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Data shows delays statewide in investigating child porn tips

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Gina Barton/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 28, 2014

Investigations of Internet crimes against children were delayed across Wisconsin — not just in the Milwaukee office, where two employees were dismissed, according to newly released data from the state Department of Justice.

The spreadsheet obtained by the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday shows lag time in Justice Department field offices in Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and Wausau.

It includes 41 cases that waited two months or more to be investigated, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis. The longest delay was 31/2 years, and the average was more than a year.

The data provides a snapshot of cases that had gone without investigative attention for 60 days or more as of Feb. 23. It was compiled by the Justice Department after reporters at the Journal Sentinel and other organizations began asking questions about three child pornography cases that had languished for months.

Those three cases involved a 26-year-old Racine man left free to allegedly molest an 11-year-old boy he was baby-sitting, a Pewaukee man who worked as a juvenile drug and alcohol counselor and walked away with a nine-month work-release sentence that didn't require him to register as a sex offender, and a 19-year-old man with a history of sexual assault arrests.

The spreadsheet, released to the Journal Sentinel as a result of an open records request, shows the lag time in Milwaukee that led to the dismissal of two employees, Willie Brantley and Anna King, was not unique to the field office here.

In a letter terminating Brantley, written in March, Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John referenced 43 cases funneled from Madison to Milwaukee spanning a three-year period that waited more than four months before being investigated.

There is some overlap between the two data sets.

However, most of the cases on the spreadsheet released Wednesday were “determined to have been properly reviewed and prioritized for purposes of follow up,” Assistant Attorney General Kevin Potter said in a Tuesday letter to the Journal Sentinel.

The statewide review did not identify a problematic pattern in any of the other field offices, Justice Department spokeswoman Dana Brueck said in an email.

“The spreadsheet indicates cases without investigative activity for the indicated time period. Just because a case was without investigative activity does not mean it was handled improperly,” she wrote. “When agents are assigned a case, the expectation is it will be evaluated and prioritized. Unfortunately, some cases — depending on a variety of factors specific to the tip — may go without significant activity for a number of reasons relating to its relative risk, probability a crime is being committed, volume/complexity, and finite resources.”

The Journal Sentinel could not independently confirm the outcomes of each investigation because the Justice Department withheld the names of the suspects. The names of the agents responsible for each investigation also were blacked out.

The majority of the tips on the spreadsheet involved suspected possession of child pornography or illegal peer-to-peer file sharing networks of such images.

Entries for 32 cases indicate there was “no victim.” In the other nine, there is not a notation about possible victims.

Access to children is listed as “unknown” for most cases. However, in one of the longest-delayed cases — 38 months — the suspect was confirmed as having access to children.

RECORDS STILL NOT RELEASED

The Justice Department has not yet released additional records the Journal Sentinel requested in February and March regarding problems with the child pornography cases and the departures of Brantley and King.

Brantley was terminated, and King was forced to resign. Under a deal reached this month, Brantley's departure was reclassified as a retirement, which allows him to collect unused vacation time and use his banked sick leave to help pay for health care coverage.

Asked after the settlement if the root problems with child pornography tips had been addressed, Dean Stensberg, an aide to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, issued a statement that said, in part: “There is no 'root problem' with the (Internet Crimes Against Children) program. ... There were personnel problems that have been resolved.”

Daniel Bach, Brantley's attorney, said the problems with the program were a function of the Department of Justice seeing the number of tips nearly triple over a year.

Since 2008, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has referred some 3,800 tips to the State of Wisconsin, according to John Shehan, executive director of the center's exploited children division. Most were sent to the Justice Department.

“It's really a numbers issue, and it was a numbers issue statewide,” Bach said.

After the issues became public, the Department of Justice created a task force to catch up on cases. Agents were paid $32,000 in overtime as part of that effort, the department has said.

The task force ran from March 10 to June 10. The agency has not provided other details about its work.

Kevin Crowe and Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.



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