Police chief Schade finds the “missing” audio

By Linda Wyeth

I was able to watch the video of the incident with Phil Goerl, known in Owen as “Lawnmower Phil” or “Ponch,” on Friday, August 1, 2014. However, the video appeared to have been “sanitized,” and it had no audio at all. At the time, Owen Police Chief Andrew Schade told me Officer John Stubbe, who was first on the scene, must have forgotten to take the microphone out of the squad car with him.

The following Tuesday, August 5, Police Chief Schade called me again. This time he seemed very pleased and declared it was my “lucky day” because he had found the missing audio file. He explained that the department had been having technical problems with some of its computer equipment, but he had located the audio. If I brought a flash drive to the police department, he would copy the video-audio file to it for me to pick up the next day.

Eventually, we connected at the police department on Friday afternoon. He returned my flash drive and gave me a DVD with the video on it, because, he said, he couldn’t get it “to stick” on the flash drive.

Before I signed the form he requested, I said again that I wanted to be sure the original file would not be erased.

“No way, shape, or form am I getting rid of that thing,” Schade assured me. Then he went on to state that my description of the video had contained deliberate false statements that injured the reputation of the police department and its officers and were defamatory. I assured him I would review the video very carefully.

Now, about that video… The video that Police Chief Schade provided on Friday, August 8, was not the same video I saw on Friday, August 1. In addition to having audio, the new video had some “scenes” that did not show up on the silent movie of the week before.

My biggest concern is that the video is not an actual copy of the original record. The video is of poor quality, and the definition and resolution are significantly degraded – not in keeping with a transferred video document, but rather more like an amateurish attempt at copying. It appears that someone played the video on a computer and aimed a camera, probably a still camera with video capability, at it to copy it.

If, indeed, the purpose of having all the elaborate video and audio recording equipment for the police department is for documentation to be used when needed for court cases, this video flunks the seeing, hearing, and smelling tests. It lacks even the internal time codes necessary for it to be submitted as evidence.

In the end, the video and “discovered” audio do not serve to contradict the multiple eyewitness accounts of the event. The sole mistake in last week’s article was in stating that both officers were “half carrying, half dragging” Phil as they moved him toward the police vehicle. Upon reviewing the video, only Officer Stubbe was holding on to Phil at that time.

Although the audio quality is poor, coming as it does from the tinny speaker of an external camera and not from the original video file, we can clearly hear the sounds of a struggle taking place between the two police officers and Phil. Eyewitnesses have described that struggle as including Phil being slammed up against a light pole and being handled roughly as the officers handcuffed him.

The audio of the conversation that takes place between the officers and Phil after he is placed in the back of the squad car is clearer. We can hear Schade say over and over to Phil, “A little kid, a little boy, said you had a gun.” “Do you own a gun?” “Did you drop a gun?” “Some little kids said you had a gun.”

After Phil’s apparent departure, Schade says to Stubbe, “It got a little hairy there.”

“I thought about taking him to the ground, but we had two hands on him,” says Stubbe.

Schade replies, “Did you see I gave him a shot to the abs? I’m sure that didn’t feel very good.”

 

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Curtiss quilt show: Cabins, critters, and a diary

By Linda Wyeth

Thirty-plus woman, mostly from Curtiss and surrounding towns, gathered for the 27th annual Curtiss Corners Quilt Show last weekend to show off their “stuffs” and attend workshops and share patterns and ideas for future projects. The event, held as usual in the Curtiss Community Hall, aka the Old School House, was like a great two-day old-fashioned quilting bee, with a lot of friendly gossip and catching-up with each other.

Mavis Wood's Crumb Crazy quilt was one one of the more colorful quilts at the 27th Annual Curtiss Corners Quilt Show.

Mavis Wood’s Crumb Crazy quilt was one one of the more colorful quilts at the 27th Annual Curtiss Corners Quilt Show.

One of the senior quilters was charter member Evelyn Courchaine. In addition to quilting, she sometimes tats, too. Her very unique quilt is called “The Diary.” She started it some years ago, she said, when her husband became ill with a serious blood disease affecting his bone marrow. The quilt includes 365 diary squares, each one a real diary entry from that difficult year of her life. “It kept me busy, and being home a lot, I had something to challenge me.” She and her husband, she said were married for 54 years – “God bless us!”

One of the 365 diary entries included on Evelyn Courchaine's Diary Quilt that she worked on during her husband's final illness.

One of the 365 diary entries included on Evelyn Courchaine’s Diary Quilt that she worked on during her husband’s final illness.

 

This is Evelyn Courchaine's completed Diary Quilt. Making the quilt was almost a kind of therapy for her during her husband's long illness.

This is Evelyn Courchaine’s completed Diary Quilt. Making the quilt was almost a kind of therapy for her during her husband’s long illness.

Mavis Wood is another quilter who had projects to show. Her Crumb Crazy quilt was colorful and vibrant. Mavis, who has 21 grandchildren and is on a mission to make each one a quilt, started quilting in the 1970s, lost interest for awhile, and started up again in the late 1980s and 1990, and has been a member of the Curtiss Corners Club since 2005. She lives in rural Abbotsford with her husband John. So far, she says she has completed about half of the quilts she plans to make. “One year I made seven quilts,” and then I told myself, “I can do that!” Men have sometimes been members of their club, she said, but currently all members are “chicks.”

Sometimes even the backs of quilts are unique works of art. Here Mavis Wood shows the back of her Crumb razy quilt at the Curtiss Quilt Show.

Sometimes even the backs of quilts are unique works of art. Here Mavis Wood shows the back of her Crumb Crazy quilt at the Curtiss Quilt Show.

What would a quilt show be without cats and dogs? Donna Reamer had some of both in her collection.

Polka dots everywhere on tees kittens made by Donna Reamer!

Polka dots everywhere on tees kittens made by Donna Reamer!

 

And, if you aren't "into" polka-dotted cats, Donna Reamer also displayed a quilt with polka-dotted puppies.

And, if you aren’t “into” polka-dotted cats, Donna Reamer also displayed a quilt with polka-dotted puppies.

The theme of this year’s show was “Sewing in a Cabin,” and the program included this little poem,

“Quilters

Cut with hope,

Stitch with grace,

Quilt with dreams,

Bind with laughter,

Share with love.”

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Alderman Pfeffer again targets CDA Director Swiggum (July 22, 2014)

By Linda Wyeth

Owen Police Chief Andrew Schade’s request to purchase four new video surveillance cameras for the police department office raised a few eyebrows at the regular common council meeting on Tuesday, July 20, 2014, at City Hall.

Schade had presented his agenda item to City Clerk Terri Ernst prior to the meeting. “I need to put on the agenda…an approval for an outside purchase reimbursement to myself for the last security cameras I need for my security system at the police department,” Schade wrote in his request.

Presently the one security camera he has on site is pointed at the front door. When asked why he needs four additional surveillance cameras in such a small physical space and where they would be placed, Schade was adamant. “I need three more,” he insisted. He refused to say where they would be placed, noting that he did not want the information made public in the newspaper.

Alderman Dennis Lulloff wanted to know what the request was for. “For the rest of the security cameras for my DV-R system,” Schade replied.

“What are you using all those for anyway?” queried Alderman Patrick Pfeffer.

Schade said, “The office. For CIB. To make sure everything’s secure.” CIB, he said in response to Lulloff, is “Crime Information Bureau. The reason there’s a lock on that door.”

