Sergeant charged with felony for releasing records
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Department of Justice is prosecuting a Taylor County sheriff's detective for releasing records of two unsolved murders to producers of a national television show.
Sgt. Steven Bowers is accused of felony misconduct in public office, a charge that could send him to prison for 1½ years upon conviction. Under the law, police records are public, but authorities often withhold them on grounds they could compromise an ongoing investigation.
The State Journal reports the records were given to producers of the Oxygen network show "Cold Justice."
Bowers has admitted to releasing the records, but says he didn't intend to disregard department policies and, in hindsight, realized what he had done was wrong.
DOJ handled the case for Taylor County prosecutors to avoid a conflict of interest.
The Medford Area Fire Department was called out Monday afternoon, April 16th, after 4:00 to a multi-unit house fire at 209 South Park Avenue…on the corner of South Park and Cedar Avenue in the city of Medford. A caller stated that she could see fire in the house. Fire crews arrived and attempted several times to extinguish the fire which was burning in the attic of the two story home. It was determined to be unsafe situation and an excavator was brought in to help extinguish the fire. Attempts included entry into the home to pull down the ceiling, and putting holes in the exterior gable ends to try and get water on the fire which was also burning between the shingle and steel layer of the roof. Medford Fire was also assisted with manpower from the Stetsonville Volunteer Fire Company, The Taylor County Ambulance Service, Medford Police and the Wisconsin State Patrol. Fire crews returned to their halls after 9:00 Monday night.
Authorities: Fatal fire was caused by smoking near oxygen
TOWN OF WESTBORO, Wis. (AP) — Taylor County authorities say a fatal house fire in northern Wisconsin apparently started by accident while the victim was smoking a cigarette near her oxygen supply.
Chief Deputy Larry Woebbeking said in a statement that the sheriff's office got a 911 call just before 3 p.m. Friday from a man who said his home in the Town of Westboro was on fire, and that he and his wife were still inside.
When deputies arrived, they found 79-year-old Michael Rantanen outside. He told them his wife was still inside. The deputies were unable to enter the home due to the smoke and fire.
Rib Lake firefighters arrived moments layer and entered the house. They found 71-year-old Susan Rantanen dead in the living room.
The Taylor County Board of Supervisors met on Thursday. To salute two individuals for receiving the highest award in 4-H Youth Development, the board passed a pair of resolutions recognizing Bailey and Samuel Krause for achieving the Wisconsin Key Award.
A recently retired 23 year employee of the county, Betty Blumenstein was thanked and presented a plaque of appreciation by the board.
The board took a moment to pass a resolution in memoriam of Allan Thielke who passed away recently. Mr. Thielke served on the county board in District 2 from 1994 to 1997.
A resolution commending Bill Brenneman for his service as Taylor County Emergency Management Director was passed. Brenneman was credited with the completion of the county hazard mitigation plan, a mass casualty plan, the establishment of the Code Red Reverse 911 Emergency Notification System, and assistance in establishment of the MABAS mutual aid system.
Terry Phillips of the Taylor County Tavern League thanked the board for their support of the 100 Safe Rides provided during the holiday season.
The board approved funding of the Aging and Disability Resource Center, the ADRC of the Northwoods. The ADRC assists older people and people with physical and developmental disabilities to secure needed services. The resolution called for Taylor County to provide a one-time $90,000 no interest loan to the ADRC.
In support of the many benefits which are derived from the services which are provided by volunteers, the board passed a resolution which proclaims April 15-21, 2018 as National Volunteer Week in Taylor County. Hundreds of individuals are credited with being volunteers in Taylor County and the number of volunteers nationwide is estimated at more than 63 million.
Due to the recent rapid rise in troubles among Taylor County citizens, residents and visitors in relation to problems arising out of the use, abuse and overuse of opioid medications, the county board passed a resolution in support of the opioid epidemic litigation. Taylor County has engaged in discussions with law firms related to the potential for the county to pursue certain legal claims against certain opioid manufacturers. The law firms would not be compensated unless Taylor County receives a financial benefit from the claims. Taylor County would join with the Wisconsin Counties Association and a number of states and counties in the litigation against the named opioid manufacturers.
By harvesting timber from the county forest, the Taylor County Forestry Department returns cash to the county annually while providing jobs to loggers and related industries. The county board approved the annual work plan for 2018 which includes continuing timber harvest projects, forest protection, wildlife projects, reforestation, and recreation areas for public benefit.
