Janesville23.5°

Linn demotes police lieutenant

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Kayla Bunge
October 15, 2009
— A town of Linn police lieutenant has been demoted for disrespecting the police chief and harming department credibility and morale by talking about an ongoing criminal investigation involving members of the department, a police committee ruled Wednesday.

Lt. Terrance O’Brien has been suspended without pay through the end of the year. He is eligible for reinstatement as a patrolman with a lower salary at the start of next year.


Police Chief Dennis Wisniewski in July filed a number of charges against O’Brien. He placed him on administrative leave and asked the police committee to consider firing him.


O’Brien was accused of:


-- Talking to other officers about an ongoing criminal investigation involving members of the police department.


-- Identifying the names of people being investigated by the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office.


-- Disrespecting the police chief.


-- Promising promotions, preferred shift assignments and training opportunities to other officers without authority.


-- Harming department credibility and morale.


The investigation stems from an incident more than two years ago in which Wisniewski sold a lawnmower taken as evidence in a theft investigation for $250 to a relative of detective Will Borgen, who investigated the case.


O’Brien filed a complaint about the incident involving the lawnmower. Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss decided not to pursue criminal charges against Wisniewski, but the Linn Town Board suspended him for three days without pay.


The committee heard more than four hours of testimony and deliberated for more than two hours.


The committee dismissed charges that O’Brien shared information about the investigation with unauthorized people. It said the definition of “unauthorized” was not clear and O’Brien reasonably could not have known the possible consequences of his actions.


But the committee sustained the remaining charges against O’Brien. It said a penalty was “warranted.”


Wisniewski said he recommended the police committee fire O’Brien because the department cannot function with someone who has no credibility within the department or with the public.


“To put it bluntly, nobody can work with him anymore,” he said.


Attorney John Fuchs, who represented the lieutenant, argued O’Brien did not violate police department policies by talking about the investigation or talking about his plans for the department if the chief and detective were charged with a crime and removed from their positions.


“Police talk. There are all kinds of conversations that go on between officers within a department,” he said. “ … How could a cop know he wasn’t allowed to talk about matters of police business with other cops?”


Attorney Steve Rynecki, who represented the chief, argued O’Brien should have known better.


“A lieutenant with many years of service in the department … should have known that when you have a conflict of interest, and you stand to gain … you don’t go blabbing to the guys during the investigation … ” he said. “He never should have run his mouth about it.”


O’Brien said he talked about the investigation so the officers were not blindsided if there were changes within the department as a result.


“I was concerned about the morale, and I decided to let them know up front so they could prepare for any feedback we might get,” he said.


O’Brien also said he talked about his plans for the department so he would not be scrambling to get things in order.


“I was preparing my options so a bomb wasn’t dropped and one day I was left with two or three officers to try to run a department,” he said.


The situation almost came to a quiet end, but the police committee denied the attorneys’ request to adjourn so they could talk about a “likely resolution.”



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