Pfeffer elaborated, “Well, CIB requires that the whole building where you house your evidence in has to be protected, right?”

“Just that area, yeah,” answered Schade. “Yeah. It requires that we have minimum security measures but no maximum, so having those cameras in there definitely… You’d be surprised what that camera picks up inside that office watching out that door.”

Lulloff pressed, “And how many are in there currently?”

Schade replied, “I have one in here right now, one camera… I can put three more on that system right now.”

Pfeffer concurred, “He’s got one camera outside on the door. The monitor’s set up for four.”

“My DVR’s set up for four cameras,” Schade elaborated. “I have one. I need three more. Those cameras would be put, watching my department and the stuff inside it. The cameras at Menard’s – two of them are $99, one would be $59. Four of them on Amazon is $116. Shipping would be free.”

Lulloff wanted to know more. “What do you need four of them for? You only can use – you say you have one… How many more do you need inside?”

Schade countered, “I can buy four cheaper than I can buy three… I need three.”

Lulloff asked again, “I was under the impression there was already three.”

And Schade replied again, “No, I have one camera. I can take you in there, Denny, and show you. I have one camera. It’s probably running right now.”

Lulloff again asked, “That’s all you ever had, is one?”

Pfeffer noted, “That’s all I’ve ever seen, is one, right straight in the door… There’s not one outside the door that I’ve ever seen. There’s one inside pointing out the door that picks up.”

He asked Schade, “Is this something that could wait till we get a city credit card so we’re not doing it on a reimbursement, or is this something that you’re under a time frame that needs to get done?”

Schade recommended immediate approval to be sure of getting the price quoted on Amazon, and the council voted unanimously to approve the purchase of four surveillance cameras for the police department office for $116.03.

In another matter, when the council started its discussion of the second quarter payroll and overtime reports for city employees, Alderman Pfeffer said, “I have a question pertaining to this.  I’m wondering why – I was under the impression that he council had voted to approve comp time for the police department – and why [CDA Director] Tim [Swiggum] has comp time banked? I thought that all had to be approved by the council. I wasn’t aware of it.”

Police Chief Andrew Schade asked Gary Smith of the Public Works department how his department handles the issue of comp time and overtime pay. “We have the option,” Smith said, “of comp time or overtime pay. But we can’t bank it,” unlike the police department.

“Only for one pay period,” Pfeffer said, “and this is all the way back to the beginning of the year.”

Ernst read from the employee manual,  “Overtime pay and comp time pay, which is equal to 150 percent of the regular hourly pay will be paid to all employees except those exempt under the law… Employees are encouraged to use comp time and take off  hours in the same time frame rather than accumulate overtime hours.“

The council discussed the matter at some length and decided that Swiggum had not claimed and used his comp time in a timely way and would therefore lose what he had accumulated.  However, some aldermen also felt that the policy needs to be revised. “Comp time is something you should be able to use at a later date,” said alderman Dan Tolzmann. Hanson, however, backed Pfeffer. “A comp time agreement is completely different from overtime,” he said.

Aldermen also noted that the payout of overtime pay had generally been creeping up and admonished employees to try to limit their use of overtime. “The overtime is getting up there, so we’ll have to try to get the departments to get the overtime down,” Heggemeier said. Tolzmann noted that with three full-time employees in the police department, they should need to claim much less overtime than in the past. Schade countered by saying that when officers claim comp time instead of overtime pay, they are saving the city a considerable amount of money.

Another thorny issue from the past, that of closed session meetings, again came up. At the April 8 meeting of the Common Council meeting, Patrick Pfeffer, who had been elected but had not yet taken his oath of office and seat on the Common Council, read a statement, saying, “I want to inform the city council and public that I have done extensive research into violations of state law, local ordinances, and City of Owen employee policies that have been ongoing by personnel (both elected and employed) at the City of Owen. As a result of my investigation into this, I am forwarding a complaint to the Owen Police Department to look into these issues at the City of Owen.”

When asked a few weeks ago about his progress in investigating Pfeffer’s charges, Schade stated, “The investigation is still ongoing.”

Tuesday night’s meeting included notice of a closed session “for deliberation of purchase of public property Under 19.85(1)(e) Deliberating or negotiating he purchase of public properties, the investing of public funds, or conducting other specified public business, whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session.” The usual pro forma vote to convene in closed session, however, included concerns from both alderman Mark Hanson and Patrick Pfeffer.

“I’ve got a question before we go in there,” said Hanson. “Aren’t we supposed to list the property we’re buying or anything like that?”

Heggemeier replied, “No, we wouldn’t on this because we don’t want that information out.”

Alderman Mel Lorence added, “That’s for nobody’s information except right here at this table.”

“This is still a generalized [notice],” objected Pfeffer.

Ernst explained that a more specific notice will be posted “when it comes to the council, if it does, and that would list the parcel and address.”

All aldermen, including Pfeffer and Hanson, agreed to the closed session, and no aldermen raised any objections when they reconvened in open session.

In open session, alderman voted unanimously to the motion, “An inspection will be conducted on the building that’s being discussed, and the members of the council will have a chance to view the building.” They decided to hold the meeting and view the former Time Federal bank building on Thursday at 3:15 p.m.

[Reporter’s note: During the time when the council was meeting in executive session, I was engaged in conversation with Cindy Cardinal, reporter for the other newspaper, and Andrew Schade, police chief. Both contended that the closed session meeting to discuss the purchase of the Time Federal building for the purpose of locating a new city hall there was not properly noticed by the city. It was interesting to me that both Cardinal and Schade knew the topic of discussion of the meeting before it took place.]

In other business, the council:

  • Received a progress report from Swiggum that the negotiations for the Dollar General Store are progressing well and that they will be sending engineers out to do their testing. Again he assured members of the council that the final plans will come before the council for approval. “And they won’t actually purchase the lot till the plans are approved?” questioned Pfeffer. Swiggum said that was correct, but that Golden Warriors, representing Dollar General, would be sending $2,000 to the city for earnest money.
  • Learned from CDA Director Tim Swiggum that the DRC has received enough donations to pay for the slab needed for the burn-out contest at the Car Show on August 16. Alderman Pfeffer and Police Chief Schade raised a question about whether the Car Show would be considered a “block party” under city ordinances and thus require 60 percent of the residents on the street to approve it. However, a block party takes place in a residential area and is not a city-sponsored event.
  • Heard a lengthy report from city building inspector Robert Christensen about several properties and voted to issue citations to some of the property owners.
  • Approved applying for a credit card for the city. The card will be kept in the city clerk’s office, and any purchases over $1,000 will require prior approval from the Common Council.
  • Agreed to send all three police officers for state-required EVOC (emergency vehicle operation) training, but stipulated that they should use only one squad car to travel to the training rather than using both squads.
  • Learned that the new culverts to be installed on Willow Road are too large for the city to qualify for a free general permit from the DNR and that the city will instead need to submit an engineered plan with the DNR to get a permit. The permit is required to get 50 percent reimbursement from the county for the project. DPW department head Gary Smith said he does not yet have a price from Mike Voss of MSA Associates, the city’s engineering firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Police chief challenges authority of mayor

By Linda Wyeth

Friday before last, on August 1, 2014, what this reporter thought was a simple procedure — getting copies of the Owen Police Department’s video and audio recordings of the June 17, 2014, run-in between two police officers and an elderly disabled resident — turned into a major confrontation between the Police Chief Andrew Schade and Mayor Stephen Heggemeier over my public records request made originally on July 7, 2014.

