Tag Archives: district attorney

Court allows some Walker probe papers public

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ordered the release of documents from John Doe investigations of Gov. Scott Walker and his associates relating to Walker’s time as Milwaukee county executive and then governor.

The court ordered that several dozen documents be made available to the public. It is unclear how heavily redacted the documents will be.

Documents from the secret investigations had been sealed, though some have been leaked.

Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson partially dissented from the decision, saying she favored the release of the documents but did not agree that all the redactions were necessary or consistent.

Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Grassl Bradley and Daniel Kelly did not participate.

Both John Doe investigations were launched by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm.

The first, in 2010, resulted in convictions of six of Walker’s aides for actions including stealing money from a veterans’ event and campaigning on public time.

The second, launched in 2012, centered on whether Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups.

The state Supreme Court halted that probe in 2014, saying such coordination is legal as long as it doesn’t become express advocacy, a political term for advertising that specifically asks voters to defeat or elect a candidate.

Wisconsin Innocence Project client freed after 24 years in prison

Daryl Dwayne Holloway walked out of Green Bay Correctional Institution a free man Oct. 5 after serving 24 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

Holloway was accompanied by his attorney, Keith Findley, and a team of law students from the Wisconsin Innocence Project who worked on his case, according to a news release from UW-Madison.

A Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge signed the order freeing Holloway on Oct. 4.

Prosecutors in the Milwaukee district attorney’s office had agreed that exculpatory DNA results warranted the reversal of Holloway’s convictions in a 1992 sexual assault case.

“This case represents one example of the power of post-conviction DNA testing to help us achieve justice and of a prosecutor’s office recognizing that power and working with defense attorneys to find the truth, rather than just protect old convictions,” said Findley, a University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor and co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project.

Findley said Holloway’s case received renewed interest in April 2015, when now-retired Assistant District Attorney Norm Gahn conducted a review of the case file.

Gahn discovered conflicting DNA reports issued by separate labs that had previously analyzed evidence in the case. The conflicting reports meant that at least one of the labs made an error in its analysis.

Gahn contacted Holloway’s attorney, who reached out to the Wisconsin Innocence Project for help.

Findley and a team of law students reviewed the file and convinced prosecutors that remaining evidence from the case should be analyzed by an independent third-party laboratory.

The new DNA report identified numerous errors in the previous testing and identified the presence of male DNA from an unknown third party. Test results conclusively excluded Holloway as the perpetrator of the crime for which he spent more than two decades in prison.

The Milwaukee County district attorney’s office cooperated with the Wisconsin Innocence Project to draft a stipulation of facts with a joint recommendation to Judge Jeffrey Wagner to vacate Holloway’s conviction.

Wagner, who presided over the wrongful conviction in 1993, ordered the conviction vacated and dismissed all charges.

“This is a remarkable example of a prosecutor doing the right thing, motivated by the search for justice. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office deserves tremendous credit for this exoneration,” Findley said in the release.

Milwaukee DA Chisholm focuses re-election campaign on crime prevention innovations

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm stands 6’6”, a physical stature that mirrors his outsized role as an innovative prosecutor. But it also mirrors what a large target he’s become as he seeks a fourth term.

Looking to ensure his defeat are two disparate groups: supporters of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and people sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Beset from both ends of the political spectrum, Chisholm plans to focus his campaign on his record as the county’s top prosecutor, a record that’s made his office a national model for crime prevention.

Public health approach

Jeffery Toobin of The New Yorker spent three days with Chisholm last year to learn about his “public health” approach to crime prevention. Toobin highlighted Chisholm’s work in a laudatory May 11, 2015, article titled “The Milwaukee Experiment.”

Chisholm posits that every criminal offense represents a missed opportunity to have intervened with the offender. His model of crime prevention is based on identifying individuals and neighborhoods at high risk of generating violent crime and then providing a host of supportive actions and services aimed at stopping that from happening. He describes the system as an “epidemiological”
approach — analogous to the work of experts who study the incidence, distribution and control of diseases. His approach reflects the work of Dr. Mallory O’Brien, herself an epidemiologist and the founding director of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission.

