Report on Isherwood released
Investigation finds she acted in appropriate manner, ethically
By Robert Cloud
The sheriff’s grievances against former District Attorney Veronica Isherwood were “without merit,” according to an independent investigation by the Outagamie County District Attorney’s office.
Assistant District Attorney Randall Schneider released the results of his investigation in a report on Dec. 15, 2022.
Schneider’s investigated Isherwood in response to a request by Waupaca County Sheriff Tim Wilz and Chief Deputy Carl Artz to the state attorney general on June 21, 2022.
“The letter alleges the sheriff believes a review by DCI (Division of Criminal Investigations) would be biased and DCI would most likely cover up district attorney and state liability,” the report says.
The DCI investigated the Waupaca County sheriff’s office last year, but the results have yet to be disclosed to the public.
In early August 2022, Judge Raymond Huber appointed a special prosecutor to review the DCI’s investigation into the conduct of Wilz and some of his administrative staff.
No charges have been filed at this time.
The conflict was over how Isherwood responded to changes that Detective Capt. Julie Thobaben made in a report sent to the DA’s office.
According to the Outagamie County investigation, a deputy who made a traffic stop called Thobaben for guidance on searching the vehicle.
“The deputy put language in his report about the search and about information provided to him by the investigative captain. When the report was later reviewed, a Waupaca County detective identified issues related to the search and brought them to the attention of the investigative captain,” the report says.
“The investigative captain reviewed the report and did not agree with the language the deputy used. The captain changed the language of the deputy’s report to better suit how she believed she directed the deputy to conduct an inventory of the vehicle,” the report says.
According to Schneider’s report, “She threw the original report in the shred bin.”
Two detectives removed the original report from the shred bin and gave it to Isherwood.
The sheriff’s office later disciplined them for insubordination.
Thobaben allegedly altered the police report without consulting the deputy and without notifying the district attorney.
“It was determined the investigative captain routinely made changes to reports without informing the district attorney,” according to Schneider’s investigation.
Wilz asked the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office to conduct an investigation, which found no malfeasance on the part of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office.
“However, the actions of the investigative captain clearly violate the sheriff’s own report writing policy,” Schneider said, noting that the “policy forbids report changes or alterations by anyone other than the author of the report.”
The purpose of the policy is to ensure the integrity of police reports used by prosecutors.
Judge finds Brady violation
Isherwood informed the judges and defense attorneys that the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office was altering the officers’ original reports before submitting them to her office.
During a Feb. 21 hearing, Huber said he was inclined to fine the sheriff’s office, “as a whole from the sheriff on down,” was involved in a Brady violation. He did not single out any individual officers.
In criminal proceedings, the Brady rule requires prosecutors and law enforcement to disclose any evidence that could benefit the defendant.
The information that Thobaben removed from the report was evidence of a warrantless search.
Because she had evidence that the sheriff’s office was altering the original reports, Isherwood made changes to the attestation clause of criminal complaints involving the sheriff’s office.
At the beginning of the narrative portion of criminal complaints, there is a clause that attests to the reliability of the reports and records that underlie the charges.
Here is a typical attestation clause in a criminal complaint:
“Your complainant is an officer with the Waupaca Police Department. Your complainant makes this complaint upon information and belief and upon reports and records of that department. Your complainant has relied upon these records in the past and has found them to be truthful and reliable.”
Here is an attestation clause in a criminal case involving the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office:
“Your complainant is an officer with the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office. Your complainant makes this complaint upon information and belief and upon reports and records of that department. Your complainant is aware that the reporting officer Det. Sgt. Traeger’s reports were not reviewed by any administrative staff or any other officer before submission to the Waupaca County District Attorney’s Office. Your complainant believes that Det. Sgt. Traeger prepared his reports in compliance with Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office Policy 322: Report Preparation.”
After this change was instituted, the sheriff’s office refused to cooperate with it, according to Schneider’s report.
“The chief deputy signed 80 complaints and later testified under oath that he had not read the complaints or the attestation clause,” the report says.