Heggemeier presented Schade with a one-paragraph signed order drafted by city attorney James Ward of Eau Claire that stated, “As Mayor of the City of Owen, and by the legal authority vested in me in that capacity, I am hereby ordering you to refrain from erasing, deleting, or otherwise destroying the existing video recording of an encounter by police personnel, including yourself, with an elderly citizen, known as ‘Lawnmower Phil’ on or about June 17, 2014.”

The written order continued, “In issuing this written order, it is my understanding that the video recording in question is presently subject to a written request for disclosure under the Wisconsin Public Records Law… The video recording of that encounter should be preserved for that reason and otherwise.”

Schade glared at the mayor and asked him, “What gives you the authority to give this to me?”

Heggemeier replied firmly, “I am the mayor of this city, and I do have that authority.”

The verbal sparring continued for a moment until Schade noticed that I was trying to record the conversation and broke it off. “I’m not going to discuss anything while she’s recording,” he declared.

Holding up my smart phone recorder, I told Schade, “You record, I can record, sir.”

“I’m not discussing anything while you’re recording. Steve, come in here so we can talk privately.” The door was slammed in my face.

Thirty minutes later, Heggemeier returned to the city hall side of the building. I asked him if Schade was still intending to expunge the video, and he smiled slightly and said, “No, he isn’t.”

On July 7, I filed an open records request in writing with Schade, asking to see the police video and audio recordings of the incident with “Lawnmower Phil,” as some people in the community know him. According to the police report, “several” young people, ages 10 to 13, had gone to the police station to report seeing an “old man” with a gun near the Creekside convenience store on CTH X.

There had been considerable uproar in Owen at the time, and the police chief’s article about it, published in the other paper on Wednesday, June 25, did not match up to what witnesses who posted on the social media site Facebook said they observed – that the police officers, Schade and John Stubbe, had been unnecessarily and inappropriately rough in their treatment of Phil.

Before writing a story about it, I wanted to view the videos myself. I wanted to see what seemed at the time to be the “best evidence” available. I wanted to get at the truth of the matter.

Schade had written in his article, “The entire incident was captured on the Owen PD squad camera video and audio. In addition, Owen PD officers utilize Taser Axon body cameras, which record full video and audio during police encounters for accountability.”

Schade finally responded to my request on Monday, July 14, at 8:14 p.m., when he contacted me by telephone. He said that he had just opened my letter the previous Friday. He was clearly not pleased about it, and indicated that it would require some time and effort to retrieve the archived record. He stated that he was allowed to take up to 14 days to comply, and he intended to take 14 days. I thanked him politely, and settled in to wait.

The next time Schade talked to me about my public records request was Tuesday, July 22, outside city hall as the reporter from the other newspaper and I waited for the Owen Common Council to reconvene following a closed session of the council. This time, his tone was much friendlier. He said he “thought” I would be able to view the video “sometime” the next week and that he would call me to schedule a time. He stated that except for me and the reporter from the other paper, not a single citizen had come to him to ask him about the incident or to express concern about what had happened. Again, I thanked him politely, and the conversation turned to other topics.

By the following Monday, July 28, I was a little concerned that Schade had not contacted me to schedule a time for me to come in. I needed to plan my schedule and activities for the week. Also, I had reviewed again the Public Records Law and compliance guide from the Attorney General and had discovered that, contrary to what Schade had told me on the telephone, I could get copies of the videos. So I rewrote my request, this time also asking for copies, setting a deadline of Friday, and copying Mayor Heggemeier. I hand-delivered my letter to city hall in the afternoon.

When Schade called me at 5:53 p.m. that same day, he again seemed angry. “Did I not tell you last Tuesday that I would try to get you in to see the video sometime this week? Do you remember that?” he asked.

“Yes, you did tell me that. I remember,” I replied politely. He also repeated that “per our police department policy,” he would not give me a copy of the video and said that the software used on the police department computer would prevent me from being able to view the video on my equipment.

Then he said that I was “lucky” to be able to get to see the video at all because it was “scheduled” to be erased very soon since it was not needed for a case. (A thorough search of Phil at the time of the incident did not find a gun. He had a can of chewing tobacco in his pocket. They released him without filing any charges against him.)

On Thursday, July 31, I was feeling anxious that I had not yet heard back from Schade and was worried about the recordings being arbitrarily erased before they could be properly analyzed to determine if it they had been tampered with. After reviewing the Public Records Law once more and reading, “After receiving a request for inspection or copying of a record, the authority may not destroy the record until after the request is granted or at least until 60 days after the request is denied… These time periods exclude Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays,” I called city attorney James Ward in Eau Claire and left a message stating I was concerned about Schade’s stated intention to destroy the recordings.

Schade called me that evening (Thursday, July 31) at 6:44 p.m. He said he had talked to Travis Rogers, Jr., editor of The Sentinel & Rural News, in the afternoon, and that Travis said he should call me to make arrangements for me to view the videos because I am a freelance writer and not employed by the paper, so he [Travis] didn’t have control over me. We agreed that I would meet him at 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon to see the videos.

 

Attorney Ward returned my phone call of the previous afternoon on Friday morning. He said he had called Mayor Heggemeier and told him he would draft an order for him to sign and give to Police Chief Schade, instructing him that he must not tamper with or delete the videos because they were subject to an open records request. I told him about the appointment at 2:30, and he told me to call him if Schade presented any problems.

After viewing the 15-minute video on Friday afternoon, I told Schade there were some major problems with it. “There is no audio,” I said.

Schade said Officer John Stubbe, who was first on the scene, apparently forgot to take the microphone out of the squad car with him.

I pointed out to Schade that in his article, he had written “the entire incident was captured” on the squad car video and audio, but that the three or four minutes of video of the approximately 15-minute incident did not constitute the “entire incident.” And, of course, there was no audio.

Schade then claimed that he had written “video,” not “video and audio” in his article. We examined the article, and it said “video and audio.”

“And what about the body cameras?” I wanted to see those videos as well.

Actually, Schade said, the police department had not yet received their body camera equipment by Tuesday, June 17. He said they didn’t receive the body cameras until “sometime later that week.”

So, no audio, no view of Phil being “talked to” or handcuffed. Not even audio of the time he spent sitting in the back of the squad car where the microphone was presumably located. How frustrating!

It occurred to me on Monday after the confrontation over the video recording that I should also request any audio recordings that might exist. After all, Chief Schade has said several times in public that he records every conversation he has with citizens.

Schade called me back at 1:47 p.m. on Monday in response to my request. He said he had searched the saved audio files for any downloads from June 17, and there were none. “I was off duty that day, Linda,” he said. “Did you know that I was off duty?”

“Yes, Officer Stubbe’s report mentioned that, but said you were in the office that day when the complaint was made,” I said.

When he is off-duty, Schade said, he wears street clothes. He did not take his recorder with him, just his badge and his gun. “Ninety-eight percent of the time I do have my recorder with me,” he said. And sometimes, he said, the other officers forget to take theirs with them, too. Apparently neither Schade nor Stubbe was wearing or using any audio recording equipment that day, even though they were responding to a report of a man with a gun.

But on that Friday, August 1, after seeing the silent movie, I had one more important question. “You are going to preserve the video, right? You aren’t going to erase it as you said you were planning to do?”

“No, Linda, I AM going to erase it,” he replied.