This public health approach recognizes that the vast majority of violent crimes in Milwaukee occur in disadvantaged communities beset by what Chisholm calls “layers of adversity that have persisted for decades.” Without exactly saying it, he’s essentially asking, “What did you expect?”

“A shooting isn’t senseless in a neighborhood where everyone you know has been shot at or is carrying a gun and has been exposed to a lot of violence,” Chisholm explains.

It’s not only violence that begets violence, but also a “host of conditions that are often times beyond the control of the people who live there,” he says. Among those conditions, he points to deep, intractable poverty, a poor school system, low access to public health, empty buildings and a lack of grocery stores.

“There’s also physical things, like lead exposure and the quality of housing people are living in,” Chisholm adds. “And the negative consequences of many things in the penal system — fines, tickets and forfeitures — are compounding problems for people who are resource-challenged to begin with.”

Battling ‘toxicity’

Chisholm has responded to the layers of adversity that breed crime by “paying attention to the fundamental things that breed that toxicity.”

For instance, he says, “You could have a mentally ill person who’s disrupting the neighborhood who’s homeless and who’s got a drug addiction. You might work with law enforcement and family to find safe housing for that person and wrap some resources around (him or her).”

Another example is identifying a house that’s been abandoned and become a drug house. In that instance, the detoxifying action might be tearing down the building.

In an area with many blighted buildings, enlisting Habitat for Humanity and other organizations to revitalize the neighborhood can deter crime.

“One of the things we’ve seen is that if you change the look of the neighborhood and you change the feel of the neighborhood, you actually see a reduction in crime from that alone,” Chisholm says.

Assistant DA offices are housed in police stations located in at-risk neighborhoods. There, they work as a team with community organizations, public service providers and nonprofits that address factors that contribute to crime, such as homelessness and domestic abuse.

Chisholm says the “coolest thing we’ve done” is help to create the $21 million Sojourner Family Peace Center, which is modeled in part on the San Diego Family Justice Center. That facility was credited with helping to reduce domestic violence homicides by 95 percent in 15 years.

Opened late last year, the Sojourner Center brings together a wide array of partners, including the DA’s office, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Public Schools, Jewish Family Services and the Milwaukee Police Department. Located at 619 W. Walnut St., the 70,000-square-foot center is the largest of around 80 similar facilities that provide shelter, child protection and core health and legal services in one place.

The center allows DAs to intervene when a family’s been exposed to violence, just as epidemiologists would intervene to halt the spread of a disease outbreak.

Reducing crime and incarceration

In addition to the groundbreaking work he’s done in economically challenged communities to prevent crime rather than react to it, Chisholm’s office has a 95 percent conviction rate in homicide cases. He’s established the only dedicated firearms reduction unit in the state — and one of the few in the nation.

Chisholm says that he’s also proud of his success at reducing incarceration rates and arrests for nonviolent drug offenses.

In 2008 and 2009, Milwaukee saw its lowest violent crime rates in 30 years, along with lower rates of other crimes. Chisholm accomplished this while at the same time reducing incarcerations.

Although violent crime crept upward again in 2014 and 2015, Chisholm said it’s significant that he proved it’s possible to decrease crime without locking up massive numbers of people. During his tenure in office, he’s addressed the two issues simultaneously — reducing both crime and incarceration. He says the issues are connected in a way that counters conventional wisdom, and the groundbreaking way he’s addressed the connection is what prosecutors are emulating nationwide.

No good deed goes unpunished

Despite Chisholm’s record of innovation and achievement, groups at both ends of the political spectrum would like to see him defeated in his bid for re-election.

Gunning hardest for Chisholm are the dark money groups he investigated for the case popularly known as John Doe 2. Those groups were charged with illegal coordination of fundraising activities in conjunction with Walker’s recall campaign.

