Records about two Rock County sheriff candidates released by the sheriff’s office Saturday are sure to play a role in voters’ decisions in upcoming elections.
Gary Groelle, a captain with the sheriff’s office, and Troy Knudson, a commander at the office, face off in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary.
The records charge Groelle violated sheriff’s office rules and state statutes in incidents over the past year.
Groelle responded to those allegations Thursday in a Gazette story, saying his personnel file was “spiked” with a disciplinary report that is “phony,” and he alleges Sheriff Robert Spoden has political motives for doing so.
Spoden has denied that charge.
The Gazette reviewed the reports Saturday. They cover allegations against Groelle already reported in The Gazette and some that were not made public until now. The records show:
- Groelle used information about official sheriff’s office business on his campaign Facebook page. The information was about a forum for the Janesville Area Rental Property Association that Groelle attended in March.
Chief Deputy Barbara Tillman issued a “fair warning” performance review to Groelle for this violation of the sheriff’s office’s general orders.
- Groelle violated the same rules at a May 17 Rock County law enforcement memorial ceremony for officers who died in the line of duty.
Someone posted photos of Groelle in uniform, posing with the memorial’s keynote speaker, on his campaign Facebook page.
Ignoring the warning about political activity issued in March constitutes insubordination, Tillman wrote.
In an interview transcript, Groelle says he’s not sure if he posted the photo to his Facebook page or if someone else did.
“If I did it, I did it unknowingly,” he said.
Groelle told investigators that he didn’t go to the memorial for political purposes.
- Groelle submitted a time sheet showing two hours of work for attending the memorial, even though no one had assigned him to attend it.
Sheriff’s office officials had appointed two other captains to be the sheriff’s office’s representatives at the ceremony, but not Groelle, records show.
The time sheet entry could constitute misconduct in public office, a state law violation, Tillman wrote.
- Groelle violated a sheriff’s office policy regarding the raffle law violations. Groelle previously admitted to The Gazette he held raffles at bars to raise money for his campaign. He said he didn’t know of the prohibition, and he will donate the proceeds to charity.
Groelle told Tillman that he donated raffle proceeds to charity because he “just felt it was the right thing to do,” but he later admitted that state investigators had suggested it, and District Attorney David O’Leary had told him in writing that if he donated the money, O’Leary would take no action against him.
This was a case of untruthfulness because Groelle omitted information, Tillman wrote, and being untruthful violates policy.
The records show that the raffle violations came to light when a Knudson campaign worker called a state official, asking for a raffle permit, and was told that raffles are illegal for political purposes.
The worker then told the official that the Groelle campaign had run raffles, and that’s what started a state investigation, records show.
Groelle is required to report to his superior any contact with other law enforcement agencies that might result in criminal prosecution or disciplinary action, but he did not report his contact with state Division of Criminal Investigation agents who were investigating the raffles, or with O’Leary, records indicate.
Groelle told investigators he assumed the state agents had informed sheriff’s office.
Groelle admitted he also conducted raffles during his 2014 campaign for sheriff.
Tillman said as she was completing her report in early June, Spoden received an envelope containing Groelle’s resignation, effective July 9.
The reports also detail allegations that Groelle slept on the job, as reported earlier.
Groelle received a written reprimand for the sleeping incidents after an investigation by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office.
The reprimand says that if Groelle has difficulty staying awake, he is to notify his supervisor and take “benefit time off” and that any future infractions will result in discipline “up to and including termination.”
Groelle wrote a response to the reprimand, saying he never admitted to sleeping on duty.
The Waukesha County detective conducting the investigation, however, reported Groelle admitted he “nodded off” at the computer on a day that someone told him Spoden had seen him dozing.
Other witnesses mentioned hearing a “snort” or “quick snore” that they thought indicated sleep, and one described a time she or he entered Groelle’s office when Groelle had his head down and then appeared to awaken abruptly.
Groelle wrote that once, he was not feeling well, so he put his head in his hands on his desk for 30 to 40 minutes, but he never slept.
Groelle cited a sheriff’s office rule that says supervisors who see an employee who is unable to safely perform should immediately remedy the situation. So if Groelle was sleeping, Spoden should have taken action at the time, Groelle argued.