I protested. “You can’t erase it, because it is subject to an open records request!”

Schade claimed my request wasn’t properly formatted and was therefore not valid.

“It was in writing,” I reminded him.

“But open records requests have to be in a very specific format,” he said. “Per the state statute…” He tried to shove a photocopied document at me. I pushed it back.

“I am calling the city attorney right now,” I said. “Be sure you don’t erase that video!”

From the Public Records Law compliance guide: “Requests do not have to be in writing… The requester generally does not have to identify himself or herself… The requester does not have to state the purpose of the request… The request must be reasonably specific as to the subject matter and time involved… ‘Magic words’ are not required. A request which reasonably describes the information being requested is sufficient… A request is sufficient if it is directed at an authority and reasonably describes the records or information requested… No specific form is required by the public record law (emphasis added).”

I called attorney Ward. He said he would send the document immediately for the mayor to sign. Terri Ernst, city clerk-treasurer, called Heggemeier and told him to come to city hall right away. Police Chief Schade, tapping his fingers on the counter, wondered what we were waiting for. “For the document from the city attorney telling you not to erase the video,” I told him.

The document arrived via e-mail, and the mayor arrived on foot. Heggemeier read it and signed it and gave it to Schade. “What gives you the authority?” Schade asked. And the mayor told him, “I am the mayor. That gives me the authority.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Lawnmower Phil”: An eyewitness account

By Linda Wyeth

Eric Petersen of Withee had just walked outside during his lunch break at Badger Precision on CTH X in Owen in the early afternoon of Tuesday, June 17, 2014, when he saw a police squad car arrive and park in the parking lot adjacent to the shop. Across the street, Police Chief Andrew Schade pulled into the city-owned lot where Dollar General wants to build its store.

Petersen then saw a familiar figure, Phillip Goerl, lurching in his uncoordinated way down the sidewalk. Officer John Stubbe approached “Lawn Mower Phil,” or “Ponch,” as he is called by his friends, from one side, while Schade came up behind Phil.

By all accounts of people in Owen who know Phil, he is a “sweet, harmless” man “who wouldn’t hurt a fly.” At 83 years old, he grew up mostly in institutions, going to Clark County Health Care Center to live at the age of 18. He was released in the 1970s when the state was “deinstitutionalizing” people and sending them to live in communities.

He is physically and cognitively disabled and is unable to articulate well when talking. Now that his tremors make it difficult to walk, he gets around town primarily on a riding lawn mower. According to Jackie Reinke, who probably knows him better than anyone else, in spite of his disabilities, he is a proud man with a sly sense of humor who values his independence and does not like to accept help. The idea that Phil would be in possession of a gun, according to all who spoke of him, is “ludicrous.”

Petersen described the police officers as asking Phil what was in his pocket. As Phil, his hand trembling uncontrollably, reached toward his pocket, Petersen said he heard Officer Stubbe yell, “Oh no!” Stubbe then swung the frail elderly man around and slammed him up against the “high line” pole just behind him. Both officers then handcuffed him and “dragged” him toward the squad car.

Petersen said he was puzzled why the police officers reacted so violently. Stubbe’s statement in the police report, echoed by Schade in his article in the O-W Enterprise the following week, that Phil had “furtively” reached toward his pocket was ridiculous, Petersen said, because with his severe tremors, Phil couldn’t “furtively” reach for anything.

Another witness also scoffed at the notion of Phil being able to pull a gun from his pocket. “It would take him 45 minutes even to reach his pocket,” he said.

Petersen also wondered how Stubbe and Schade, in their time in Owen, could have not known the severity and nature of Phil’s disabilities or the kind of person he was.  When he learned that Officer Stubbe had indeed said in this police report that he knew who Phil was and that he had cognitive and speech disabilities, Petersen said flatly that he felt more strongly than ever that the behavior of the police was inappropriate and cruel. “I just felt so badly for him – I still do,” Petersen said. He had considered going to a city council meeting to tell city officials what he had seen. “I am glad you are looking into it,” he said.

Phil must have been terribly confused by what was happening, Petersen added. He was babbling and kicking and struggling and trying to free himself. Even if he didn’t have serious physical injuries from the encounter, “I can just imagine how scared he must have been.”

Jackie said she was out of town the day of the incident, but that the police had clearly not handled the situation well. With Phil, she said, you have to repeat everything several times before he is able to understand what you are asking or what you want him to do. “Everybody knows that,” she said.

Another member of the community said she did not see the incident, but did see the aftermath of Phil’s treatment by the police officers. “I did not witness the actions that they [took with] Ponch,” she said. “I saw the black and blue marks on his arms and wrists two days after it happened. That was enough to make me mad — to treat this poor old guy like that. I know the police claim they didn’t know what he would do, but, like I said, anyone who has been in Owen more than two days knows Ponch.”

Petersen was one of at several eyewitnesses to the incident on June 17, 2014. The others said they were unwilling to speak on the record because of concerns about police harassment, but they corroborated all the important details of Petersen’s account and agreed that the police overreacted and that their treatment of Phil was abusive.

Petersen said that since the incident he has been followed on several occasions by police officers, but that he isn’t frightened. “After all, what could they do to me?” he asked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What I saw on Chief Schade’s silent movie

By Linda Wyeth

I arrived promptly at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, August 1, 2014, at the Police Department in Owen, with my husband Don accompanying me. Police Chief Andrew Schade and Officer Ryan Boie engaged in pleasant small talk about the weather with us for a couple of minutes before we went into the office to watch the police department videos of an incident on June 17, 2014, in which Schade and Police Officer John Stubbe confronted Phillip Goerl, an 83 year old cognitively and physically disabled man, about allegations that he had a handgun.

Schade fast-forwarded the recording so I would not be able to see the footage of the juveniles who had told Stubbe that they had seen an “old man” near the Creekside Convenience Store who had a handgun.

For just a brief second, we could see “Lawnmower Phil” lurching unsteadily down the sidewalk. Then Officer Stubbe pulled the squad car into the parking lot next to Badger Precision, facing the wall on the side of the building. The first issue was immediately apparent. There was no audio on the recording.

Based on Schade’s recent article about the incident in the other newspaper, I was expecting to see video and hear audio. Schade said that Stubbe must have forgotten to bring the microphone out of the squad car with him.

The second problem was that there was also no video of what was happening. “Here is where we are talking to Phil,” said Schade. What we saw, however, was an empty parking lot and a blank wall. And there was no audio to be heard at all.

Schade stated a few weeks ago in an article in the other paper, “We captured the entire incident on the squad car’s video and audio recorder. In addition, Owen PD officers utilize Taser Axon body cameras, which record full video and audio during police encounters for accountability.”

This continued for several minutes – seven or so, I estimated.

Finally – action! Chief Schade and Officer Stubbe appeared from the right, with Phil between them. Stubbe had both hands on Phil’s arms, guiding him across the parking lot toward the hood of the squad car. “Ponch,” a thin, frail, elderly man, who was handcuffed behind his back, appeared to be confused and disoriented. Again, there was no audio feed.

Schade and Stubbe proceeded to search “the subject.” There was no inappropriate behavior on the part of either police officer, but they were clearly conscious of the squad car video camera – Schade even smiled self-consciously into the camera lens through the windshield of the car.

After searching him and not finding the gun he was supposed to have, according to the “several” 10 to 13 year old kids who had made the report to the police department of an “old man with a gun,” the action again moved away out of camera range, never to return. This segment of the video with Phil had lasted for only a couple of minutes.