Walker supporters also are steamed about John Doe 1, which looked into the felony misappropriation of county time and resources by Walker’s staff members, who were investigated for helping to run his gubernatorial campaign from the Milwaukee County executive’s office. Many Wisconsin Republicans insist that case was bogus, even though it netted six convictions.

The special interest groups aligned with Walker are armed with a formidable cache of dollars and they’re yearning for vengeance. They’ve been behind efforts to launch a recall campaign against Chisholm.

Walker supporters have lumped the John Doe cases together and dismissed them as a partisan witch-hunt. They’ve said Chisholm was out to get revenge on Walker for curbing teachers’ unions, because Chisholm’s wife is a fourth-grade teacher.

In reality, the decision to prosecute John Doe 2 was made by five DAs, including two Republicans. It was ultimately Fran Schmitz, a Republican and a respected former U.S. district attorney, who took the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

There, justices who’d received millions of dollars from the defendants — but who refused to recuse themselves — ruled retroactively that the law broken by the defendants was unconstitutional. Then they fired Schmitz and ordered him to destroy the evidence.

An appeal of that decision is on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to the right-wing, dark-money crowd, Chisholm also has angered some people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. They’re outraged about decisions made by Chisholm’s office not to seek indictments for excessive use of force against unarmed black men.

Chisholm declined to prosecute three men who piled on top of Corey Stingley, an African-American teen, after they caught him trying to steal alcohol from a convenience store in 2012. Stingley died as a direct result of their assault, but Chisholm determined the facts of the case could not support a criminal conviction.

Chisholm also decided not to issue an indictment against MPD officer Christopher Manney, who gunned down Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black man, in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park in April 2014.

Chisholm stands by the Manney decision, saying the law leaves no ambiguities over his ability to prosecute in such scenarios. Witnesses said they saw Hamilton strike Manney with the officer’s baton, an action that qualifies as use of “deadly force” under the law. In such situations, officers are allowed to shoot, regardless of the strongly criticized missteps taken by Manney that precipitated Hamilton’s response.

Manney was fired for those errors.

The Manney decision notwithstanding, Chisholm says he’s not timid about prosecuting police officers, noting he’s charged over 60 in the last 20 years, both as DA and an assistant DA.

Chisholm is stoical about the political repercussions of those cases, saying they go with his position as top county prosecutor.

“No one’s ever going to be happy with a decision like (the Hamilton case),” he says.

Despite the political target on his back, Chisholm’s forward-thinking approach to crime has won him a lot of fans, including officials from law enforcement and unions, as well as elected leaders.

“In 10 years, John Chisholm has led a steady transformation within our criminal justice system,” said state Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, in a prepared endorsement. “District Attorney Chisholm has created specialized teams within his office, and he’s done so without utilizing more tax dollars. This has allowed Milwaukee to establish treatment, alternative, and diversion programs, teams to prosecute domestic violence and sexually motivated crimes, and to place prosecutors in communities throughout Milwaukee to better address neighborhood challenges. Despite these important improvements. … He will continue to fight to make Milwaukee’s criminal justice system more fair and effective for everyone. That is why I am endorsing him for another term.”

On the Web

Learn more about John Chisholm and his Democratic primary challenger Verona Swanigan.

Family of man killed by Madison police officer files federal lawsuit

The family of a biracial man who was shot and killed by a Wisconsin police officer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this week, alleging the officer’s actions were unconstitutional.

The lawsuit contends that Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny’s decision to shoot 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr. in March violated Robinson’s equal protection rights and right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. It also argues that the city enables such misconduct by failing to adequately train, supervise and control its officers, amounting to indifference to the use of deadly force.

“Despite the cries of a grieving community, the authorities, including the City of Madison, have endorsed Defendant Kenny’s actions,” the lawsuit said. “Those actions have left a family and community irreparably harmed, and without other recourse.”

Wisconsin Professional Police Association executive director Jim Palmer is serving as Kenny’s attorney. He said in an email to The Associated Press that Kenny was exonerated following an exhaustive investigation. Prosecutors earlier this year declined to press charges against Kenny and Police Chief Mike Koval concluded Kenny didn’t violate any departmental policies.

