Arguments heard in case accusing Walworth County sheriff's deputies of intimidating jurors

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Andrea Anderson
Thursday, March 27, 2014

ELKHORN—Witnesses claim up to 10 Walworth County sheriff's deputies participated in an intimidation tactic by standing in a line facing the county courthouse while watching jurors, defense attorneys, Daniel White and White's family, leave the building the first night of a September trial.

The event was part of an “orchestrated effort” to intimidate the jury and infringe on White's right to a fair trial, Anthony Cotton, defense attorney, said at a motion hearing Thursday afternoon.

White of Sugar Creek was on trial for resisting an officer, battery to law enforcement officers, failure to comply and disorderly conduct in a September 2012 incident. He claims he is the victim of police brutality.

The trial ended in a mistrial Sept. 13.

In November, White and Cotton filed a motion for dismissal and a motion for a change in venue to a non-adjacent county.

Cotton claims members of the sheriff's office engaged in actions “calculated” to intimidate the jury and witnesses during White's trial. A mistrial was declared when the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

The accusations that the sheriff's office intimidated jurors and witnesses and infringed on the defendant's right to a fair trial “are completely without merit,” according to a brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Joshua Grube.

At a motion hearing Thursday afternoon, Grube continued his argument, saying if deputies were in the courtroom and courthouse, they were either doing their jobs or supporting a fellow deputy, who was reportedly injured by White in the 2012 incident.

Grube said the prosecution had no reason to shoot for a mistrial, as the defense alleged, because it was confident in its case.

“At no point was the state working for a mistrial. It was always to win the case,” Grube said.

White's attorney for the September trial, Donna Kuchler, testified Thursday about her experience. She said at one point the sheriff, undersheriff, captains and lieutenants entered the courtroom at the same time.

Kuchler said deputies were “packing” the courtroom, giving “grim” expressions to herself and jurors when leaving the courthouse.

The deputies' actions were intimidating to her, Kuchler said.  

“At all times throughout this trial, there was a tremendous presence of deputies” in the hallways, courtroom, and courthouse Kuchler said.

When Grube asked why Kuchler did not report the presence of deputies outside the courthouse on the first night, Kuchler said the evidence had been presented and the jury was deliberating so she “dealt with it” and set it aside until a juror later approached her about feeling intimidated.

The defense also accuses deputies of taking a dog and searching the exterior of vehicles belonging to Kuchler, to White and to White's wife without searching other vehicles in the parking lot outside the courthouse.

In the November interview, Sheriff David Graves said the trial and parking lot searches are unrelated and the deputies in the room were either testifying or were court security deputies.

Sean Borkhuis, a private investigator hired by Kuchler for the case, took the witness stand Thursday.

He said he was present during the trial and did not see deputies leading dogs in the parking lot firsthand, but he did see a video showing a deputy and a dog circled “at least three times” around Kuchler's vehicle.

When asked if Kuchler's car was targeted, he said “from the video it appeared that way.”

Eight of the 12 jurors said they thought deputies had their names, addresses, phone numbers or license plate numbers, knew which cars they drove or were being tracked by GPS, according to one motion.

Two jurors signed affidavits saying they feared the deputies and that White couldn't have a fair trial in Walworth County.

The affidavits were ruled hearsay by Judge David Reddy.

In a November interview with The Gazette, Graves said the accusations are “wholly without merit.”

White's claims lack explanation and evidence, according to the prosecution's brief in response to White's motions.

“White has not alleged one single shred of evidence--beyond innuendo and speculation--that any officer, whether directly involved in this case or not, did anything to intimidate any member of the jury,” according to the brief.

The defense said it is "prudent and wise for all of us to air on the side of caution" and move the case to a different county to avoid prejudice against White and to avoid jurors feeling afraid.

Reddy said he plans to make a written decision on the motions.

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