing pattern of extensive discord within the work force, which has sparked multiple incidents of insubordination and confrontations, especially at the jail.

For example, in one case in 2014, then corrections sergeant William Skubal was found to be insubordinate for speaking in a "condescending tone and manner" to his superiors. Skubal also failed to attend a meeting with jail administrator Mark Neuman, who had ordered Skubal to meet with him.

Skubal was found, too, to have failed to follow established inmate management protocols and of ordering other employees not to follow the policy. Skubal ultimately resigned his position.

In another incident involving the jail, in 2015, corrections officer Becky Hable clashed with Neuman and Todd Hook in a meeting, interrupting Neuman. Neuman and officer Keith Fabianski left the meeting before it ended, but Hable's agitation continued, according to Neuman's departmental report.

According to that report, Hable ultimately stormed out of the meeting "then proceeded to slam the door with such force that others in the meeting checked the glass window as they thought it was broken by the slamming of the door."

Not long afterwards, Neuman's report continues, Hable made her way to Neuman's office to resign.

"Shortly after leaving the meeting, Lt. Fabianski and myself were in a meeting when the door burst open and in walked officer Hable, it was evident by her demeanor she was very upset at something demonstrated by the expression on her face and her frantic attempt to remove her badge from her shirt, for which she then proceeded to throw it to the desk causing it to bounce off the desk and nearly striking me in the head, she then began removing her collar brass while uttering words about Todd Hook, and stating 'I quit,'" Neuman's report states.

Two employees disciplined in the 2012-16 review also had been disciplined in the 2007-10 years.

In 2007, for example, the department determined a sergeant had let an officer go home early without signing off duty, and then, after that officer called in a report of a drunken driver from his personal vehicle before the end of his shift, allowed or directed deputy Sara Wolosek to list the caller as anonymous in a subsequent arrest report.

She did, though she too knew the caller's identity. For that, Wolosek received an oral reprimand.

Just this past December Wolosek was reprimanded again, receiving a seven-day work suspension for violating Rule 24, relating to the timely reporting to the sheriff of "matters of major importance."

That doesn't sound like much, but the matter of major importance concerned an intimate relationship she had with officer Anton Keelin - who was also disciplined - while both were married and whether that relationship began before Keelin had been promoted to a rank equal to that of Wolosek.

If it had, creating a supervisor-subordinate relationship, the affair would have been a policy violation. Both denied it. The investigation began, according to captain Terri Hook's report, after sheriff Grady Hartman received calls and complaints about the relationship.

Another name popping up from the earlier disciplinary analysis was that of Skubal. While Wolosek is back on duty, Skubal resigned, but in 2010 he had been twice disciplined.

In one 2010 incident, he was given an oral reprimand for comments he wrote on employee action plans as a supervisor. On one action plan, for instance, in which the employee articulated a goal of "striving to improve the working relationship with management," Skubal wrote as a supervisory comment, "butt kisser."

The second action against Skubal that year was a written reprimand handed in a case in which some of Skubal's fellow officers thought Skubal acted inappropriately against an inmate to the point that an officer override should have been undertaken.

Specifically, Skubal took out his pepper spray and Taser in an incident with an inmate and then failed to mention those actions in his report of the incident. Witnesses reported that Skubal had held the pepper spray up and threatened the inmate with it - though the inmate was secured at the time - and also reported hearing Skubal swear at the inmate. One officer reported that Skubal was "instigating the inmate."

At the time, though, then sheriff Jeff Hoffman labeled both incidents as "minor" and Skubal continued to work in the corrections division.

Out of town conferences

Third, beyond the specific examples of misconduct, the investigations into the accusations against the officers yield important glimpses into general conduct and behavior within the department.

That is particularly relevant when it comes to behavior at out-of-town conferences attended by sheriff's department employees. For example, the alleged assault by Lech of a fellow officer allegedly happened at an out-of-town conference.

Then, too, Lech was accused of fraternizing and drinking with an underage person during an out-of-town training exercise, and of perhaps providing alcohol to that person, who lost her job. In 2013, the department concluded that the underage charge was unfounded after interviewing Lech but failing to interview anyone else - not the underage person, and not any witnesses.