“While the death of Tony Robinson was tragic and has helped spark a constructive dialogue in Wisconsin on the relationship between law enforcement and the people it serves, Officer Kenny’s actions were completely justified,” Palmer said.

Deputy City Attorney Patricia Lauten said she hadn’t seen the lawsuit but promised the city would mount a vigorous defense.

“The issue will go to a jury to decide,” she said. “We don’t believe the officer did anything illegal.”

Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, said at a news conference that the lawsuit was her last resort to get justice for her son.

“We have sat back and tried to let the justice system work for itself but at the end of the day there has been no justice,” Irwin said, surrounded at the state Capitol by her attorneys and supporters who held a banner that said “Black Lives Matter.”

Irwin, who wore a T-shirt that said “In loving memory of #tonyrobinson,” said she did not want her son to be forgotten.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages from both Kenny and the city, comes a day after attorneys announced they had reached a $2.3 million settlement with Madison in a separate federal action that accused former Officer Stephen Heimsness of using excessive force when he shot and killed a local musician in 2012. Heimsness, like Kenny, was cleared of any wrongdoing. Lauten said Tuesday that the city agreed to the settlement to end what could be years of expensive litigation.

The Robinson family’s lawsuit called both shootings “strikingly similar” and said they demonstrate city officials don’t care about police using deadly force against unarmed citizens. Asked about the timing of the Robinson filing, Lauten said every case is decided on its own merits.

Kenny shot Robinson on March 6 in an apartment stairwell after responding to calls that Robinson had been running in traffic and assaulted two people. The officer heard sounds of a struggle in an upstairs apartment so he drew his pistol and started up, Kenny told investigators. Robinson appeared at the top of the stairs and started punching him so he fired seven rounds, Kenny said.

Another officer searched the apartment but found no one, leading investigators to conclude Robinson was talking to himself. Witnesses told investigators later that Robinson was high on mushrooms.

The shooting prompted a series of peaceful street protests.

The lawsuit alleges that Robinson never posed a threat that would justify deadly force. It also accuses Kenny of lying about the incident, saying Kenny’s story about how Robinson kept charging him even after he opened fire is implausible.

Investigators also improperly allowed him to examine the scene and review police dashcam videos before making a statement, the lawsuit maintains.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry indicted for abusing power

A grand jury today indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry for allegedly abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption, The Associated Press reports.

A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit, which is run by Travis County Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s office — the same office that indicted U.S. Rep. Tom Delay as part of a finance probe.

Perry said he wouldn’t allow Texas to fund the unit unless Lehmberg resigned after she was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunken driving in April 2013. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit for driving.

Other high-profile Republicans besides Perry called on Lehmberg to give up her post.

Several top aides to the Republican governor appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. Perry, a 2016 presidential hopeful, did not testify. The criminal investigation could damage his political prospects. His 2012 presidential bid crashed a series of embarrassing gaffes and a debate performance in which he appeared to be stoned.

Grand jurors indicted Perry on abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.

The second longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry isn’t seeking re-election in November. He has not yet been arraigned on the charges.

Perry’s indictment is the first of its kind in Texas since 1917, when James “Pa” Ferguson was indicted for vetoing state funding to the University of Texas in an effort to unseat faculty and staff members he objected to. Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted, allowing his wife, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, to take over the governorship.

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Secret John Doe investigation of Walker associates, ex-aides ends

A secret investigation into illegal campaign activity by former aides and associates of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, quietly closed last week without any charges against the Republican darling of the national conservative movement.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced on March 2 that the so-called John Doe investigation ended on Feb. 20, the same day Walker delivered his budget address to the state Legislature.

The investigation has hounded Walker – a possible 2016 presidential candidate – throughout his first two years in office. Walker steadfastly and repeatedly denied he had done anything wrong, even as six people around him were charged with crimes stemming from activity in the Milwaukee County executive’s office when Walker held that position between 2002 and 2010.

The investigation began in May 2010, six months before he was elected governor.

