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April 2014

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Commission to continue inquiry

Town of Mukwonago - The town Police Commission will investigate complaints against Police Chief Tom Czarnecki and Sgt. Eric Schmidt filed by Officer Chris Heckman, while Heckman continues to battle for lost sick leave and holiday pay.

In a continuation of a public hearing held in December, Heckman last week clarified the state statutes he thinks were violated when Czarnecki allegedly implemented an incentive program to pay officers who issued the most citations each month, as well as an officer performance standard based on daily traffic stops allegedly initiated by Czarnecki and Schmidt.

Heckman submitted to the commission what he called a "threatening letter" he received from attorney Paul Bucher, who was retained to represent Czarnecki and Schmidt.

"First and foremost, your allegations are false and, in my opinion defamatory in nature," Bucher stated in the letter.

"There is a high likelihood of my clients filing a defamatory action against you. You are accusing two outstanding police officers of felonious conduct, which should have been rejected by the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office, and are matters that you may believe are significant, but deal with contract interpretations that should be dealt with at the bargaining table between the town and your representation at WPPA," Bucher continues. "To make public allegations against an officer - which are false - is also an offense, and we will proceed accordingly."

In the letter, Bucher said he and his clients believe there is "no substance" to the allegations for various reasons, "including the fact that you were passed over for promotion."

According to Heckman's complaint, he has not been allowed to work since September 2012 and was "forced to use accrued benefit time to continue receiving pay," his complaint says, after failing a hearing test for a new hearing standard implemented years after he was hired with a hearing loss and hearing aids. While Heckman initially was forced to use sick and holiday time to receive pay, he was put on administrative leave in December, but is again using accrued benefit time for pay, which will run out in March.

Attorney Dan Vliet, representing Czarnecki and Schmidt regarding Heckman's complaint that he was not allowed to work as a disciplinary action, said it was not disciplinary but a safety issue. Now that hearing tests have been completed, Vliet said they are looking at what is next, and he has been in contact with the police union.

Heckman said the new hearing standards were enforced a couple of years after adoption by the department. The standards are the same as those used in Milwaukee.

Town Attorney John Macy outlined the Police Commission's "very limited jurisdiction" in this matter, saying he struggled to find how using benefit time for pay could be considered a disciplinary action. Since a grievance has been filed through the police union, Macy said while there was a loss of benefits, he couldn't see where the commission would get jurisdiction to deal with this issue.

Commissioner Robert Maus pointed out that something of value (wages) was taken from Heckman, but Macy reiterated it would be handled through the grievance process.

"Whenever you take something of value, that's a disciplinary action," said Maus. "Why wasn't he placed on administrative leave right away?"

"That's what the grievance is about," Macy said.

All commission members except Maus agreed with Macy, which took the issue out of their hands.

"When I brought the complaint to the Police Commission, that was my intention at first, to bring it to their attention at first," said Heckman. "They are the authority. They are the ones who have the power to do anything about it. That was my original intention: Bring it to their attention so they know what is going on in the department, what's going on as far as our services to the community, and if they think that is the proper use of our time or our authorities, that is part of their statutory job."

Police commissioners will each review the more-than-400-page complaint filed by Heckman before continuing the investigation regarding the incentive program and performance standards. The incentive program has since been discontinued; no officers were paid for issuing citations.

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