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January 18, 2020

10/5/2017 7:29:00 AM
Neuman says he won't compromise confidential info
Then Oneida sheriff's captain blurts it out anyway

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

When it comes to internal probes at the Oneida County sheriff's department, sheriff Grady Hartman has turned increasingly to jail administrator Mark Neuman and captain Terri Hook to lead the investigations of their fellow officers.

Neuman spearheaded the internal investigation of Lee Lech's alleged rape of a fellow officer, and Neuman and Hook both managed the county's investigation that got detective sergeant Sara Welcenbach fired.

Hartman has had high praise for Neuman, who was not a sworn officer when first assigned to do the investigations of Welcenbach and Lech, but the sheriff says that didn't matter.

"He's got the resume to do it," Hartman testified at Welcenbach's grievance hearing. "He was a cop for 30 plus years, and a detective as well, and I thought he could handle the investigation."

And so he has, and over the past several years, Hartman, Neuman, and Hook have emerged as a powerful team inside the department. They have certainly been aggressive, though critics in the department say the atmosphere is intimidating and that many officers are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution.

As it happens, the trio is also leading the department in major gaffes, especially in the Welcenbach matters.

To cite one, in his testimony before the law enforcement grievance committee, Neuman was undergoing a testy cross-examination with Janet Heins, Welcenbach's attorney, when he began to read from a document containing confidential information.

"Don't disclose the name," Heins cautioned Neuman as he approached the section with the confidential information.

Neuman was offended by the warning.

"I'm not going to," he shot back. "I'm smarter than that. I've worked in this for 10 years. I get it."

But apparently he didn't get it because about two minutes later, in another exchange with Heins, Neuman blurted out the confidential information. He apologized for the mistake.

Then there's Hook, who committed a more significant gaffe in her testimony. She said she still had not determined in her own mind whether the sexual assault allegation made by Welcenbach was the truth, then proceeded to describe Welcenbach's physical reaction to the news of Lech's possible promotion as those a sexual assault victim would have, based on her experience dealing with sexual assault victims.

Hook should know: She worked as a victim's advocate for three years in the sheriff's office, and later served as a liaison between the department and the Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

And then there's the sheriff himself, who committed two blunders in a strongly worded press release when the county filed criminal charges against Welcenbach, charges that were later dismissed.

In the release, Hartman accused Welcenbach of violating the public's trust, a judgmental statement ahead of any prosecution that earned a strong rebuke from Welcenbach's defense attorney.

When asked by River News reporter Jamie Taylor to respond to the attorney's comments that the sheriff's language was inappropriate, Hartman struggled to find words.

"Nothing's popping into my head to comment on that," he said.

In addition, the press release cited a passage from Article XI, Section 1 of the 1987 constitution of the Philippines, incorrectly cited as the U.S. Constitution.

Asked by Taylor about that, Hartman said he would check with chief deputy Dan Hess, who later took responsibility for the error.

The trio's records in the Lech and Welcenbach investigations are spotty.

Though the department tried to seal the Lech allegations from public access - in the meantime Lech was able to secure brief employment at another sheriff's department - by contending the allegations were unfounded, untrue, and unsubstantiated, as the judge summed up the county's argument, the judge disagreed and ordered the records released.

Neuman also testified that he concluded that Welcenbach's allegation didn't add up and didn't make sense and lacked sufficient probable cause for prosecution. Lech has since been charged with two felony counts, one for sexual assault and another for attempted sexual assault.

In bringing charges related to missing drug-unit monies against Welcenbach, it was the county's criminal charges that apparently didn't add up, as they were dismissed on a prosecutor's motion.

In its single success in the Welcenbach case, the department did manage to convince the county's grievance committee that she was guilty of enough to be fired, though even there the grievance committee did not uphold some of the charges the county brought against her.

Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, October 8, 2017
Article comment by: Brian Holmes

Jeez.... How many times can you recycle this now-tired material, Mr. Moore? What is you goal here? This ain't gonna get you no awards this year.

Wouldn't it be more professional to await the Dane County trial outcome? Have you ever contemplated what Mr. Lech's defense might be? And what would you think of Capt. Hook if she said she didn't believe Welcenbach at all? Answer: You'd be reviling her in your many columns for tainting a future jury pool.

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