The documents are heavily redacted, apparently blotting out mentions of Groelle’s health. Groelle told The Gazette earlier that he has sleep apnea.
In a redacted passage that appears to refer to that condition, attorney for the county James Korom wrote that Groelle never made a “request for accommodation.”
Groelle wrote that Spoden was informed about (redacted words) shortly after the first alleged sleeping incident in summer 2017, and yet Spoden never questioned Groelle about his “ability to properly and safely work. ...
“Not until after I announced my candidacy for sheriff on Dec. 13, 2017, and he receives information that I ‘snorted’ in my office on Dec. 17, 2017, does he decide to take some action against me,” Groelle wrote.
Spoden told an investigator that a few days after the incident, he told his command staff about it and expected follow-up. But Groelle noted that others told investigators they didn’t believe they were ordered to follow up.
Two people, apparently administrators, told investigators that Spoden had brought up the subject at a meeting, but they didn’t believe he had ordered them to investigate at that time.
Groelle admitted to sleeping at work, once in summer 2017, but he said that was during his lunch hour.
Groelle submitted a performance review by his supervisor, covering January through October 2017—which included the time of at least one alleged sleeping incident—in which he is graded as exceeding expectations in one category and meeting expectations in all the others.
One witness whose name was redacted told investigators that Spoden should have awakened Groelle when he saw him sleeping and he or she “believes the fact that they were ‘political rivals’ had a part in the fact that Sheriff Spoden did not wake Capt. Groelle.”
Other witnesses said the sleeping was well known and was a common subject for office jokes.
In requesting a grievance process, Groelle asked that the written reprimand be reduced to an “observation report.” The grievance was denied.
Groelle requested an evidentiary hearing to, in part, discuss “political bias,” which Impartial Hearing Officer Scott Herrick of Herrick & Kasdorf denied.
Herrick wrote that he asked Groelle to submit an explanation of what he wanted to prove and how he would prove it, and Groelle did not do so.
Herrick wrote: “Mr. Groelle has a fantasy that Sheriff Spoden harbors some fundamental dislike of Mr. Groelle because four years ago Mr. Groelle ran against him in an election. Even if that were true, it cannot prevent the county from ever taking disciplinary action against Mr. Groelle in the future. The sheriff played no role in the disciplinary decision in this case.”
Tillman and the county human resources department were the ones involved in the discipline actions, documents indicate.
Another set of records released Saturday details an investigation 20 years ago, when a dog handled by then-Sgt. Knudson died after a training accident.
No discipline was issued for Knudson, but some Groelle supporters brought it up recently.
Knudson said a sign posted along a highway advised people to ask Knudson about a “dog incident,” and a photo of the sign was posted on Facebook.
Knudson said he saw Groelle’s parade vehicle in the Evansville Fourth of July parade had the words “Justice for Quatro” printed on it.
Quatro is the name of the dog who died.
“Quatro was my K-9 partner, my companion and a member of my family. We were participating in a training exercise when Quatro was exposed to a great deal of smoke and had an adverse reaction,” Knudson wrote. “He was treated by a local veterinarian; however, he did not survive.”
Records indicate that training with smoke was an acceptable practice to acclimate dogs to possible real-life conditions.
“It was later determined that the smoke had likely aggravated a previously unknown and undiagnosed heart condition that he had,” Knudson wrote.
“There was an immediate and extensive investigation into the incident, which identified areas of the training that I could have improved, but discipline was not recommended,” Knudson continued. “Now, an allegation is being made 20 years after the incident, and just a few weeks before a primary election, that justice was not served. This seems inflammatory and impugns the integrity of that investigation.”
The records back up Knudson’s statement.
Knudson said he still mourns Quatro’s death.
Groelle issued an apology on social media Saturday night, saying “Justice for Quatro” was written without his knowledge, and he had it removed before the parade started and admonished the person responsible.
“I apologize for it causing tragic and heartfelt feelings to be resurfaced. I in no way hold Troy accountable for Quatro’s unfortunate passing,” he wrote.