“Here is where we take Phil and have him sit in the back seat of the squad car,” narrated Schade. There was still no audio to be heard, not even from the inside of the squad car, where the microphone was supposed to be.

We watched the same empty parking lot and blank wall for about seven more minutes, with one brief interruption. “Who is the man walking there in front of the squad car?” I wondered.

“That’s Eric Petersen,” Officer Boie said.

And them the video was over. There never was any audio on it. Officer Stubbe climbed back in the squad car, and drove to the parking lot of the Creekside Convenience Store. Neither Phil nor Schade reappeared on camera. “Where is Phil now?” I inquired. Schade said they had let him go and that they had offered him a ride home or back to Jackie Reinke’s business, O-W Sports & Liquor, where his riding mower was parked.

I had also expected to watch two more recordings that afternoon, with high definition video and audio, from the officers’ body cameras mentioned by Schade in his account of the incident.

“We didn’t have them yet,” Schade said. “We didn’t actually get them until later in the week.”

I had come hoping to find the truth of what happened to Phil that afternoon in June, from the “best evidence.” But it was not to be.

The audio and video recordings touted in Chief Schade’s newspaper article were, in fact, none of the former and precious little of the latter.

Even worse, Chief Schade stated again his intention to erase the recording from the computer, and it took a great deal of effort to make sure the video would be preserved and not altered.

My next steps: request to get a copy of the video – which Schade had told me over the telephone on Monday was against the department’s policy – and interview the eyewitnesses to the event.

From the Public Records Law compliance guide: “If the request is in writing, a denial or partial denial also must be in writing… If further discussion is needed, a records custodian’s denial of access to a public record must be accompanied by a statement of the specific public policy reasons for refusal… The adequacy of a custodian’s asserted reasons for withholding requested records, or redacting portions of the records before release, may be challenged by filing court action called a petition for writ of mandamus… Denial of a written request must inform the requester that the denial is subject to review in an action for mandamus… or by application to the local district attorney or Attorney General… [T]he material input and the material produced as the product of a computer program is subject to the right of inspection and copying.”

 

 

 

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No progress report in arson investigation

No progress report in arson investigation

By Linda Wyeth

Calls made to the Clark County sheriff’s office and to the Arson Department of the State of Wisconsin Fire Marshal’s office resulted in referrals to Owen Police Chief Andrew Schade for updates on the investigation into the arson fire at the O-W Enterprise and Company Store businesses at 300 Main Street in Owen in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 6, 2014. The fire and explosion at about 4:30 a.m. almost entirely destroyed the O-W Enterprise office, the Company Store Fitness Center, and the storage garage of the building housing both businesses. A pop-up camper belonging to Jerome LePage, father of Nathan J. LePage, owner of the building and the businesses, was stored in the garage and was destroyed by the fire as well as some old newspapers in the garage.

Dana Brueck at the Department of Justice stated, “With regard to the fire investigation, you’re going to need to call Owen police department. They would be your contact for any information updates on the investigation. The state Fire Marshal’s Office, which I represent, is assisting our local partners with the investigation, but any information requests should be directed to Owen police department and/or fire department.”

State fire marshals truck at scene of fire at O-W Entreprise and Company Store Fitness center building on Sunday, July 6, 2014.

State fire marshals truck at scene of fire at O-W Entreprise and Company Store Fitness center building on Sunday, July 6, 2014.

Kenneth Muehlbauer, who took two photos after he discovered the fire in progress around 4:30 a.m., was able to clarify the mystery about the timing of his photos. He had never changed the time zone setting on his phone from its default setting of Pacific Daylight Time, so when he posted the photos to his Twitter account, the time stamp recorded the post erroneously as 2:59 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. In fact, Muehlbauer said in a Facebook posting, he didn’t post the photos until after he had called 911 to report the fire, or around 5:00 a.m. CDT.

Owen Police Chief Andrew Schade responded at 8:14 p.m. Monday, July 14, 2014, to our request for an update. He stated that he had no updated information and that he didn’t know when he would have any updates to report.

We will continue to follow this story and will report back to the community as soon as more information becomes available. We have every confidence that the investigators will solve this crime quickly and efficiently.

 

 

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Alderman Pfeffer and Police Chief Schade again raise issues at council meeting (July 8, 2014)

By Linda Wyeth

*** Note from Linda: Due to lack of space to run this entire story in The Sentinel & Rural News this week, some of the story was not printed. This is the story in its entirety as I submitted it to the paper.

Alderman Patrick Pfeffer returned to some of his familiar themes at last week’s Owen Common Council meeting on Tuesday, July 8, at City Hall.

“I have a couple of comments from people in the community that asked me some questions here in the last week that they’d like some answers for,” Alderman Patrick Pfeffer said during the Public Opinion portion of the meeting. “The first one, after our last meeting is, I’m being asked who authorized to have a payment plan for Jackie [Reinke] last year because according to members of the council, nobody seems to know, and we’re trying to figure out where that came from. I’ve had residents from the community ask me about this, after everything hit the paper from the last meeting.”

Jackie Reinke is the long-time owner of O-W Sports and Liquor who was in danger of losing her liquor license this year because she was behind in paying her personal property taxes to the city. However, she did pay the overdue taxes by the June 30 deadline, and the city renewed her license. A change in the city ordinance last year no longer allows for license holders to establish payment plans for money they owe the city. Jackie has not been the only liquor license owner to run into financial problems and to need to negotiate a payment plan in the past.

Alderman Mark Hanson replied, “As I remember it last year, we asked Terri if she was all paid up, and Terri said yep, she was good to go. That was the way I remember it. That’s my recollection of the whole thing.”

Dennis Lulloff agreed, “I think I remember it, and I thought she was paid up, too.”

Mayor Stephen Heggemeier and other aldermen were not so sure. “I don’t know,” Heggemeier said, “because we’ve had so many years where she hadn’t been paid up all along. It kind of blends together, and I don’t remember for sure.”

Alderwoman Mary Lynn Kiviko stated, “I don’t remember anything about that discussion last year.”

Pfeffer continued, “Yeah, it’s just that it’s just sumpin’ that’s supposed to go in front of the council. That’s why I’m asking about it, and I know other people have asked me about it, and I don’t have a good answer for ‘em.”

Since city clerk-treasurer Terri Ernst was not at the meeting to give her input, Pfeffer continued to his next citizen complaint.

“A couple other things people have asked me about was – and I know Mark got asked this same thing – was why Tim Swiggum was watering plants on Sunday and driving around in a city truck watering plants, and why as the CDA Director, when he doesn’t even work for Public Works, why does he even have keys for the city garage?”

Heggemeier and the other aldermen seemed to be amazed by Pfeiffer’s criticism. “What times? How many hours?” asked Heggemeier.

Pfeffer asked Hanson, “Do you have the times?… Because I was not the only one that was asked about this.”

Hanson replied, “One guy asked how long does it take to water flowers? I said, I don’t know. Did he water them in the afternoon? I don’t know.”

Swiggum, Owen’s Community Development Authority director, responded, “On Saturday I was watering them. It took about two hours. The flowers were dying, is why I did it. And I don’t have a key. I called Dennis Looker, and he said he was in Greenwood and Gary was out of town. And I just said, ‘I’m willing to go do it.’

