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Challenges, victories mark sheriff's first year

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Mike DuPre'
January 16, 2008
— High-profile tragedies served as bookends for Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden's first year in office.

In January, Spoden was confronted by Rock County's worst murder case: the triple homicide of Danyetta Lentz and her two teenage children, Scott and Nicole.


He had been sheriff five days.


In December, a Rock County sheriff's deputy and a Clinton police officer shot and killed an armed man who had wounded his mother-in-law and threatened his family.


Spoden took time to review and comment on 2007 from his perspective:


January: The bodies of the Lentzes are found in their mobile home south of Janesville. Five days later, sheriff's deputies arrest a neighbor, James C. Koepp, on suspicion of the murders, but District Attorney David O'Leary holds off filing murder charges pending lengthy analysis of potential evidence. O'Leary files the charges one year later—Friday, Jan. 11, 2008.
"It was, and still is, probably the biggest event of my career and gave me a sense of the awesome responsibility I have as sheriff and my duty to that family and the community that we would bring justice to that family.
"I'm really proud of how hard our detectives worked, and I was really impressed with how law enforcement worked together cooperatively."
February: Spoden inherits a crowded jail, local inmates housed in other counties and a jail expansion and renovation plan with a hefty price tag. He begins a series of programs as alternatives to incarceration.
"That's when we kicked in the (jail) diversion program; that's when the (ankle) bracelet really kicked off. I was really impressed with the ability of the (electronic) equipment to monitor offenders. It was a big help in managing overcrowding issues here.
"We're not a critical point where we're shipping people out. We have only 20 people house out of county."
April: Another issue hanging over the sheriff's department is the sexual harassment complaint filed by two former female clerks against former Sheriff Eric Runaas. The county board OKs a cash settlement of almost $60,000 to close the case. The settlement is announced in May.
"It was good for the department that we were able to move forward. It would have been a distraction for this office."
May: On the heels of the Runaas settlement comes news that the department is internally investigating complaints that Lt. Bill Harper, head of detectives, made inappropriate racial and ethnic remarks. Harper retires May 31. Spoden says if Harper had not resigned, he would have faced serious discipline and possible loss of his job.
"That one was very frustrating for me because I made clear in my campaign and at every briefing on every shift to make my intentions clear. I was very direct in saying I would not tolerate any unprofessional conduct. When this happened, I was very disappointed."

Also in May, a pair of outside consultants describe conditions at the Rock County Jail as "awful," so bad they could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.


"I was disappointed that they would use such dramatic language. I thought it was an exaggeration."

Residents touring the jail soon afterward say the jail is crowded and outdated but not "awful."


June: Rock County's SWAT team is called to one of a dozen deployments, a record number for the unit. All the standoffs end peacefully.
"We have confidence in the leadership of our SWAT team. Our new commander of law enforcement services—Troy Knudson—really redid the training for our SWAT team."
July: Spoden institutes "direct supervision"—jailers in personal contact with inmates—in a renovated Huber dorm at the jail.
"We saw a decrease in inmate confrontation and less stress for correctional officers because they had the ability to have more control and defuse situations before they become violent and possibly injure inmates or officers."
August: In another SWAT team deployment, Timothy Harrington, 36, of 11447 Minkey Road, is arrested on charges of negligent use of a firearm, fleeing an officer and failure to comply with officers' attempts to take him into custody.

Harrington will be the armed intruder that officers shoot and kill in December.


"Very sound negotiating allowed us to defuse the situation without any injuries."

Spoden said he believes the county's team is on the road to being the elite SWAT team not only in Rock County, but also in southern Wisconsin.


September: Spoden asks the county board for money for an additional deputy, six more correctional officers and more training. The board eventually approves the extra funding.
"My relationship with the county board and county administration has been very positive, and we were able to work together to do good things from the standpoint of the jail and community safety."
November: Four masked men rob Mid-America Bank in Footville and escape in a car driven by a woman. Four suspects are arrested the same day, and the fifth is arrested four days later in Rockford, Ill.
"As a law enforcement officer, it is the ultimate goal to arrest a bank robber, a bad guy, and these individuals were bad people. I was really impressed with how our people conducted themselves. It was very rewarding experience for our department."

Spoden cited Deputy Karl Weberg, who confronted the suspects and chased into Illinois a car full of people considered armed and dangerous.


"I'm really proud of him."
December: Officers shoot and kill Timothy Harrington after he barges into a Clinton home and shoots his mother-in-law in the arm with a shotgun. Spoden and his wife happen to be having dinner with Janesville Police Chief Neil Mahan and Beloit Police Chief Sam Lathrop and their wives.
"My cell phone began to ring, then Chief Lathrop's, then Chief Mahan's; they all started ringing. I can't speak highly enough about—and I hope the citizens realize—the type of disciplined officers we have in this county. They are a very professional, dedicated, compassionate group of people.
"It was a hard night for me, especially with the family. It was possibly the hardest, along with the Lentz case."

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