A Marathon County law enforcement captain, not Hartman, ultimately apologized for the behavior of the Oneida County deputy.

More than that, during the investigation of Lech for the alleged assault, Lech had wondered aloud to another - after he was suspended but before he knew of the specific allegations - if it had to do with his behavior at training workshops.

"If this was about me going to training and getting drunk, everybody does that," a witness quoted Lech as saying.

Whether Lech's statement is true or not, the current disciplinary records certainly add new detail to a growing picture of widespread inappropriate behavior at out-of-town events attended by county officers.

In the Wolosek-Keelin case, for example a central focus was the officers' behavior at a 2016 convention of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, and whether they had engaged in any intimate contact - kissing specifically - that would have caused Keelin's wife to lock him out of their hotel room.

Wolosek's and Keelin's version of events differ, but they corroborate Lech's portrait of behavior at such events. According to captain Terri Hook's report, Wolosek said the two had "quickly kissed once" at the convention in the bar.

"Segeant Wolosek stated that they had been drinking at the Hospitality Room and then had gone to the bar," Hook's October 24, 2016, report states. "Sergeant Wolosek said Sergeant Keelin, her husband, and a group of other employees had all been in the bar when this had occurred. Sergeant Wolosek said nobody had observed them kiss, and detective Sergeant Wanta stated, 'Not that you know of.'"

In his interview with captain Lloyd Gauthier, Keelin painted a picture of a more graphic and alcohol-fueled event.

"I told him I was aware that something happened when they attended the WPPA convention and because of that, he was locked out of his hotel room by his wife," Gauthier wrote in his Oct. 21, 2016, report.

Keelin said both he and Wolosek were drunk and were in fact kissing in a bathroom.

"I asked what took place at the WPPA convention and he stated they were intoxicated and ended up kissing in the bathroom," Gauthier wrote in his report of the interview. "He stated he doesn't recall (redacted) coming into the bathroom and getting back in his hotel room but each morning he woke up in his room. He stated he doesn't remember some of the nights due to being intoxicated."

Broader implications

Beyond providing one window into the internal workings of the department, the records show misconduct with broader implications, in particular the ongoing and apparently widespread misuse of law enforcement databases, and not just in Oneida County.

Last year, an Associated Press review of Wisconsin Department of Justice records between 2013 and 2015 found more than 20 cases of database misuse that resulted in discipline.

The misuse ranged from a UW-Madison police captain who ran a plate check "of a woman that he thought might be interested in him" and left a card on her car, the AP reported, to four dispatchers who were alleged to have run a check on a supervisor "after hearing rumors about her."

The Oneida County case was similar. The department found that telecommunicator Trista Alsteen ran a check with the DOJ TIME system for a purpose not related to law enforcement, of a man she later told officers she was dating at the time.

She received 10 days off without pay.

The TIME system is the law enforcement network that provides law-enforcement employees with information on wants and warrants, drivers license and vehicle registration information, criminal histories, protection order and injunction files, sex offender and corrections information, stolen property, missing persons, and more. It connects over 10,700 criminal justice computers in Wisconsin to over 400,000 criminal justice computers across the nation and Canada, the DOJ states.

The DOJ TIME system manual explicitly forbids personal use of the system for a non-law enforcement reason, as does the policy of the Oneida County sheriff's department.

"Any and all uses made of the TIME System must relate to and involve only 'official business,'" the manual states. "Personal use of the system is strictly prohibited."

A sample policy crafted for use by various law enforcement agencies reiterates the point.

"Information accessed via the TIME System shall be used only for the purpose for which the request was made," the policy states. "Access is subject to cancellation if information is improperly disseminated. The TIME system will not be used to obtain data for personal reasons. The selling of information obtained from the TIME System is strictly prohibited, and illegal."

The misuse of law enforcement databases is a problem not only in Oneida County and across Wisconsin, but nationally. The AP review found that database misuse by officers had occurred hundreds of times in recent years for many personal reasons.

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