“And [Looker] said, ‘Well, There’s a key.’ I came here and got the master key. All the flowers would be dead if I didn’t do that. And then Sunday I started because it was looking like rain, but it was doubtful it was going to rain. And then it started to rain, and I quit. I didn’t put anything down for time.”

Pfeffer also criticized Swiggum for that. “And that’s one of the other issues that was mentioned was that if you were doing this off the clock, the liability of you driving around in a city truck is not the way that it would be if you were on the clock. So that’s why people are questioning me about it and then asked me to question the council tonight.”

Swiggum explained, “We used to have Phil Greschner do it, and he did it as a volunteer, and he’s not affiliated with the city.”

Alderman Dennis Lulloff, chairman of the Parks committee, said, “Those hanging flowers should be watered every day.”

Hanson seemed incredulous, “They have to water them EVERY day?”

The others nodded. Swiggum noted, “They did it on the 4th, and they were parched on Saturday. Before that, it was raining every day for a week. I don’t know if they were watered on Thursday, because they were looking good but by the end of Friday they were starting to shrivel.”

Lulloff added, “The water goes right through them.”

Heggemeier also came to Swiggum’s defense. “The thing is,” he said, “is if he’s doing it off the clock, if he’s doing extra work, we can’t be too tough on him. He’s going above and beyond.”

Pfeffer plowed on to this next concern. “There’s only two other things that I was asked about. One was about our lawn mowing in town. Now that we have public works employees that we’re paying as much money as we are, why we’re not looking into doing something like the City of Thorp did this year where they’re paying $800 a month to have their lawns mowed versus us spending how many thousands of dollars just to have our guys makin’ the money they’re makin’ out mowing our lawns.” It’s be different if we had…

Police chief Andrew Schade corrected Pfeffer, ”It’s $800 a week it is, Pat. It’s $800 a week.”

Alderman Mel Lorence said, “You’ve gotta look at it another way. If they run out of things to do and if they ain’t mowin’ lawns, what else are they gonna do?”

Schade asked, “At $23 an hour now?”

Lorence responded, “That’s still part of their job for the city. It always has been.”

“Wow!” said Schade.

Pfeffer continued, “The thing is, people are just asking why, if there’s a way to save money, and the city is supposed to be saving money according to our audit report, why things are being done this way, and why we’re not just looking into something else?”

Hanson argued, “Well, apparently [lawn mowing] is quite a bit cheaper for the school up here, because they hire it out.”

Heggemeier conceded, “Well, I think we can look into it.”

Because city clerk-treasurer Terri Ernst was not at the meeting, Pfeffer said he would hold his final concern until he could ask her about it.

The usual routine approval of the police report turned into a lengthy complaint by Police Chief Schade about recent actions of Gary Smith, head of the Public Works department.

“I got a phone call when I was up in Bayfield on Friday about CTH X being closed,” Schade said. “From Paul Street to Linden Street, the entire road was closed. Ryan interviewed the person who was downing the tree, and he stated that Gary Smith authorized him to close off CTH X. The only problem with that is Gary Smith cannot authorize the closure of CTH X. He cannot.”

Schade continued, “I contacted Dennis Buchholz, the county highway supervisor, who contacted Tim Hanson, and they never knew anything about this. I contacted the Clark County sheriff’s office, the state patrol, and our police department. None of us knew that this road was being closed off. I had two citizens call me. Ryan called me and alerted me to this. None of us knew this road was being closed off.

“I guess my concern is – I mean, I’m not trying to slam our public works – they can’t close off roads like this without notifying the sheriff’s office, and definitely the county highway supervisor. We don’t control the middle of X. We know that because we didn’t pay for the middle of X to be paved. We paid for the edges. So, our public works can’t close off CTH X without notifying people, and I guess that was my concern, because I had the deputies say something to me when I was at the fire on Sunday that he came through town and the road was closed off, and he didn’t know what was going on, and no one knew and I guess for emergencies and stuff, that’s a little bit dangerous.”

Schade wasn’t finished with his concerns about Smith and the Public Works department. “The only other thing, too, is when like painting on roads happens and there’s cones and everything all over town, Public Works Director Gary Smith needs to tell our police department. On Industrial, one lane was closed. I didn’t know anything about this. I didn’t know any of these roads were being painted, cones were up, or even when the lights were being changed. I didn’t know anything, that this was being done on the roads, and I guess that was a concern back then, and then when CTH X was closed – definitely a big concern. Like I said, then I called Dennis Buchholz yesterday, who called Tim Hanson, and neither one of them knew anything about it.”

Schade suggested talking to Smith about it situation. “If we can do that, I’d appreciate that,” he said.

The council had a long discussion of its liquor license situation. According to Police Chief Andrew Schade, he spoke with ATF agent Tyler Quamm earlier in the day to clarify the differences between regular and reserve licenses. Schade told the council that a law went into effect on December 1, 1997, that caps the number of regular licenses at the number that existed in the city prior to that date. Any license added after that date would be a reserve license. The number of reserve licenses is based on the population of the municipality, with one per 500 people allowed.

There is still some confusion, because no one at the council meeting could say with any certainty how many Class B liquor licenses there were prior to December 1, 1997.

Also, Schade said, technically, the Woodland Hotel license is an open license because Helen and Paul Nikolay have not applied for the license. “Agent Quamm said that liquor license at the Woodland is open, not attached to anything,” he explained. The Nikolays would have to apply for the license if they want to keep it with the Woodland. ”But the thing is it’s not a business, so it we have an ordinance that says something about continuation of business – I don’t know if we have anything like that? – that might be an issue, too, because it’s not an actual operating establishment.”

Lulloff sought further clarification. “Or they could apply for it now? Because, logically speaking, without that liquor license, that building becomes almost worthless. But they could apply for it, and continue to renew it?”

Schade agreed that whoever purchases the Woodland Hotel could also apply for the liquor license.

Following the discussion, Pfeffer made a motion to approve the liquor license application of Jim and Louis Brower for Jim’s Café, at a cost of $200 for the application and $20 for publication, if it turns out that the city does have an available Class B license. His motion was unanimously approved.

In other business, the Common Council:

  • Approved over-budget expenditures for the police department of $460.99 for spike strips to be used in police chase situations and for Carbonite software computer back-ups for the department’s computers.
  •  Learned that the city garage is ready to house the police department’s extra cruiser.
  • Decided to award a contract to dB Wireless to put up equipment on the city water tower and to provide the city with wireless Internet service at a cost of $149.99 per month.
  • Approved soda licenses for several businesses in the city.
  • Discussed Roger Wallace’s unpaid water bills from the Woodland. Swiggum said because of a change in state law, the water bill can no longer be charged to the tax bill, and the city will have to try to collect the money from Wallace. The electricity and water accounts have been changed to Helen Nikolay’s name. Swiggum said the only way to hold Wallace accountable will be to hire a bill collector or take him to small claims court.
  • Approved allowing the Annual Car Show to have a burn-out contest on Saturday, August 16, with the proviso that the fire department have complete authority to deal with problems at the contest on that day, including shutting it down if they care called out for an emergency or fire elsewhere.
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Early Sunday morning explosion and fire at O-W Enterprise; arson suspected

Early Sunday morning explosion and fire at O-W Enterprise; arson suspected

By Linda Wyeth

“We haven’t been inside. It’s a crime scene. We won’t be able to get in until they clear the scene,” said Cindy Cardinal, associate editor of the O-W Enterprise newspaper in Owen, when asked at noon if she knew the extent of damage to the newspaper’s office and equipment.