In an effort to assure timely completion of processing, recording and indexing of documents on the same day they are received at the Register of Deeds office, the county board passed an ordinance indicating that a document must be received by the Register of Deeds office no later than one hour prior to the end of the business day.
The Board of Canvass received a pay increase. An ordinance to increase half day pay from $40 to $50 with total compensation for a given day capped at $75 instead of $65 was approved.
A clerical change regarding voting during meetings of the North Central Region comprehensive coordination committee was approved.
The county board did NOT approve an ordinance which prohibits animals from “running at large” within the county. The only exception would have been for hunting dogs, and in the case of hunting the controlling person needs to be in the immediate vicinity and have the landowner’s permission to be on the property with the animal.
The pay scale for the next 5 years for the Clerk of Circuit Court and the Sheriff was set. The Clerk of Court shall earn $57,573 in 2018 and increase to $59,114 in 2022. The Sheriff will earn $85,149 in 2018 and increase to $87,298 in 2022.
With the recent job shuffle involving Emergency Management, the board passed an ordinance which will create a full time position of Emergency Management.
The county’s employment code was modified to include Finance Director and Emergency Management Director positions.
The oversight and management of the Emergency Management Director position was shifted from a contract position to an employee position. Benefits will cost the county an additional $19,000 to $20,000. That committee will have the authority to appoint the Emergency Services Director. The department is tasked with organizing a Taylor County Class B Hazardous Material Incident Response Team. The ordinance indicates that the Hazmat Team shall be responsible for responding to all hazardous material incidents occurring in Taylor County that are within its capabilities to control or mitigate.
Recently there have been meetings involving the Personnel and Finance Committees who have negotiated with representatives of the Sheriff’s Departments Sergeants Union. The parties have agreed to terms of an agreement for 2018 and 2019. The agreement clarifies the hours of work and overtime. Also addressed is the uniform allowance, holidays, health insurance, the trial period and length of contract. Pay rates shall increase 1% January 1st and July 1st 2018, and 1.5% January 1st 2019, then 1% July 1, 2019.
A similar contract involving the Deputy Sheriffs Union was also accepted. In addition to similar pay increases the agreement included clarification on Seniority.
That was some of the business conducted at the March 8th meeting of the Taylor County Board of Supervisors.
The Stetsonville Volunteer Fire Department was called out Thursday night to the report of a chimney fire. According to Fire Chief Greg Brunner the fire was just up the road from the firehall at 303 East County Trunk A in Stetsonville. Chief Brunner indicated that due to the intensity of the fire in the chimney, the blaze was just minutes from becoming a fully involved house fire. Stetsonville firefighters worked to cut away some drywall and framing lumber which was charred at temperatures exceeding 200 degrees. Fortunately the home was saved, with repairs to the chimney and surrounding structure needed. 12 Stetsonville Firefighters were on the scene from 11 PM to 1:45 AM Thursday night. No injuries were reported.
New Chair Ski Lift Coming To Taylor County 2/27/18
The highest point in Taylor County is going to be the site of a new chair ski lift. Representatives of Forest Springs applied for a permit to replace two rope tows with the chair lift. Because the base of the lift would be 15 feet instead of 75 feet as required from James Lake, Zoning Administrator Kyle Noonan referred the decision for a zoning variance to the Board of Adjustment. The 3 person board consisting of Arlen Albrecht and substitute members Jim Metz and Patty Smith listened to details of the project from Eric Stolhammer, Mike Harenstein, and Del Kroeker. Forest Springs has been in existence since 1958 working to improve services to an estimated 14,000 people annually. The closest concrete anchor for the chair lift would be 15 feet from the high water mark which is farther away from the water than the existing rope tow. Speaking as a citizen, county board member and Rib Lake School District resident, Rollie Thums spoke in favor of the project indicating there are some students who are unable to utilize the rope tow but would be able to enjoy the safety of the chair lift.
Area landowner Fred Ebert indicated he also supported the concept and said that barring a rare 4 to 5 inch per hour rainfall, the proposed erosion double silt walls should help to minimize the effects of erosion.
Chairman Arlen Albrecht chuckled when he said pieces of his mittens were probably still on the rope tow. Albrecht felt that safety would be greatly improved. Jim Metz called the project a progressive move and also supported the increased safety features. Patty Smith told the group she would rather take steps than a rope tow. She appreciated the affordable nature of Forest Springs, but expressed her concerns with minimizing erosion during the project.
