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Thursday

August 2014

21

Village of Butler responds to police lawsuit

Butler — Federal court documents and a 365-page investigative report from the Waukesha County sheriff weave a unique story about police misconduct, secret meetings between cops and village officials in shopping malls, and betrayal in Butler, at least according to two village police officers.

Village officials are denying that police Lt. Brian Pergande and Officer Chad Rahn were discriminated against or harassed as a result of the complaints they lodged against former Police Chief Michael Cosgrove in 2012.

Pergande's and Rahn's complaints prompted village officials to ask the Waukesha County sheriff's office to conduct an investigation in early 2013 into the police chief and his department.

Lawyers for the village argue Pergande and Rahn are not entitled to receive monetary damage awards or recover lost pay and benefits as a result of the allegations uncovered against them in the report released by the sheriff's office in June of 2013.

"Any disciplinary action by the Village of Butler against Rahn and/or Pergande was taken pursuant to established rules and regulations of which Rahn and Pergande were aware," attorneys for the village said in a response filed on April 18.

Officers file suit

The officers filed a federal law suit against the village and the Waukesha County sheriff's office in the Eastern District of Wisconsin federal court on Feb. 17.

According to their lawyers, Pergande and Rahn complained to village officials about Cosgrove in order to "protect the general public" against his "illegal, harmful, dangerous, and systemic" misconduct.

The officers assert they were harassed, retaliated against, and their constitutional rights violated as a result of the sheriff's department investigation that was requested by the village after Pergande and Rahn complained about their police chief.

Pergande and Rahn want the village to rescind the disciplinary measures taken against them and compensate them for lost pay and benefits as well as pay them for punitive damages.

The officers assert they are being subjected to disciplinary sanctions while the chief was allowed to retire without punishment.

Village claims no choice

Village officials say they had no choice but to accept the chief's decision since he was eligible for retirement.

Cosgrove announced his retirement in the midst of the sheriff's investigation which concluded that he used fear and intimidation to run the department and often displayed sexist and racist attitudes.

The chief and some of his officers frequently watched pornography on police computers and behaved as if the department was a "college frat house," according to the report.

But, the report also concluded that Rahn, on several occasions, inappropriately exposed his penis to fellow officers.

Rahn also "created an uncomfortable work environment" by taking photos and making recordings at the department to support his unfounded claims to have enough evidence "to bring the entire department down," according to the report. Also he improperly used a state-federal law enforcement Internet network for personal use, the report added.

Evidence against

According to the report, evidence of possible criminal misconduct by Pergande was referred to the Waukesha County district attorney's office.

The report also accused Pergande of making racist comments while on assignment, using his police cell phone to transmit pictures of a topless woman, and improperly using the state-federal police network for personal use.

The officers contend the allegations against them are the result of improper interrogations by two Waukesha County investigators who failed to warn them in advance that they had become "targets" of the investigation following Cosgrove's retirement.

A series of meetings

According to the documents, in November 2012 Pergande met with then Lt. David Wentlandt and voiced his complaints about the chief's conduct. At about the same time, Rahn was having a similar meeting with then Village Administrator Jessie Thyes.

Cosgrove's conduct was discussed at meetings in December and January involving Pergande, Wentlandt, and, in one case, Village Administrator Jessie Thyes, and, in another, Village President Richard Ensslin.

The meetings were held at Mayfair Mall so the chief could not identify the complainants, according to attorneys for Pergande and Rahn.

On Feb. 6, Pergande, Rahn and Wentlendt met with the village president, village administrator, village attorney and labor lawyer Mark Olson at Olson's law offices with Capt. Karen Ruff and Detective Mike Hecht of the Waukesha County sheriff's office.

After that meeting, the parameters for a sheriff's department investigation into Cosgrove's conduct were spelled out in a Feb. 18 memo.

Officers claim assurances

Pergande and Rahn claim they were repeatedly assured by Thyes that they "should not expect or fear discipline and/or retaliation" for complaining about the chief's sexist and racist attitudes that apparently permeated the department.

The village denies that.

"Plaintiffs never requested, nor were they granted, any immunity from disciplinary and/or criminal penalties resulting from their own actions and/or omissions during the court of their employment," the village lawyers wrote in their response to the complaint.

Cosgrove was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation on Feb. 20. He was interviewed by sheriff's detectives in early March and announced his retirement shortly after. Lt Wentlandt was put in command and later named chief.

According to Wentlandt, the sheriff's office contacted the village after Cosgrove announced his retirement and asked Thyes if he wanted the investigation to continue. Thyes, advised crimes might have been committed, said yes.

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