“Crime scene? Arson?” I asked.

“Possibly. They can’t confirm it,” she responded, tight-lipped.

Later she posted on the newspaper’s Facebook page that the paper hopes to publish its paper this week as usual and that people should check back for further details. She also stated that local police, local fire officials, the county sheriff’s department, the state fire marshal’s office, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) were on the scene, and that the investigation is continuing. She encouraged anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity to call the police with information.

Neighbors said they were jolted awake just as the sky was starting to lighten with the approaching dawn by the sound of a large explosion. Members of the community were shocked to hear the news of the fire. After churches let out on Sunday morning, there was a steady, slow line of cars driving past the scene. The first question on everyone’s mind was, “Was anyone hurt?”

Fortunately, no one was in the building when the fire broke out. There is 24-hour access via key cards issued to members of the Company Store Fitness center, one of two businesses owned by Nathan LePage of Schofield, Wisconsin, that are housed in the cement block structure at 200 W. Third Street. The other business in LePage’s building is the O-W Enterprise newspaper, one of two weekly papers in the small community of Owen-Withee.

The fact that the fire occurred so early on a sleepy Sunday morning may have been a factor in preventing anyone being in the building. Newspaper employees also have key card access to the building, but the office is closed at night and on Sundays.

Owen Police Chief Andrew Schade was not available on Monday to answer questions about his investigation into the fire.

However, Owen-Withee-Curtiss (OWC) fire department administrator Mark Renderman addressed some questions. He said the call to the fire department came in at 4:36 a.m., and the fire department arrived to find the garage area of the building “fully involved.”

That time frame is now under further consideration with the discovery of Twitter photographs posed at 2:59 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., respectively. Kenneth Muehlbauer was apparently a witness to the early stages of the fire and took at least two photos which he posted at the above-mentioned times through his Twitter account. His observation provides valuable evidence toward when the outbreak actually occurred.

Although some neighbors and passersby had said they heard an explosion, Renderman said they were not able to confirm that. There was a pop-up camper — owned by LePage’s father, Jerome LePage — stored in the garage that was destroyed by the fire, and Renderman said it was possible the sound of tires blowing out may have seemed like an explosion.

This photo was posted by Kenneth Muehlbauer of Owen to his Twitter account at 2:59 a.m. Sunday morning.

This photo was posted by Kenneth Muehlbauer of Owen to his Twitter account at 2:59 a.m. Sunday morning.

In this photo of the raging fire at the O-W Enterprise and Company Store Fitness Center building early Sunday morning, posted by Kenneth Muehlbauer to his Twitter account at 3:00 a.m., the garage door has been blown off. Muehlbauer said he thought the explosion was caused by a propane tank stored with a pop-up camper that was destroyed in the fire.

In this photo of the raging fire at the O-W Enterprise and Company Store Fitness Center building early Sunday morning, posted by Kenneth Muehlbauer to his Twitter account at 3:00 a.m., the garage door has been blown off. Muehlbauer said he thought the explosion was caused by a propane tank stored with a pop-up camper that was destroyed in the fire.

When firefighters entered the front part of the building, he said, they had to “suppress” fires in both the O-W Enterprise office area and in the fitness center area in addition to the fire in the west side of the garage area. He estimated they used at least 4,000 gallons of water on Sunday to put out the fires and another 2,000 gallons on Monday when they returned and discovered some areas were smoldering.

He estimated that the interior areas of the building and the equipment and fixtures were a total loss due to major smoke damage. The building did not have a working sprinkler system. “This type of building is pretty sturdy,” Renderman said.

Because local fire department personnel were not able to determine the exact cause of the fires, they called in state fire marshals to investigate. “It will be awhile before the fire marshal has a report for us,” he said.

Fire investigators discuss their approach to the search for a cause of the fire at the O-W Enterprise and Company Fitness Store building before entering the building after the fire was extinguished.

Fire investigators discuss their approach to the search for a cause of the fire at the O-W Enterprise and Company Fitness Store building before entering the building after the fire was extinguished.

Until late February of 2014, the newspaper was owned by TuMarx, Inc. and rented space in LePage’s building. However, he purchased the paper via a land contract with Mark Renderman of Withee and Mark Gorke of Abbotsford on February 28 and has been the owner of the building and both businesses since that time.

LePage has been trying to sell the fitness store business and the building for at least two years without success. Several real estate sites on the Internet listed the price for the building and the fitness center at $184,900. He did sell the historic building with several apartments that he owned adjacent to the fitness center/office building last year.

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Alderman questions police chief at Council meeting (June 24, 2014)

By Linda Wyeth

In yet another long, drawn-out regular Owen Common Council meeting on Tuesday, June 24, at City Hall, First Ward alderman Dennis Lulloff raised questions with Police Chief Andrew Schade about several issues. Lulloff is usually quiet during meetings but occasionally breaks with his colleagues in voting on contentious issues.

One of the agenda items before the council was a request from Schade to rent a storage unit in Withee for the back-up police squad car. Schade said he had rented the shed for $60, with an anticipated cost of $50 a month or $600 a year.

“I rented a storage unit in Withee,” said Schade, “because there’s not any room in Gary’s shop… I was going to rent one over in Owen here, but the labs are seating in there real bad, and I didn’t want to put it in there with it being damp and wet in there.”

Lulloff immediately questioned the need for the storage shed. “Why can’t it sit outside?”

“It could,” Schade acknowledged, “but what about vandalism or someone messin’ with it?”

Lulloff responded, “My car has never been vandalized, and it sits outside all the time.”

“Okay. Well, your car’s not a marked squad,” said Schade skeptically. “But we could leave it outside.”

Schade and alderman Andrew Pfeffer said the city garage has a lot of space available, but that “there’s a lot of stuff in there.” Pfeffer emphasized, “There’s lots of room if things that do not belong in there… There’s PILES of crap, like old broken-down equipment…”

Schade chimed in, “There’s a washer and dryer and icebox in there.”

Pfeffer concurred, “There’s an old icebox. There’s PILES of stuff in there that do not need to be there.”

Pfeffer said, “I guess I don’t like the idea of a marked squad sitting outside. I see the vandalism issue on that myself.” He suggested a motion to have Gary Smith and the Public Works employees clear out space to make room to store the extra squad car there. “And if it becomes a long, drawn-out process that we have Public Works pay for [the rental of the storage unit].”

Lulloff responded, “I guess I would object to that.”

Schade again jumped into the fray. “Then I’ll pay for the storage unit. I am responsible for the safekeeping of all police equipment, and I’ll pay for the storage unit myself.”

“The Council is responsible for that,” said Lulloff.

“As per the ordinance, I am responsible for it,” Shade replied.

“You may be, but the Council… You’re responsible to the Council, but the Council is responsible…”

Schade responded, “I’m just telling you what our ordinance states.”

Mayor Stephen Heggemeier brought the meeting back on track. “We have a motion and a second to keep the police car in the storage unit until the city garage is cleaned out,” he reminded everyone.

The motion passed with only Lulloff voting against it.

The sparring continued when the discussion turned to the city’s injured animal policy. The issue arose several weeks ago when police took an injured animal to Dairyland Animal Clinic for treatment. After its initial treatment in Owen, Police Chief Schade took the dog to an out-of-area veterinary hospital for further treatment. He said he incurred over $1,000 in bills that he paid out of his own funds, with assistance from other donors.