Forest Springs officials indicated that the proposed chair lift will be a refurbished system from the eastern U.S. To assure safety, all fix grips which attach the chair to the cable would be x-rayed to verify tightness after 1 year of use. Following that, each year 20% of the fix grips would be x-rayed to insure tightness. The chair lift will have a capacity of 1200 people per hour and will stretch 660 feet up the hill.
Following discussion the 3 member Board Of Adjustment voted unanimously to grant the zoning variance and allow Forest Springs to install the new chairlift on Taylor County’s highest point near Westboro.
The Medford man who was involved in an armed standoff with sheriff’s officers in January has been charged.
Taylor County District Attorney Kristi Tlusty has charged Jake M. Wendt with 2 counts of 1st degree recklessly endangering safety, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a firearm-domestic abuse or child abuse injunction, a count of burglary-arm self with dangerous weapon, a count of possession of THC 2nd offense, and 2 counts of battery or threat to judge, prosecutor or law enforcement officer. Those 8 charges are all felonies. Other charges include: Operate firearm while intoxicated, possess drug paraphernalia, and disorderly conduct which are misdemeanors.
The charges against Jake Wendt stem from an incident on January 17, 2018. It is alleged that Wendt armed himself with a hand gun, and as officers approached the home on Allman Avenue, several shots were fired. After a lengthy phone negotiation between the suspect and Taylor County Officers the suspect came out of the residence unarmed and was taken into custody without any injuries occurring. Bail for Wendt was set at $30,000 cash. Initial appearance for Jake Wendt is set for March 6th in Taylor County Court.
Judge Rules In Favor Of Little Black “Super Dairy” 2/16/18
Judge Ann Knox-Bauer has made a judgement in a case involving the Town of Little Black and Breeze Dairy Group, LLC. Breeze Dairy is proposing the construction of a 4,000 cow dairy facility. Little Black and Stetsonville residents have expressed concern about their drinking water wells as the dairy would require a high capacity well system providing in excess of 100,000 gallons of water per day. Studies have indicated that Taylor County’s aquifer provides among the fewest gallons per minute compared to other counties in the state.
In the judge’s decision, she noted that Breeze Dairy applied for the farming operation on February 10, 2017, which was 5 days before Little Black passed a zoning ordinance for agricultural land. On the day Breeze Dairy applied for permits, the township had no zoning on agricultural land. Judge Knox-Bauer ruled that the Town may not deny the plaintiffs’ application on the basis of the zoning ordinance enacted February 15, 2017.
On the issue of the high capacity well system the Judge wrote: "The plaintiffs’ argue that the Town’s ordinance as set forth is preempted by state law and therefore is an invalid attempt to regulate groundwater". The judge wrote: “The legislature has adopted a complex and comprehensive statutory structure for permitting, installation and use of high capacity wells”. “The end effect is that the Town could deny the high-capacity well permit, and shut down the use of the well, in violation of an express DNR approval.” “The ordinance runs contrary to the structure and spirit of the legislature’s grant of this authority to the DNR under WI Stat. section 281.11, and therefore, under the Anchor test, is preempted by state law and therefore is unenforceable against the plaintiffs.”
Judge Ann Knox-Bauer made the judgement in a 21 page document which was filed February 15, 2018 with the Taylor County Clerk of Courts.
Taylor County District Attorney Kristi Tlusty has charged two Rib Lake women for allegedly stealing from the Medford Cooperative Cenex C-store in Rib Lake. According to the criminal complaint, 66 year old Susan Gutowski admitted to Rib Lake Police Chief Gary Krueger that she needed money and had skimmed money from the cash drawer by voiding transactions. The complaint indicates that managers of the Medford Cooperative believe that Gutowski stole $5,937.00 in voided transactions according to their review of records. Susan Gutowski is charged with Theft-Business Setting from $5000-$10,000, a Class H Felony, upon conviction may be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than 6 years, or both.
Also facing a theft charge is 43 year old Kimberly Kettleson of Rib Lake. Kettleson told investigators that while working at the Cenex Station she stole money by voiding transactions and skimmed cash off the cash register. Her statement indicated she was sorry she took the money and didn’t know what else to do to support her family. The criminal complaint indicates that Medford Cooperative documentation indicates that Kettleson had stolen over $24,000. District Attorney Kristi Tlusty has charged Kimberly Kettleson with Teft-Business Setting over $10,000 which is a Class G Felony, upon conviction may be fined not more than $25,000 or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.
The initial appearance for Gutowski and Kettleson is set for March 20th in Taylor County Court.