By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A prosecutor plans to charge a western Wisconsin police chief with a misdemeanor for allegedly registering a tea party leader on gay dating, pornography and federal health care websites.
Monroe County District Attorney Kevin Croninger told The Associated Press he plans to charge Town of Campbell Police Chief Tim Kelemen with misdemeanor unlawful use of a computerized communication system Thursday afternoon.
Kelemen would face up to $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail if convicted, but would still be able to stay on as police chief. Only those with felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions related to domestic violence are precluded from being police officers, according to the state Department of Justice.
Kelemen leads a five-officer department in the burg of about 4,000 people just outside La Crosse. He’s been at odds with the La Crosse Tea Party since last fall, when the conservative group began staging protests on a town overpass that stretches across Interstate 90.
Concerned the protests were distracting drivers, Kelemen convinced the town board to pass an ordinance in October banning signs, banners and flags on the bridge, which angered tea party supporters. Kelemen and his attorney, Jim Birnbaum, say tea party leader Greg Luce retaliated by urging supporters across the country to bombard the police department with harassing phone calls and threats.
Then, Luce started receiving calls and emails from gay dating, porn and health care websites, according to police reports and court documents. La Crosse investigators tracked some of the activity to a computer at Kelemen’s home and the Campbell town hall, according to an incident report.
An investigator from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, which took over the case, interviewed Kelemen in May.
The chief initially said he knew nothing about the websites but later acknowledged he signed Luce up for them to get back at him for harassing his department. He said he felt helpless because he reported the harassment to DOJ but that agency declined to help him beyond offering to bolster the department’s computer fire walls.
Croninger said he chose to charge Kelemen with illegal use of a computer system rather than identity theft or misconduct in office because he didn’t feel comfortable he could prove those charges beyond a reasonable doubt. He felt Kelemen wasn’t acting in his official capacity when he signed Luce up for the sites.
“There’s not really any factual dispute about what took place. It’s just how those facts fit the statutes,” Croninger said. “This is more of a harassing situation than to harm someone’s reputation. That is the distinction I see.”
The chief is due to appear in court Thursday afternoon. Croninger said he’s been discussing a plea deal with Birnbaum and expects the case will be resolved during the appearance. Birnbaum declined to comment until after the court appearance.
Luce has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court, alleging Kelemen stole his identity and that the overpass ordinance violates his free-speech rights. That case is still pending.