By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) – A Wisconsin official on Wednesday asked a nonprofit group to reconsider its decision to omit the name of a fallen police officer from its Washington, D.C., memorial because the slaying was believed to be an act of domestic violence.
It shouldn’t matter that the suspect in Wauwatosa police Officer Jennifer Sebena’s death is her husband, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen wrote in a letter. Because she was on duty at the time of the Christmas Eve shooting, she deserves to be included on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, he said.
“I strongly disagree with any suggestion that a line-of-duty death cannot result from an incident of domestic violence,” Van Hollen wrote.
Van Hollen appeared to be reacting to several news reports that the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund decided to leave Sebena’s name off its memorial. His office referred questions to the Wauwatosa Police Department, which did not immediately return a message.
Messages left with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.
Sebena was gunned down Dec. 24 after she finished taking a break during a solo pre-dawn patrol in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. Her husband, 30-year-old Benjamin G. Sebena, was arrested and charged first-degree intentional homicide.
Prosecutors say Ben Sebena acknowledged ambushing his wife and told investigators he was a jealous husband. He originally pleaded not guilty but changed his plea earlier this month to not guilty by reason of insanity. His trial is scheduled to start in July.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a private nonprofit group that maintains a memorial in honor of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty. The names of more than 19,000 officers are carved on a pair of 300-foot-long curving marble walls, according to the group’s website.
A Michigan man who has two relatives in law enforcement launched an online petition urging the group’s board members to reverse their decision. The petition collected 4,000 signatures in 24 hours.
“She was wearing a badge, she had a gun at her side, she was protecting the people of Wauwatosa. It shouldn’t matter if it was her husband or anyone else who killed her,” said Jason Asselin, 40, the Kingsford, Mich., man who started the petition. “It just blows me away.”
Jim Palmer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said Sebena’s exclusion would be a “travesty” and a slap in the face to Sebena and all who served with her.
He acknowledged that the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a private group, and as such has the right to decide which officers are included or excluded. But he also noted that police officers across Wisconsin frequently organize fundraisers, including an annual bike ride, with the proceeds going toward the memorial fund.
“I’m hearing from officers around the state, people who are very outspoken in their uniform disgust over what looks to be a really poor outcome,” he said. “For the memorial to exclude her, only of the basis of her husband being the one who killed her, is very disrespectful. Our members really hope the memorial board reconsiders its decision.”