By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Department of Justice fired a crime victim technician last year for giving a grant applicant an unfair advantage and punished agents for a variety of reasons, including losing evidence, speaking with a suspect’s family and launching an unauthorized drug investigation, records show.
The Associated Press obtained DOJ’s 2014 discipline letters through an open records request. The letters indicate 15 agency employees were formally reprimanded, suspended or fired. All of the punishment was handed down under the state’s former attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen, not the current one, Brad Schimel, who took office in January.
The 15 employees represent about 2 percent of the DOJ’s roughly 675 positions. Still, every transgression can damage the reputation of an agency that holds itself up as the state’s elite crime-fighting force.
Kevin Potter, the DOJ’s records custodian, redacted the names of all but three of the punished employees from the records. He said in a cover letter that he felt the public interest in how the agency handles misconduct is served by releasing the substance of the letters without identification.
Potter didn’t redact the names of Willie Brantley and Anna King, two Milwaukee agents fired in March 2014 for letting nearly four dozen child pornography cases languish for months. Brantley’s termination was later reclassified as a retirement under a settlement. Their firings were widely reported and the DOJ released their termination letters last year. He also didn’t redact the name of Amy Lautenbach, who was fired from her post as Madison crime lab manager in July for poor performance.
The letters show the agency fired a community services technician from its Office of Crime Victims Services. A Violence Against Women Act grant applicant asked the technician that June for a form related to the grant. The technician sent the applicant the form in violation of orders that all grant applicants be treated fairly. The technician’s July termination letter said the worker lied to supervisors about sending the form and that the worker’s actions amounted to a deliberate attempt to give an applicant an unfair advantage.
DOJ records show the grant was for at least $42,500. The money was divvied up among five applicants: the Oneida Social Services Department; the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, Inc.; People Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse; Women and Children’s Horizons, Inc.; and Reach Counseling Services.
Potter redacted the name of the person who asked the technician for the form from the termination letter, which doesn’t note the applicant the person may have represented. DOJ spokeswoman Anne Schwartz declined to provide the name of that applicant or say whether that applicant received any money.
In February, the DOJ suspended an agent for five days without pay for losing evidence in two cases. The discipline letter doesn’t include details about the cases, but it said the loss of evidence prevented federal felony charges from being filed in one and resulted in the other being dismissed.
Another letter shows that in April, the agency ordered an agent to serve a 10-day unpaid suspension for improperly telling a Brown County suspect’s family and attorneys that he believed the suspect was innocent, even though the agent wasn’t assigned to the case. The agent also revealed to the family and attorneys the existence and outcome of the agent’s investigation into public corruption in a county whose name had been redacted.
The agent spoke without consulting a DOJ supervisor or the district attorney, forcing prosecutors to prepare for motion hearings that might have hurt the case. The letter said those hearings never happened but doesn’t elaborate.
“I am astounded by your audacity to believe you had some personal obligation, let alone authority to attempt to intervene in that process,” David Matthews, administrator of the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation, wrote in the letter.
Brown County District Attorney David Lasee didn’t respond to a voicemail inquiring about the incident. Schwartz declined to comment on the case.
The agency reprimanded an agent in August for conducting what the letters suggest was an unauthorized drug buy. An agent was reprimanded in December, too, for seeking a search warrant in an Eau Claire County case that hadn’t been assigned to him or her after being told by a supervisor and the case agent that the matter was closed.
In April, the agency suspended an employee for five days without pay for failing to send supervisors information from online child pornography tips in six instances and failing to complete a case initiation report for a seventh tip received in 2010, delaying that case’s assignment until early last year.
The investigation led to a 19-year-old Milwaukee man already under investigation for allegedly sexually assaulting a 15-year-old. The letter notes that if the employee had handled the case properly, that the sexual assault could have been avoided. The letter also noted that agents weren’t able to conduct investigations in the other cases as well as they could have if they’d gotten the information sooner.
DOJ officials announced in April in the wake of Brantley and King’s terminations that the employee had been disciplined but declined to identify the employee or elaborate on the punishment. Follow @trichmond1