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September 2014

21

Cops file suit against Butler, County

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Two Village of Butler police officers have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging they were discriminated against by the village and Waukesha County during an investigation into misconduct last spring.

Lt. Brian Pergande and Officer Chad Rahn claim in the civil complaint filed Feb. 17 that they were singled out for punishment after bringing attention to the inappropriate conduct of former Police Chief Michael Cosgrove.

Cosgrove retired in March 2013, in the midst of the investigation and three months before the Sheriff's Department issued a report that accused him of supervising his department through fear and intimidation. The 33-year department veteran was also accused of viewing pornography in the office, using racially derogatory language and making crude remarks about female staff members.

The investigation — conducted by Sheriff's Department Capt. Karen Ruff (now retired) and Detective Michael Hecht — swept up four department members besides Cosgrove, including Rahn and Pergande.

Rahn was suspended for three days without pay after the report concluded that he acted improperly while on duty, misused a state-run crime information system for personal use and created an uncomfortable work environment.

Pergande is currently on paid administrative leave, the complaint states, having been accused of misconduct in office.

Both men claim that the investigative report contained false and misleading information about them.

The two officers said in the complaint that Village Administrator Jesse Thyes told them several times that they should not fear discipline or retaliation for blowing the whistle on Cosgrove.

That promise was broken, the complaint alleges. Pergande claims that the village has threatened to pursue criminal charges against him if he does not resign. The charges stem from a February 2009 incident in which he allegedly cropped and enlarged an unidentified woman's booking photo and stored the altered image on a department computer.

He claimed the village has also withheld wages in an attempt to force him to resign and that investigating deputies "bullied" his ex-wife into providing information on him.

Rahn alleges that his co-workers have shunned him, the village has barred him from attending staff meetings and he was reassigned to a "less prestigious job assignment."

The complaint raises questions about the impartiality of the investigating deputies. As previously reported, some residents and village trustees had suggested before any allegations surfaced that the village should abolish its police department and contract for police services from the sheriff's department.

"...The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department's financial budget would benefit significantly by discipline, greater harm to, and eventual termination of the individuals and employees who comprised Defendant Village's Police Department," the complaint states.

The complaint also alleges that other officers, including current Police Chief Dave Wentlandt, were not investigated as thoroughly or went unpunished for alleged misconduct. Wentlandt was named police chief in October following Cosgrove's resignation.

Sheriff's Deputy Jennifer Wallschlaeger said the department did not wish to comment on the matter at this time. Butler Village Administrator Kayla Chadwick said she did not wish to comment on the matter. She said the issue will be addressed by the village's insurance provider, EMC Insurance Companies.

Rahn and Pergande are requesting that all disciplinary measures against them be rescinded and that they be awarded appropriate compensatory and punitive damages. Pergande is also requesting that he be reinstated to his position with full pay and benefits; Rahn is requesting he be reimbursed for wages lost during his suspension.

The complaint alleges:

· Pergande and Rahn were harassed by the village and county for exercising their first amendment right to free speech.

· The village retaliated against the men for opposing discrimination in the workplace, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

· The men were not informed of the nature of the investigation or told by the investigating deputies that they had the right to representation during their interviews.

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