Alderman Mel Lorence suggested setting a $200 limit of city funds for emergency treatment of stray and injured animals in the future.

Alderman Pfeffer didn’t like the limit. “I have a problem with the $200 limit because this was an animal that didn’t deserve it,” he said.

Schade agreed and went further. “Not only that, but we actually have a duty to save that animal because that animal is a victim of a heinous crime. We have to save that animal if at all possible, and [pay] any bills that are accumulated because of it,” he maintained. It would be no different if a human was a victim of a crime and has to go to the hospital to be saved. That dog is an actual witness and a victim to a criminal act. So, technically, a $200 limit wouldn’t even apply in this case.”

Lulloff scoffed, “I would disagree with you. It’s a pretty strong stretch to say that that dog is going to be a witness.”

Schade remained firm. “The DA says the dog is a victim and a witness to a crime. It’s evidence. The dog is evidence.”

He also announced to the council that the City now has an agreement with the Humane Society. “I signed an agreement with them.”

Lulloff asked, “What does that agreement say?”

Schade hesitated slightly, “Ah, I’d have to get it. Pretty much they will house animals.” He said it applies mainly to stray dogs and not so much to cats “because they have so many. I’m on pretty good terms with Chuck Wegner, and if there’s a problem, he’ll help us out.”

He then returned to the issue of the rescued dog. “The dog is evidence. The dog is a witness. He is evidence. It’s up to the DA, and I don’t know what they’ll do half the time. But I was advised by the DA’s office that that dog… She would have to go somewhere, and that would have cost thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Lulloff wondered, “Do you have a letter to that effect?”

Schade bristled, “I was advised by the DA.”

Lulloff persisted, “Do you have a letter from the DA to that effect?”

The police chief responded, “No. He told me that verbally.”

Alderman Mark Hanson suggested setting a limit of $500 to $1,000 might be more realistic, but in the end the council voted to go with the motion to set the limit for the emergency care of stray animals at $200, with the option of consulting with the mayor if that seems inadequate and there may be valid reasons for spending more.

Finally, the most difficult discussion of the evening came with what is normally routine approval of annual liquor license renewals. Last year the city revised its code of ordinances, and one item may have slipped in, becoming law with some unintended consequences.

One of the applicants, Jackie Reinke of O-W Sports and Liquor, owed back personal property taxes to the City.

Alderman Mark Hanson started the discussion. “Andy, how does that ordinance read?” he asked the police chief.

Schade replied that Ordinance 7-11-1 states, “The City shall not issue or renew any license to transact any business within the City of Owen” if the license holder owes any delinquent taxes to the city.

Community Development Association director Tim Swiggum felt the council should not take a strictly legalistic approach. “I don’t think the old one was so strict, saying ‘You shall not issue…’ Swiggum said. “It was up to the discretion of the council, or whatever it read. This is good, that they need to be held to that standard. I hear you, but you could approve it, and as long as she pays it up – even if it’s the middle of July when she pays it up – then she could be good.”

But Schade explained that only he has such discretionary power. “The only problem with this, Tim, as law enforcement, I have discretion, and the city council and mayor have a statutory duty to uphold all laws and ordinances of the State of Wisconsin and the City of Owen. Unfortunately, discretion is not offered to the city council.”

Swiggum was not impressed. He told the council, “I think you need to change the ordinance, definitely… We approved the ordinances, probably without reading them completely and seeing how they would apply, back last year.”

Schade said he was confused by how Jackie had managed to avoid paying her personal property taxes. “I guess my question is, and I don’t want to cause a ruckus. I just want to ask this, but as a resident of this community, and I pay rent, which pays taxes, is this: These taxes for Clark County have been paid by someone, and Jackie is paying us back for that? So the City of Owen paid her taxes for her? To Clark County? And is getting payment back now?… I guess, that’s what I’m confused about, because these taxes have to be paid to Clark County, correct?”

Assistant City Clerk Carol Devine explained, “No, not the personal property taxes.”

Alderman Pfeffer again spoke on behalf of following the ordinance. “So if she pays up by July 15, and we give her license back, and July 20 her water bill is due, and she doesn’t pay it, and we start getting another balance, and another balance, and another balance – what do we do about that?” He said he was worried another situation similar to that of Roger Wallace and the Woodland Hotel last year would develop.

“Based on what’s in front of us here, I would make a motion that we have to deny it until she’s paid up. If it’s not paid by the end of the month, we have to deny it based on what we have… That’s what our ordinance basically says, so it would have to be that way,” Pfeffer declared. “I’m not saying anything about what the city council has allowed for years. I’m saying… I don’t want to see her close, either, but I don’t want to put us in legal liability over it.”

Alderman Mark Hanson stated, “We need to change our ordinance to allow people to make payments.”

Schade disagreed. “Legally, we can’t allow that,” he said.

At Alderman Lulloff’s insistence, Schade consulted state statutes to see if they would allow some leeway and be less restrictive than the city’s ordinance. And a way to avoid denying Jackie her liquor license, at least for a short time, was found.

Schade explained, “We’d have to do the procedure the same as we did with the Woodland. We’ll have to give Jackie notice of the possible denial of her liquor license. We’ll have to have a meeting again, where she comes in, like we did with Roger, to discuss why… We’ll take a summons to Jackie that ‘you must appear.’ I guess it could be July 8, at the next meeting, where she has to appear. ‘This is what’ s going on. You have to pay up.’ Do it like that.”

He told the Council, “We can’t deny it tonight. You don’t approve it, either. We have to notify her of the possible denial of her license.”

Pfeffer then made a motion to notify her of the possible denial of her liquor license and set a hearing date for July 8th. The council passed it unanimously.

Before acting on the rest of the license applications, Swiggum noted that they, too, would need to be caught up on taxes and other payments to the city.

Lulloff asked the police chief, “Did anyone check to see if the others also owe money?”

Pfeffer said, “That’s my question… Are the rest of these paid up?”

Schade responded, “I don’t know.”

“How did you find out about her?” asked Swiggum.

Lulloff also wondered, “Why did you pick on her?”

Schade said, “I was informed by an anonymous source to check into that.”

In other business, the Owen Common Council voted:

  • To table until its next meeting on July 8 a decision about allowing the Downtown Revitalization Committee to hold a burn-out contest in conjunction with their Second Annual Car Show on August 17, 2014. Organizers will bring plans and drawings of their proposed set-up to the meeting for aldermen to review;
  • To set a price of $5,000 on the liquor license voluntarily surrendered by Mark Renderman several years ago when the bowling alley closed;
  • To put off until its next meeting on July 8 a decision on whether or not to approve a 6-month liquor license for James and Louise Brower of Jim’s Café;
  • To not create a new Retail Class A Liquor License;
  • To sell a 10.25 acre parcel of property on Lehnen Street to John and Mabel Harms for $1,000 an acre;
  • Approved several annual liquor license renewals and Operators’ licenses;
  • Heard an update from the Parks & Recreation department and the CDA Director’s report.

 

Meeting Postscript:

Jackie Reinke stated on Thursday that she would be paying the remainder of her unpaid personal property taxes at City Hall on Monday, June 30.

Mayor Stephen Heggemeier visited the city garage last week and found a small amount of “stuff” needing to be cleared out of the way. Public Works Director Gary Smith said this morning that the small amount of trash in the city garage has been removed and things have been rearranged. “We are ready for the police squad car at any time,” Smith said.

 

 

 

 

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