Police chief’s hearing
Closing arguments expected in coming weeks
By John Faucher
The Hortonville Village Board meeting room was transformed into a packed courtroom setting on Dec. 18 and 19.
The Hortonville Police and Fire Commission held a nine-hour quasi-judicial hearing that spanned two nights to determine whether just cause exists to discipline Police Chief Michael Sullivan.
Sullivan was placed on administrative leave Oct. 20 after the village received a personnel complaint regarding his actions as chief.
Formal charges filed Nov. 17 by the village against Sullivan alleged he used inappropriate discriminatory conduct while on duty. The complaint also alleges he inappropriately disclosed confidential information, violated state rules regarding the use of a law enforcement database for personal reasons, violated employee rights to file grievances, violated a directive not to discuss the ongoing internal investigation, and was not truthful during the investigation.
Madison based attorney Scott Herrick, who represents the police and fire commission, is presiding over the hearings.
Commissioners heard evidence presented by both sides over the course of the two nights.
The village’s attorney James Macy gave his opening statement first, and presented the charges against Sullivan on behalf of the village board.
Sullivan’s attorney Greg Gill Sr. argued that the process the village followed from the time of the investigation opening, leading up to the hearing, was “severely flawed.”
He said the process used to “dishonor” his client was “anything other than fair,” and that the village failed to follow its own guidelines established in the bylaws of the police and fire commission.
“For two months we were repeatedly told they didn’t exist,” Gill said the guidelines.
He explained he did not have a copy of the bylaws until Sullivan found a lost copy in his papers at home. Sullivan later said he located the document in a box of papers in his garage from when he was first hired in 2003.
Sullivan testified later that the police and fire commission told him at the time of his hire in 2003 that they created the bylaws document in 2001, after questions arose in past personnel matters involving the police department.
Gill offered to give commission members copies of the bylaws.
Gill also expressed his concern that Terry DuFrane, the only commission member to question the process, had removed himself from the case.
The withdrawal of DuFrane leaves four commission members to decide the case. They are commissioners Jamie Mullock, Martin Baker, Al Habeck and Emery Rynders.
Holding the bylaws in his right hand, Gill said, “This is yours, not mine.”
He suggested the members recess and take time to read the document before proceeding any further. He contested that Sullivan’s due process was violated from the very beginning.
“We shouldn’t even be here right now,” said Gill, contending that neither the village board nor Village Administrator Diane Wessel had the authority to place Sullivan on leave.
Macy said village officials did not know the bylaws existed, and he questioned whether they were even still valid.
Commission members conferred with Herrick in the Attorney/Client room adjoining the boardroom.
When the commission returned from its brief recess, Herrick reported that they would proceed with the hearing as planned.
Macy called seven witnesses to the stand including several current members of the police department and an officer who recently resigned.
Former officer Jason Sweeney testified that he filed a complaint with Wessel the week before leaving the police department.
“I could not work under the supervision of Mike Sullivan,” said Sweeney as to why he left the police department. Sweeney testified that he gave several names of people he felt might help Wessel in an investigation.
Gill questioned Sweeney specifically regarding a February 2016 meeting Sullivan had with officers where he had them sign a document after the meeting. He also questioned him on Sullivan’s alleged use of profanity and names he called certain village employees. Macy questioned Sweeney about remarks he and Sullivan exchanged regarding scheduling, other officers, and the presence of African Americans in the village and how residents would react.
Repeatedly during the cross-examinations Gill asked the complainant’s witnesses if they would provide a copy of their statements for the defense.
Prior to the second night of the hearing, Sullivan and his attorney were denied copies of the witness statements. Gill said the fact they were not given the interview statements ahead of time “smacks in the denial of due process.”
Early on in the second night of the hearing, Macy provided those statements.
Gill said that while he acknowledged that Macy provided those statement, they were not allowed in time to help the defense in any way. Attorney Herrick said he would receive them into the record after the hearing provided the defense submit a written offer of proof of how they would have used the statements.
Wessel was the final witness on the stand called by attorney Macy.
Wessel testified that Sullivan was not honest during the investigation and that he threatened lawsuits.
Gill argued that Sullivan has been targeted by village officials and treated unfairly because he refused to give them special treatment.
He repeatedly attempted to show that Sullivan was treated differently and unequal to other village employees. The defense brought forth examples of other village employees known to use “blue” language, name-calling and profanity. He attempted to establish a certain culture exists within the village and Sullivan should not have been the only one called out or investigated.
Throughout the hearing, Macy objected numerous times to the defense’s questioning stating it was irrelevant.
At one point, Gill became upset stating, “I’m asking the question because I believe all employees should be treated equally.”
Macy also questioned the relevance of some of the defense’s witnesses.
Gill argued that the testimony on behalf of Sullivan’s integrity was needed to counter the claims that he was not honest, and the village sought to single Sullivan out and portray him in a negative light.
Neither side presented closing arguments. The commission will recess until after the proceeding’s transcripts are made available and written closing arguments are submitted by counsel.
Herrick then set a tentative timeline of approximately three weeks before setting the schedule for closing arguments.
After that, the police and fire commission will determine what disciplinary actions it will take.