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Police chief complaint in hands of board members



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June 16, 2010 | 09:04 AM
Linn — At least the ongoing police controversy has created some learning opportunities.

Last week, a complaint against Town Police Chief Dennis Wisniewski signed by 14 people was filed with the town clerk-treasurer.

But on Monday, Town Attorney David Schiltz said he doesn't know how officials will proceed with investigating this complaint because there's no clear town policy to guide officials through the situation.

"My reading of it is that it is a citizen's complaint," Schiltz said. "We've got a policy that was done by (former Town Police Chief Gerald) Kerns for citizen complaints against police officers, but the policy never covered police chiefs."

However, Schiltz said "it would only make sense for someone independent" to investigate the complaint.

But that's just speculation.

"The board has to make that decision," he said.

Schiltz said he anticipates the Linn Town Board will conduct a special meeting this week to decide how to handle the complaint, which was signed by Jim Keeler, Pearl Heinrich, Christy Heinrich, Eleana Srack, Kathy Wadsworth, Nev Wadsworth, Craig DeYoung, Virginia Foltman, Brandon Smith, Karen Smith, Paul Voltz, Billy R. Rauman, David Gallagher and Susan Meeker.

"Pursuant to Section 8.8 in Town of Linn Municipal Code, we are calling for the termination of Mr. Dennis Wisniewski, chief of police of Linn Township," states a letter signed by the 14 individuals. "By our investigation, he has violated as little as 10 and perhaps as many as 15 different sections of 8.8."

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The letter accuses Wisniewski of "using profane language, obscenities and vulgarities" and being untruthful during a Walworth County Sheriff's Department investigation and that "his inclination to retaliate has been a threat to local citizens and has hindered and done irreparable harm" to the town. It also states Wisniewski's "capricious and retaliatory mindset has cost the taxpayers of Linn Township in excess of $100,000 for legal fees" and asks the Town Board to convene the "Police and Fire Commission as expeditiously as possible."

"We ask that pursuant to Wisconsin (Statute) 60.56 that you put Mr. Wisniewski on leave immediately (and) we respectfully request that Mr. Wisniewski's background check be brought up to date," the letter states. "If you are unable or unwilling to put Mr. Wisniewski on leave immediately, we respectfully request that Mr. Wisniewski's background check be brought up to date. We also request that a routine physical exam be made current and that a psychological evaluation be performed as well. We have reason to believe that Mr. Wisniewski could be a danger to himself or to the township as well."

Town Clerk-Treasurer Sue Polyock said Pearl Heinrich filed the complaint with her June 8 — one day after Keeler told the Regional News what prompted the complaint.

"I don't think (town officials) have cleaned house like they need to," Keeler said last week.

During a June 8 interview, Wisniewski's attorney, Frank Lettenberger, said Keeler has made public statements which are false. He said if Keeler continues to make these false statements, he will be doing it "at his own hazard."

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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.

The rift between Keeler and Wisniewski began with what Keeler labeled "tractor-gate," an incident in which Wisniewski sold a lawn mower recoverd as evidence in a theft case to the relative of another department member.

After the incident, the Linn Town Board suspended Wisniewski for three days without pay in April 2009. He filed seven charges against then Police Lt. Terry O'Brien, the Town Police Committee found O'Brien guilty of four of them and suspended and demoted O'Brien. Then, O'Brien filed an appeal in Walworth County Circuit Court. Recently, the town and O'Brien reached a settlement in which O'Brien would resign and the town would pay him $75,000.

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But it didn't stop there.

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.

Keeler's statements at the meeting prompted a May 26 letter from Lettenberger.

"If you (Keeler) 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."

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