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Sale of evidence prompts review of police policies

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Kayla Bunge
April 7, 2009
— Town of Linn police are reviewing policies and giving officers weekly refreshers after the chief admitted violating the department's evidence policy by selling a lawnmower connected to a theft investigation.

Police Chief Dennis Wisniewski said he now knows it was wrong to sell the lawnmower taken as evidence almost two years ago.


"It's probably one of the worst mistakes I've ever made," he said. "It won't happen again."


The police chief originally told sheriff's investigators that his department did not have a policy addressing the disposal of items taken as evidence. But during a recent department policy review, he learned the department does, in fact, have such a policy.


Wisniewski said the situation has prompted the department to review all of its policies for improvements. He said the department also plans to discuss policies on a weekly basis to make sure staff are aware of policies they must follow.


The lawnmower was taken as evidence during a theft investigation, and Wisniewski is accused of selling it for $250 to a relative of the police officer who investigated the case.


The Walworth County Sheriff's Office received complaints about the sale.


"It looks bad," said Capt. Dana Nigbor, who investigated the police department's handling of the case. "There was a poor criminal investigation done on this case. There could have been more follow-up, and there should have been more follow-up."


Because police could not prove the person from whom they took the lawnmower was the person who stole the lawnmower, police should have given the lawnmower back, she said.


"If you can't prove the crime, you can't keep the evidence," Nigbor said. "And you certainly shouldn't have sold it."


The sheriff's office referred the case to Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss, who decided not to pursue criminal charges.


"It does not appear that any of the acts ...were intentional or in knowing violation of any statute or policy," District Attorney Phil Koss wrote in a March 10 letter to the sheriff's office.


Although investigation into the incident was appropriate, criminal charges were not warranted, Koss wrote.


"A mere violation (of police department policy), without the requisite intent or knowledge does not constitute a crime," Koss wrote.


The Linn Town Board on March 27 suspended Wisniewski for three days without pay. He returned to work April 2.



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