Janesville53.5°

County won't investigate Darien political complaints

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ANN MARIE AMES
September 30, 2009
— If you have a political complaint about the village of Darien any time in the near future, don't look to the Walworth County Sheriff's Office for help.

Because village officials and residents have named the county in a notice of claim, the sheriff's office cannot investigate any complaints about political issues or village business, Corporation Counsel Michael Cotter said.


Routine criminal matters and other law enforcement complaints still will be investigated, Sheriff David Graves said.


The first complaint to be turned down was one filed in July by Darien Village Board President Evelyn Etten.


Etten complained that village Administrator Marc Dennison violated the law when he "called together" four members of the village board, according to sheriff's office records obtained by the Gazette.


Dennison in July told the Gazette he telephoned four members of the board to ask whether they would be willing to negotiate with Police Chief Steve DeVoy to try to avoid the expense of a hearing.


Graves last week sent Etten's complaint to the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation.


An investigator has been assigned to the case, Graves wrote in a letter to village Administrator Marc Dennison and acting Police Chief Mike Maltese.


Graves initially sent the case back to the village, he said. But, knowing the village would be as conflicted about investigating itself as he was, Graves referred the case to the state, he said.


The county could not maintain the appearance of neutrality while investigating a complaint about the village board or administration, Cotter said.


"You can totally see it happening," Cotter said. "(If) we investigate (a complaint) and refer or don't refer it for charges, it's tainted. One side will say 'They're doing it because they're getting sued.' The other side will say, 'They're not doing it because they're getting sued.'"


Etten's complaint was one of many referred to the sheriff's office since last fall, when DeVoy's relationship with the village board started to sour.


One complaint filed with the sheriff's office has resulted in non-criminal charges against seven current and former members of the village board. They are awaiting trial on charges of violating Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law.


A complaint that former board President Bob Metzner was impersonating a police officer was dismissed.


Cotter said the county cannot effectively investigate politically motivated complaints because of a notice of claim filed in February by nine employees, Metzner and a retired employee. They claim their Fourth Amendment rights were violated by surveillance cameras installed in the village police department.


Sheriff's deputies installed the cameras at DeVoy's request, according to investigative documents obtained by the Gazette. The county and the village denied the claims, but lawsuits still could be filed.



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