The two candidates for Waupaca County sheriff have very different perspectives on the results of an investigation of the sheriff’s department that took place in January 2009.
Sheriff Brad Hardel, who was elected in 2006, says the investigator’s report exonerates his department. He also notes that most of the problems investigated occurred prior to his administration.
“We’re trying extremely hard to make things better in this department, but people keep bringing up issues from years ago, before I was even sheriff,” Hardel said. “We need to move forward and look to the future.”
Manawa Police Chief Dave Walker, who is challenging Hardel in the Sept. 14 Republican primary, says the report indicates a need for written policies and procedures.
“The department just went through that investigation and the attorney recommended they adopt written policies. Why they would choose to ignore that advice, I don’t know,” Walker said. “They’re just leaving themselves open for the same problems to occur.”
Anonymous letters lead to investigation
In November 2008, members of the Waupaca County Board and the county’s Corporation Counsel received the first of two anonymous letters making allegations about misconduct in the sheriff’s department.
The letters criticized the sheriff’s department for allowing administrators and supervisory officers to use county-owned vehicles for personal purposes. They also accused the department’s administration of favoritism and covering up “illegal acts.”
The county Law Enforcement Committee retained a Green Bay attorney, Jim Kalny, to conduct an investigation. He interviewed nine of 10 people who were named as witnesses in the anonymous letter, as well as others who were also named in the letters or discussed during the interviews.
“Even taking each and every allegation of the anonymous letter on its face as true, the allegations do not constitute criminal acts, particularly not on the part of the current administration,” Kalny concluded in his report. “While I did discover some arguable violations of policy, they were either related to conflicting policies or the result of long-standing policies of the Sheriff’s Department, predating the current sheriff.”
While he made it clear that he found no criminal activity in the department, Kalny said the only issue that raised concerns was the use of county vehicles for personal purposes.
Personal use of county cars
“Ranked officers and sergeants are permitted to use county-owned vehicles assigned to them on a 24-hour basis, including for personal purposes within certain varying geographic limitations,” the report said. “This practice (to varying degrees) has spanned at least two prior administrations.”
Kalny noted that the rationale for the policy is that “sergeants and administrators may be called to the scene at any time and may be expected to respond.”
“They’ve got carte blanche use of county-owned vehicles as they see fit,” Walker said, adding that the issue marked a fundamental difference between him and the incumbent.
“Especially now, when money is so tight and people are being laid off. How can we condone the private use of county-owned property? It’s unethical. I don’t buy the reasons that they give that they’re on duty all the time and have to respond. In my old department, I had a county-assigned vehicle that I never used for personal use and I had no problem responding to call outs as a SWAT commander.”
Walker worked with the King County Police in the state of Washington from 1978 until his retirement in 2004. He moved to the Clintonville area in January 2009.
“The sheriff, the chief deputy and the captains are expected to be available 24/7. No matter where we are or what we’re doing, we’re expected to help handle situations that come up, whether it’s a fatal accident or a homicide,” Hardel said. “If we had the level of staffing that they have out in Seattle, we could work a 40-hour week. But we’re understaffed, and we don’t have that luxury. This administration does not work 40 hours a week. We work 50 to 60 hours a week, whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Hardel said the policies regarding patrol officers using their squad cars for personal purposes is part of their contract. Each sheriff, when elected, sets his own rules for how administrators, captains and sergeants may use their county-owned vehicles. He said the rules vary, depending on the responsibilities and expectations of each position.
Sexual harassment investigation
The anonymous letter questioned why there had been no investigation of the sexual harassment complaint against a deputy, especially since he had previously been disciplined for that issue.
Kalny reviewed the incident and reported, “Contrary to the allegation in the anonymous letter, there was an investigation. Arguably, in fact, there was more investigation than was required by either the department or county policies.”
The woman who was allegedly harassed had not asked for an investigation and had not filed a complaint, according to the report.
“The chief deputy heard secondhand about an incident that allegedly took place involving a deputy and a social worker,” Hardel said. “The chief deputy spoke with the social worker and she did not want to file a complaint. He also spoke with the deputy.”
While the report did not fault the investigation, it raised concerns about the records of the investigation.
Hardel and Chief Deputy Al Kraeger met with the deputy accused of sexual harassment to discuss the incident. According to the report, Hardel asked about the status of the investigation. Kraeger reported that he believed the allegations would not likely be viewed as sexual harassment. Hardel then told Kraeger to close the investigation if the woman involved did not wish to pursue it any further.
“Apparently, the accused officer asked that the notes (from Kraeger’s investigation) be shredded,” the report says. “The chief deputy handed the notes to the sheriff who in turn shredded the notes.”
Kalny indicated that the shredding of the notes was inappropriate.
“While the notes themselves may be destroyed, some details of the event should be filed to protect both the county and the alleged offender,” the report said. “The chief deputy’s and supervisor’s details should be filed and kept as an internal investigatory file as would be the case for all internal investigations.”
Hardel said that deputy’s supervisor kept his notes of the investigation on file. When asked why he shredded the notes, Hardel said, “At the time, I felt that the investigation was complete and that there was no reason to go any further.”
Walker said the lack of clear policies and guidelines regarding the records of an internal investigation goes to the heart of what he sees as a problem within the sheriff’s department.
“An official is supposed to maintain their notes in files, but people in the sheriff’s department have been doing whatever they feel is appropriate. They have no guidelines to go by,” Walker said.
Walker said the department needs written policies for how it handles the records of internal investigations. It also needs policies for determining when an outside agency is called in to investigate a complaint against an officer.
“If a citizen calls in and claims an officer did something wrong or, worse yet, did something criminal, the department has no written guidelines as to how that should be handled. Having gone through this investigation last year, you would think it would be a priority not to make the same mistake,” Walker said, noting that failing to have such policies lead to the perception of unfairness within the department and in the community.
“Policies establish and maintain the integrity of the process, protect employees and assure the citizens that the department is doing its job,” Walker said.
Walker said the lack of written policies may also cause a sense of favoritism within the department.
Favoritism or discontent?
Kalny’s report noted that some members of the sheriff’s department felt there has been ongoing favoritism in the department. He found that the situations mentioned in the anonymous letter and during his subsequent interviews were “overstated or simply inaccurate.”
“The parties who cite the acts of favoritism are people who feel they are out of favor with the current sheriff. Those feelings seem to find their origin in the political nature of the elected sheriff’s office.” Kalny reported. “Those who are most concerned about favoritism are either persons who supported the current sheriff’s opponent in the last election or those who have been the subject of disciplines initiated or continued by the current administration.”
In his report, Kalny said some of the witnesses had axes to grind and some of the allegations were the result of a rumor mill.
“Some of the complaints date back to prior administrations and have the feel of someone looking for something to complain about rather than someone looking to improve an existing condition,” Kalny reported. “In many respects, I got the impression that some of the allegations were trying to ‘find something’ on the current sheriff and his administration.”
Hardel said that only a small number of deputies are dissatisfied with his administration.
“I believe 85 percent of the staff are happy to be here, but there’s 10 to 15 percent who are disgruntled employees,” Hardel said. “I have a real passion for this department and the people who work here. I’m trying very hard to bring the people in this department together to work as a team. I’m concerned that somebody else could come in here and create a divisive environment.”