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Police chief, town facing five complaints

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ANN MARIE AMES
October 10, 2010
— Five current and former Town of Beloit Police Department employees and one business owner in the last three weeks have filed or updated complaints against the town in federal court.

All the complaints include allegations of racism against Police Chief John Wilson, as well as a handful of other accusations. The town of Beloit in early 2009 reprimanded Wilson in writing and required him to take a sensitivity class after the police union in late 2008 filed a complaint against the chief. At the time, Town Administrator Bob Museus said the matter was politically motivated.


Museus on Friday said the town has received the federal complaints, but he could not comment on the cases because litigation is pending, he said.


In 2009, the police union passed a vote of no confidence against the chief. Since then, many complaints have been filed at the town level and many local investigations have taken place. The employees and business owner who filed the federal complaints say they were retaliated against for speaking against Wilson or because of their races.


Here’s how the cases break down:


Officer David Burkee on Thursday filed a complaint in federal court. Burkee has been an officer with the department since 2004. In that time, Wilson has made racial comments about people and about Burkee, who is “a person of color of multiple ethnic backgrounds” according to the complaint. In 2008, the police union complained on more than one occasion that Burkee was being treated harshly and was denied required training. Wilson retaliated against Burkee, according to the complaint.


“Wilson openly created a hostile working environment for Burkee because of his race and in retaliation for Burkee complaining about racial discrimination,” Burkee’s complaint states. “No similarly situated white or non-complaining employee was treated as harshly as Burkee.”


Burkee seeks damages and court fees and to have his personnel file purged of information written by Wilson and others.


Wilson is white, the complaint states.


Clerk of Court Mary Abegglen and her husband, former Sgt. Willie Abegglen, filed a federal complaint in March and amended it in September.


The Abegglens’ complaint states: Willie Abegglen retired in February. He started working in the department in 1980 and was deputy chief from March 2004 to April 2009. Mary Abegglen has been the clerk of courts and dispatcher for the town since 1995.


On more than one occasion, the Abegglens told investigators and town officials that Wilson used racial comments and created a hostile work environment, according to the complaint. Wilson told department members and town employees that the Abegglens were no longer loyal to him. On Feb. 16, 2009, the town board voted to reorganize the town’s employment structure, which eliminated Willie Abegglen’s position and reduced Mary’s. Both were demoted.


Since that time, “both Willis and Mary Abegglen have been the subject of continuing internal investigations and alleged rule violations,” the complaint states.


The Abegglens seek $300,000 each as well as back pay, attorneys fees and damages.


Former Officer Chris Luzinski filed a federal complaint Sept. 27. Luzinski worked for the department from April 2005 to Oct. 2, 2010. He was a union steward. Starting in 2006, Luzinski documented racist comments Wilson made in the workplace, according to the complaint. He also defended Burkee. He talked to town officials and an attorney about the problems, but no action was taken against Wilson, according to the complaint. Wilson retaliated against Luzinski by demoting him, canceling several training sessions and moving him to third shift, the complaint alleges.


Luzinski seeks to regain his detective position. He also wants his personnel file cleared of information filed by Wilson or Museus and for the town pay damages and his court costs.


Sgt. David Dransfield on Sept. 22 filed a complaint in federal court. According to the complaint, Dransfield has worked for the town for 27 years and as a sergeant for the last six. Wilson physically threatened Dransfield and others for supporting union complaints against Wilson, according to the complaint. Wilson retaliated against Dransfield for supporting Burkee by moving Dransfield to third shift, removing him from his role as department trainer and threatening to fire him, according to the complaint.


Dransfield seeks to regain his first-shift position. He also wants his personnel file purged of information written by Wilson or Museus and wants the town to pay damages and Dransfield’s court costs.


n Anthony Smith, owner of Flying AJ’s Towing, 515 Euclid Ave., Beloit, filed a complaint in federal court Feb. 2 and amended the complaint Wednesday. The complaint states that Wilson refused to add Smith’s business to the list of companies that tow cars for the town because Smith is black. Smith seeks damages and court costs and seeks to have his company placed on the towing list.



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