At it again: Group filing complaint against police chief
June 09, 2010 | 08:50 AM
Following is the list Linn Township resident Jim Keeler read during the April 13 annual town meeting. Keeler was reading through the "S" part of it when Jim Weiss — then a supervisor, now acting town chairman — interrupted him. Keeler wrote the list to address what he said was the town's policy, Section 8-8, "Causes of suspension or dismissal." Below is that list, with what he wrote by each reason for disciplinary action in italics. For elements F, I, K, P, Q and R — absence from duty without leave, communicating information relating to police work to unauthorized people, mistreatment or discrimination toward a prisoner, accepting a bribe, criticizing orders by the Linn Town Board and refusing to give name or badge number when asked — Keeler stated "no offense noted."
A. Intoxication: It was observed that Chief Wisniewski in May (2008), after his surgery, operated a police vehicle while in a sling and also under the influence of pain medication.
B. Cowardice: Chief Wisniewski's failure to confront (The Pier owner John) Trossen after he inquired the whereabouts of the impounded mower is a behavior indicative of a coward.
C. Insubordination of disrepect to a superior officer or member of the Town Board: The chief lied to the town attorney and the town attorney told an investigator that an insurance company had paid for an impounded mower when no such information was available. Lying to a town official, an attorney, an officer of the court, could be construed as insubordination or disrespect.
D. Neglect of duty: The chief failed to review the detective's files. To this day, the town of Linn Police Department has illegally impounded subject property, a Cub Cadet lawn mower. This should be delivered to owners on Linn Pier Road and the owners should report recovery to their insurance company.
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Linn — Apparently, town resident Jim Keeler still wants officials to fire Police Chief Dennis Wisniewski.
At the annual town meeting in April, Keeler read a list of several reasons why he believes Wisniewski should be terminated. Although Keeler made a motion asking the Linn Town Board to investigate his claims, evidently it wasn't official.
Then, last month, newly appointed acting town chairman Jim Weiss said the controversy shrouding Wisniewski and the Town Police Department for the past two years was "yesterday's news."
So why is it Keeler and a group of residents were expected to file a complaint against Wisniewski with the town clerk-treasurer's office by Wednesday?
"I don't think (town officials) have cleaned house like they need to," Keeler said during a Monday interview.
If Keeler filed the complaint, it would be the latest salvo in an escalating back-and-forth between this resident and the police chief. The latest move was a May 26 letter drafted to Keeler by Frank Lettenberger, Wisniewski's attorney.
In the letter, Lettenberger asks Keeler to "desist in making any further false public statements" about Wisniewski.
"If you take any such further action, please know that I will undertake any and all possible legal action against you, including but not limited to seeking monetary damages against you, including Mr. Wisniewski's actual attorney's fees," Lettenberger stated. "I will also file a petition for a harassment restraining order. Finally, I will request that an investigation be commenced into your actions pursuant to (State) Statutes."
On Monday, Keeler said he didn't know why Wisniewski had to send the letter, but he's not afraid of any consequences. Keeler said he also provided members of the Linn Town Board with copies of Lettenberger's letter, which also states, "If you feel that it is appropriate to distribute this letter publicly, please be warned that said action will simply add to the damages that will be assessed against you."
"I think that he's trying to squash my free speech, (and) I guess I'm calling his bluff," Keeler said about Wisniewski.
On Tuesday, Lettenberger said Keeler has made public statements which are false, and there are civil and criminal liabilities for people who do that. He said if Keeler continues to make these false statements, he will be doing it "at his own hazard."
But Lettenberger said his biggest problem with this situation is people are forgetting Wisniewski has served the Walworth County area as a law enforcement officer for around 30 years.
"He's one of the best cops in this county and for this person to (wage) this vendetta against Dennis is appalling," Lettenberger said.
He urged Linn residents to "take a long, hard look" at who's making these allegations, although Lettenberger said he wouldn't get into the details. However, he also said they should look at all Wisniewski has done for the community.
However, Keeler said he wants justice. It stems from what he labelled in an e-mail Sunday "tractor-gate" — the incident in which Wisniewski sold a Cub Cadet lawn mower for between $200 and $250 to a relative of Linn Det. Will Borgen. The mower had been impounded by police as evidence in a theft case. However, Wisniewski allegedly didn't properly advertise the sale.
Former Linn Police Lt. Terry O'Brien filed a complaint about it with the Walworth County District Attorney's Office. Wisniewski didn't face any criminal charges, but the Linn Town Board suspended him for three days without pay April 2009.
Last summer, Wisniewski filed charges against O'Brien. The Linn Police Committee found O'Brien guilty of four of those seven charges. However, O'Brien filed an appeal last winter in Walworth County Circuit Court. Earlier this year, the town and O'Brien reached an agreement in which O'Brien would no longer work in the town of Linn, but the town would pay him $75,000.
Keeler said O'Brien was removed for "filing a complaint with the DA."
"I think they should do the same with the chief," Keeler said. "He's the one who started it all."
That's what prompted Keeler's actions at the April 13 annual meeting.
At that meeting, he read a list of several allegations against Wisniewski — including being under the influence of pain medication while driving a police vehicle, cowardice, neglecting duty, disobeying an order from the county district attorney, sleeping while on duty and "repeatedly belittling officers and eroding department morale."
"I guess I'm still standing behind what I said. ... Everything on (the list) is true," Keeler said Monday.
However, he may not be able to back up at least one of these allegations.
When asked what proof he had of Wisniewski driving a squad car under the influence of pain medication, Keeler said he had an interview with people who worked with the chief.
"I didn't interview them," Keeler said. "No, I guess I can't prove that in a court of law. ... Maybe I should strike that one."
But that allegation was at the top of the list he read April 13.
Weiss — then a supervisor — interrupted Keeler after he almost completed reading from his three-page list. Weiss had said although Keeler's statements were interesting, the powers of a town meeting do not include being able to conduct disciplinary actions against town employees.
Weiss said Keeler could make an advisory motion for the board to follow, so Keeler made a motion to reconsider charges for the termination of the police chief.
Keeler said, "All in favor." Some residents — most of them sitting on the north side of the Town Hall meeting room — said, "Aye." When Keeler asked for those who were opposed, some residents — most of them sitting on the south side of the room — said, "Aye."
Typically, the person running a meeting takes the vote tally and the town clerk records it. However, the week after the meeting, Town Clerk-Treasurer Sue Polyock said she had no idea how many people voted in favor of the motion and how many were opposed. What happened was then Town Chairman Dave Bollweg and Polyock looked at each other. Polyock shrugged.
"But it shouldn't have even been brought up at a town meeting," Polyock said after the annual meeting. "It wasn't town business."