The governor said he was glad the investigation is over.

“We appreciate the effort that was undertaken and to bring appropriate matters to justice,” Walker said in a statement issued through his campaign.

Walker reiterated those comments following an awards ceremony in the Capitol, saying he didn’t feel he owed anyone an apology.

“The process was pretty clear. We’re glad the process is done. We think it speaks for itself,” Walker said. “We’re ready to move forward. This is just one more thing that allows us to move forward.”

Walker hired high-profile criminal defense attorneys from Chicago, started a legal defense fund that grew to $200,000 through the end of 2012 and met voluntarily with prosecutors in April. He always maintained his innocence and said he did not know that county workers were illegally campaigning while on the job. Walker said he had built a firewall to ensure county workers were not ordered to do campaign work while on county time.

Democrats insisted that evidence uncovered during the investigation showed that Walker was involved in illegal campaigning.

“It’s not a feather in Scott Walker’s cap that he was not charged with a crime,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski. “This is unprecedented in Wisconsin history and it speaks to the poor values of this governor.”

Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate said he hoped all documents related to the case would be made public to present a complete picture of Walker’s involvement. But the judge overseeing the case, in his order closing it, also kept in place a secrecy order affecting documents and other information gathered during the probe.

Chisholm, the district attorney, said in a press release that he was satisfied that all charges supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have been brought and concluded.

Democratic Rep. Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader, said it was good for the stability of the state that the investigation was over. However, he called on Walker to take responsibility for the criminal activity that happened while he was county executive.

“While the governor was not charged, he must make a statement accepting responsibility for the people he trusted, hired and supervised and apologize to the taxpayers, particularly the veterans, who were cheated,” Barca said.

The people charged in the probe were:

– Kelly Rindfleisch: Walker’s deputy chief of staff. She was sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to felony misconduct in office for doing campaign work on county time.

– Tim Russell: Walker’s deputy chief of staff, Russell, was sentenced to two years in prison in January after he was convicted of stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group Walker appointed him to lead.

– Darlene Wink: The former Walker aide pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of working on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign on county time. She was sentenced to a year’s probation.

– Kevin D. Kavanaugh: Walker named Kavanaugh to the county Veterans Service Commission. Kavanaugh was found guilty of stealing more than $51,000 that had been donated to help veterans and their families. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

– William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., was sentenced to two years’ probation in July after being found guilty of exceeding state campaign donation limits and laundering campaign donations to Walker and other Wisconsin politicians.

– Brian Pierick: The longtime domestic and business partner of Russell was found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after investigators examined his and Russell’s phones and computers. The criminal complaint said Pierick exchanged text messages with a 17-year-old boy and tried to entice him into his van, but the boy declined, according to the criminal complaint.

Wis. DA ‘most likely’ masturbated at resort

A report says a Wisconsin prosecutor was caught by hotel security viewing pornography in the business center of a resort and then was “most likely” masturbating when he returned hours later.

The Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department report says Wood County District Attorney John Henkelmann will not be charged because no one – except a surveillance camera – could see inside the publicly accessible room.

The report concluded that Henkelmann had a reasonable expectation of privacy when he entered the business lounge, which had only one computer station and no windows.

“Based on all the information I obtained and reviewed, there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal violation,” Lt. Jim Risseeuw of the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department wrote in the report. “Although the business center is open for use by hotel guests, the room is set up for use by only one person at a time. … John Henkelmann’s reaction and statement to the officer that he was not aware of the surveillance camera, and the fact that John had locked the door after entering the room, indicates that it was his belief that he was in a private room that was not within view of anyone else.”

The incident occurred when Henkelmann was one of about 200 prosecutors attending a three-day conference at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake in November 2009. The event was hosted by the Department of Justice.

Amanda Cain, a former reservations assistant at the Osthoff, said she was fired for violating “guest confidentiality” after seeing the surveillance video and then reporting it to law authorities. She said she did not know Henkelmann’s name or position until the matter was made public a month ago.

The report says Henkelmann refused to answer questions about his behavior.