Former officer sues Clintonville
Judge dismisses complaint against PFC, Eveland, Freitag
By Robert Cloud
A judge dismissed litigation filed by a police officer against the Clintonville Police and Fire Commission (PFC) and other city officials.
Waupaca County Judge Troy Nielson dismissed former Clintonville Police Officer Tony Decker’s civil complaint against the PFC, the city of Clintonville, City Administrator Sharon Eveland and Police Chief Craig Freitag.
Decker accused Eveland of interfering with the PFC’s decision-making process when it denied his promotion to sergeant nearly two years ago.
On June 7, 2019, Decker applied for an open sergeant’s position on the Clintonville police force.
On July 8, 2019, the PFC rejected Decker’s application and voted to hold open the sergeant’s position “until further notice.”
On Aug. 12, 2019, the PFC tabled the sergeant’s position in favor of hiring an additional full-time officer.
Decker argues that Eveland illegally influenced the decision not to promote him because she attended these meetings while they were in closed session.
According to court documents, the minutes indicate Eveland left the closed sessions while the commissioners were discussing the sergeant’s position.
Decker’s attorney, Ben Hitchcock Cross, argued that the “record does not adequately reflect what was actually decided upon by the police and fire commission.”
Cross said, “It is an unusual situation where the defendant is the person who is producing the record and then arguing that the record justifies their act. So there is a conflict of interest here.”
For that reason, Cross asked the court to require the city to produce emails bewteen Eveland, the commissioners, the mayor and the police chief regarding the sergeant’s position and Decker’s employment with the force.
“So that in itself speaks everything to, A, what their motivation was in not having the sergeant position and closing that out and, B, who, was directing them to do that.”
Decker seeks promotion
“This was a second ‘swing and a miss’ for promotion by Officer Decker,” according to a brief by the PFC’s attorney, Richard Carlson. “Shortly before, Officer Decker applied for the chief of police position. When he was deemed unqualified, Officer Decker claimed illegal interference with the PFC by City Administrator Eveland. Officer Decker filed a complaint with the Waupaca County DA. No action was taken.
“Mr. Decker has since resigned and now asks this court to order the commission to reopen the sergeant position and to declare his right for promotion.”
Decker is currently with the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay police. He was promoted from corporal to sergeant there on Sept. 13, 2019.
He currently lives in Green Bay. Clintonville officers must live within 15 miles of the city.
On July 12, 2019, Decker wrote a memo to Freitag asking him to have the 15-mile residency requirement changed.
The chief responded that the 15-mile requirement was unlikely to be changed because city council had just adopted it in the city employee handbook.
The city and the police union had both agreed to the requirement, according to the chief’s response.
On July 24, 2019, Freitag issued a letter of reprimand to Decker for complaining about the hiring process with other officers while on duty.
Cross argued that Decker’s hours were eventually cut to zero because he made public records requests and criticized the city administrator and chief.
Carlson noted Decker’s comments undermined the efficiency, loyalty, obedience to superior officers, morale and public confidence in Clintonville’s police force.
Cross filed Decker’s complaint on Feb. 10, 2020.
He then filed an amended complaint and petition for writ of certiorari on Dec. 1, 2020.
A writ of certiori asks a judge to review a decision by an agency or administrator, then affirm it in whole or part or deny it.
Nielson dismissed the case on March 12, 2021.
In his oral ruling, Nielson noted the limited options to him when ruling on a certiori petition.
“I don’t have the authority on a cert case to order the police and fire commission to hire Mr. Decker back into a sergeant. I don’t have the authority to do, quite frankly, anything that is asked of me in the amended complaint.”
Nielson dismissed the complaints “for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”