In a May 9, 2022, email to Isherwood, Wilz asserted that having to sign the complaints with the revised attestation clause “violates my fundamental separation of powers and infringes upon the Waupaca County Sheriff’s constitutional and statutory authority.
“While I fully agrees that reports and referrals to your office should be honest, accurate and correct, and endeavors to make them so in each instance, you do not have authority to dictate to my office commanding who can review reports or make final decisions on what is referred to your office for prosecution. That authority is reserved to the sheriff alone,” Wilz noted in the email.
In an email to Isherwood, attorney William Fischer, representing Wilz and the sheriff’s office, argued, “it is our understanding that you and your office have instead been making public assertions that the Sheriff is refusing to sign complaints and is obstructing law enforcement in Waupaca County. This is false. The sheriff has always been and remains committed to the preservation of law and order in the County. Instead, you are refusing to work with the Sheriff’s office to come up with acceptable language.”
“After reviewing the evidence, I have concluded District Attorney Isherwood acted in an appropriate manner and in accordance with the statutory and ethical responsibilities of a district attorney,” Schneider said in his report.
“Once the prosecutor became aware the Sheriff’s Department Administration had altered a report in violation of its own policy, it became the prosecutor’s responsibility to determine whether the alteration was material and whether it should be disclosed,” Schneider said.
“In this case, it is clear (1) the captain of investigations altered a report which reflected poorly on her; (2) that she did not disclose the alteration to the original deputy; (3) that she did not disclose the alteration to the district attorney; (4) the original report was put into the shred bin; (5) the alteration was material; and (6) the alteration violated department policy.”
Schneider’s report noted that Isherwood took steps to stop the sheriff’s office from altering its reports, but “the administrative staff at the sheriff’s department did not cooperate.”
The report said the sheriff department’s grievances against the district attorney were “without merit.”
“They complain the district attorney is interfering with the operation of the department by requiring the attestation clause in complaints,” Schneider reported. “This issue could have been avoided had the sheriff’s department followed its own policy.”
Isherwood, Turner respond to report
Former Waupaca County District Attorney Veronica Isherwood believes she has been vindicated by the Outagamie County District Attorney’s investigation of her conduct.
“I knew from the very beginning that everything I did I had to do by Wisconsin law and legal ethics,” Isherwood said.
Isherwood and Sheriff Tim Wilz have been at odds ever since Isherwood began questioning him about altered police reports.
The conflict became public during a hearing on Feb. 21, 2022. When defense attorney Kate Frigo Drury asked Wilz about telling her over the phone that the district attorney “was sticking her nose where it didn’t belong,” he replied, “Correct.”
On Feb. 24, Isherwood sent a letter to 79 area defense attorneys indicating that the sheriff’s office had altered a report, resulting in the removal of exculpatory evidence.
“If Julie Thobaben had just followed the sheriff’s policy and if the chief deputy had just read the criminal complaints that he had signed, then none of this would have happened,” Isherwood said.
Isherwood resigned as district attorney effective Dec. 17, 2022.
She said Wilz’s attorney had informed her that his client was Waupaca County, which included the county’s human resources director, corporation counsel and county board members.
Isherwood accused the county of “trying to get rid of me just because the sheriff disagreed with me.”
She said she plans to remain as an assistant district attorney through 2023 to help her replacement.
“Moving forward, I plan to attempt to work with the sheriff to ensure that all sheriff staff are following their own policy regarding report writing and forge a productive path forward,” said Kat Turner, Waupaca County’s new district attorney.
“I have reached out to community stakeholders in an effort to facilitate those discussions,” Turner said. “Unfortunately, my predecessor very much wanted to resolve things with the sheriff, but was thwarted by the county’s attorney, who shut off all communication with his client (the sheriff, corporation counsel and the county board). Once that hurdle can be overcome, I hope we can build a bridge forward.”
Wilz did not respond to inquiries from the Waupaca County Post in time for this week’s publication.