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Schimel says charges could be coming at Lincoln Hills prison (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said Monday it’s possible that his office may charge one or more people in connection with alleged abuses against inmates at the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison.

Schimel told The Associated Press in an interview that his office also may “step back in” and re-launch its own investigation that ended in April. Federal investigators have been leading the probe into a variety of allegations including prisoner abuse, child neglect and sexual assault at the prison since February.

“We had developed some evidence in our investigation that may lead to some enforcement actions,” Schimel said. “We’ve got that option.”

The Lincoln Hills School for Boys in Irma, about 30 miles north of Wausau. Lincoln Hills and the adjacent Copper Lake School for Girls have been under investigation by the FBI since February. The state investigated from January 2015 until April after the FBI had gotten involved and took it over.

“We stepped aside to avoid compromising their investigation and avoid duplicating efforts,” Schimel said Monday. At some point, we may step back in. … Both systems can move forward simultaneously. We just stepped out of the way for a while. It’s been nine months since the FBI’s had the case. We haven’t heard anything more.”

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has also been investigating for a year. No one has been charged with any crimes. Gov. Scott Walker said 11 months ago in January that he anticipated there would be charges, but still none have been filed.

Schimel said if and when the state Department of Justice files charges he will announce it with a criminal complaint, not a press conference.

“I’m not going to comment on whether anything is forthcoming,” he said, adding that charges were a possibility.

A dozen employees have left the prison since a state raid a year ago. Ed Wall stepped down as Department of Corrections secretary in February, returning to his old job running the Department of Justice’s investigation unit. But Schimel transferred him out of that job, and put him on paid leave, to protect the integrity of the Lincoln Hills probe.

Schimel said Monday that his office has not been alerted to any new problems at the prison alleged to have occurred in 2014 and 2015.

“To me, it makes it OK to back off a little bit in expediting the cases, but we can’t let this sit forever,” he said. “As long as there are no more allegations of abuses going on, we can let the institution move forward and other people will make that call whether it stays open or not.”

Schimel wouldn’t say whether he thought the troubled Lincoln Hills prison should be closed.

“That’s a call for someone else to make,” he said.

 

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