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Our Views: If not criminal, Spoden's actions highly unethical

The public shouldn’t buy Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden’s claim that he did nothing wrong by trying to derail a Janesville Police Department investigation involving his son.

While a state review found no criminal wrongdoing in Spoden’s conduct, the finding in no way exonerates Spoden. If not criminal, his behavior was highly unethical.

District Attorney David O’Leary deserves credit for intervening and alerting the state attorney general’s office to Spoden’s actions. O’Leary, who routinely works with the sheriff’s office in prosecuting cases, showed integrity by refusing to look the other way and requesting an impartial investigation.

Spoden made matters worse this week by defending his reaction to the Janesville Police Department’s inquiry into an August underage drinking party, which Spoden’s son had attended and where someone was seriously injured after falling into a pool.

“It was compassion. It was caring, and, honestly, I was just trying to be a nice guy,” Spoden told Gazette reporter Frank Schultz.

It doesn’t look that way to us. In our view, Spoden’s actions were self-serving and highlighted a dismissive attitude some people have toward underage drinking, though that’s a subject for another editorial.

Spoden said he was acting as a concerned parent, but he is no ordinary parent. He is the chief law enforcer for Rock County, and he should have recognized his status required him to distance himself from the investigation. Instead, he used his position to try to impede the investigation.

Police records indicate Spoden advised his son, Joseph Spoden, not to speak with police. That may be his constitutional right, but it slowed the police’s progress as other party-goers also clammed up.

More concerning, Spoden attempted to intimidate Janesville officer Brian Foster, who tried to speak with Joseph and then contacted the sheriff. Foster stated in a report that the sheriff “suggested I excuse myself from the case because of the prominent people involved and the problems it could cause for me and my family.”

If that’s not abuse of power, it’s right on the edge.

Spoden made several remarks portraying an attitude of special privilege. In a text exchange with Spoden, Foster said he had concerns with Spoden’s “role ethically in what is going on.” To which Spoden replied that he didn’t need to explain himself to Foster. “But as Chief Law Enforcement officer of this county I am obliged to respond,” Spoden continued. “I have parents upset by your actions. So again, what is your goal? Also I am offended by you questioning the sheriff of Rock County.”

Spoden also complained to Police Chief Dave Moore, who documented his conversations with Spoden for state investigators.

“He explained that all of the kids involved come from good families and there was no need for an investigation,” Moore wrote.

Good families?

Was Spoden implying investigations should only focus on “bad families”? And who are these bad families, the ones without sheriffs for dads? “Good families” is code for the well-to-do, for people who think they should get a free pass.

Another ridiculous notion is that the police should have stopped the investigation because it was upsetting the teens and their parents. If law enforcement operated by this standard, the majority of crimes would never be investigated. We sure hope Spoden doesn’t run his office this way.

To their credit, Janesville police pursued the case to the extent possible and issued three citations related to underage drinking.

Spoden seems to be in denial over his culpability in this ordeal. He told The Gazette, “It’s despicable that people will try to turn this into some kind of a scandal when the tragedy speaks for itself.”

But the only thing despicable here is Spoden’s conduct.


Columns
Harrop: Go ahead, Republicans. Investigate Hillary. Again.

Whenever the legal walls start closing in on Donald Trump, the president releases a bad rabbit on the political field, a creature invisible to all but the haters of Hillary Clinton. The most recent example is his attorney general’s call to “evaluate certain issues” regarding the sale of a majority stake in Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation.

Yes, that again. There was absolutely zero wrong with or troubling about the Uranium One transaction. Even Fox News viewers who heard Shep Smith dismiss the wild charges as nonsense know that.

And that’s why Democrats should resist the urge to chase this non-scandal down the rabbit hole of Trumpian distraction. Provoking them to become players—to angrily defend Hillary with their files of facts—is the point of Trump’s game.

So go ahead, investigate Hillary for the 10,000th time. Other than a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars, there’s little harm in taking another look at the Uranium One sale. OK, Jeff Sessions, go forth and direct federal prosecutors to look into “potentially” unlawful international dealings—at least as imagined by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. A special counsel could be appointed if they find something, which they won’t.

This sideshow immediately followed the release of Don Jr.’s secret correspondence with Russian-controlled WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign. The Atlantic reports that campaign advisers Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks and Brad Parscale knew about it.

There is nothing imaginary about Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and our Russian adversaries. The Trump position has moved from “there was no collusion” to “collusion is not illegal.”

U.S. intelligence has long held that WikiLeaks acted as an arm of the Russian military to push the race in Trump’s favor. Trump ally Roger Stone was in touch with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and worked with the Russian agents running Guccifer 2.0, the entity that launched cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee. We know that because he stupidly bragged about it.

“There is one ‘trick’ that is not in my bag, and that is treason,” Stone said last September in his defense. Ooooh. We don’t know about that.

Lest anyone doubt that a fire could be raging under this heavy smoke of denials, the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence on election security issued a joint statement last year that “the recent disclosures ... are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”

Funny that Trump was in Asia this month telling Americans to trust Russian strongman Vladimir Putin but not the leaders of their own intelligence services. Actually, it was not funny at all.

Harassing a political opponent no longer in office is not without risk for Trump. Given the tawdry family history—going back to the ’90s, when a bankrupt Trump turned to Russians for loans—the president has provided ample opportunity for his successor to push for investigations of him.

Directing the government to go after a former political foe, of course, broke a major political norm. Trump may believe that no one else has the guts to ravage the democracy as he has. We shall see.

In any case, launching a new witch hunt against Clinton is a sure sign that the heat’s been turned up high.

Do Democrats want to help Trump turn attention away from the web of troubles in which he is thrashing?

As Mueller’s investigation trains more hot lights on Trump and company, the president’s people will send more rabbits for the media to chase in the opposite direction. Democrats will undoubtedly be asked to respond to the phony allegations.

Their best response would be a quick dismissal and a shrug.


Robert Spoden


Letters
Your Views: City wrong to hold up contract with humane society

I have followed the recent situation between the city of Janesville and the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin with dismay. As the founder and president of Spirit Horse Equine Rescue, I understand the complexity and intricacy of dealing with unwanted animals. I have had enough experience to know that it involves a certain amount of risk and a great deal of responsibility.

To encounter unknown animals, quickly assessing their temperament and evaluating their health requires a high level of expertise. Following up with appropriate care is equally important.

I cannot imagine why anyone who cares about the safety, health and well-being of animals would "shop around" for services when there has been a long history of excellent service provided.

If the city council has approved the amount for the contract with the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin, the city should sign that contract. Holding the humane society's own budget process up at this stage seems mean-spirited at best.

I can only wonder at the motivation for this move by city administrators. The money has been budgeted. There have been no complaints about service. If this is a ploy to leverage future contracts with the humane society, it is wholly inappropriate.

If there is another agency or business willing to take on the responsibility of Janesville's stray pets, who will decide if the level of care will be adequate?

I urge the city administration to end this unfortunate situation and sign the contract with the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin.

DIERDRE LUCHSINGER GOLBERG

Janesville