When Dunn County Sheriff Smith hands in his badge at the end of the year, he will have spent 18 years in office.
Smith has declared his intent to file non-candidacy papers with the Dunn County Clerk’s office this week, officially declaring that he will not to seek reelection to the position he’s held since 2000.
“My wife’s put up with my schedule for 34, 35 years,” he said. “I’ve got six grandkids. ... I want to be to go to basketball games and dance recitals and stuff like that and not have to be gone all the time.”
Smith adds that his wife will especially welcome the break from fielding phone calls from people wanting to speak with the sheriff.
But until then, he promises to continue to be on call: “As long as I’m working for the county and for the public, I don’t think that I should be unavailable, especially when you’re the sheriff.”
Smith has worked for the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office since around 1974 when he served as a reserve deputy before joining the department full-time in 1976. He succeeded Sheriff Bob Zebro on Jan. 1, 2001 after defeating reserve deputy Ed Frawley in the 2000 election.
Smith ran for reelection unopposed in the 2002 and 2010 elections. And in the 2006 race, he successfully fended off Democratic challenger Deputy Kathy Ertz in the primary and Republican candidate Investigator Brad Leach in the general election. In 2014, Smith faced and defeated Dunn County Medical Examine Chris Kruse.
Among the incidents that stand out in Smith’s memory during his 18-year tenure is one that took place during his first year in office. David R. Krause was arrested and later convicted of intentional homicide and the mutilation of the corpse of his ex-wife’s husband, John “Pat” Styer as well as arson for burning down Styer’s rural Dunn County farmhouse in October 2001.
Another memorable time was more recent. The year 2014 saw a record four officer-involved shootings by Dunn County officers. The first took place on Feb. 12, 2014, when Dennis B. Grohn, 32, was shot and killed during an early morning — and high risk, “no knock” — search of his residence in the Town of Red Cedar.
The year’s second shooting took place on June 3, this one following an attempted traffic stop by Barron County Sheriff’s deputies, Jared R. Brendel, 32, of Dallas, led them on a chase that ended in Dunn County. Armed and wanted on numerous felony charges, Brendel shot at law enforcement officers who returned fire and was taken, uninjured, into custody when his firearm jammed.
On Nov. 14, 2014, Shonda Mikelson, 33, was killed when she pulled a shotgun after officers were called for a domestic dispute to her home in Boyceville. The year’s final shooting took place in Colfax on Dec. 18 when village Police Chief William Anderson went to an apartment on Colfax’s Main Street arrest Beth Mittelstadt, 44, on a warrant for felony arson. Instead of allowing herself to be transported to the Dunn County Jail, Mittelstad was shot and injured when she threatened Anderson with a large machete.
“There were always three or four things that I was always scared to death [of] and didn’t want to have happen — and that was one of them,” Smith said, noting that fortunately, all four shootings were found to be justified.
Keeping Dunn County safe
When first elected sheriff, Smith said he wanted to make the department more visible in the rural portions of Dunn County as well as how deputies were encouraged to perform their jobs: “Rather than judge their work strictly on numbers [traffic stops and warnings], I want to encourage them to patrol more county and town roads in the far corners of Dunn County,” he told The News. “That will encourage persons living in those areas to contact the sheriff’s department if they see something that looks suspicious in their area. While traveling those town and county roads, they will pass more residential areas where people are outside working, making more traffic stops where people are able to see the presence of the sheriff’s department.”
Reflecting on his time serving as sheriff, Smith said that responding to active shooters have been a consistent and evolving focus. Each squad car is now equipped with a rifle, helmet and protective body armor as well as a maul, a set of bolt cutters and a special prying tool in case deputies need to break into a building that’s been barricaded.
To ensure that area law enforcement entities are on the same page, Smith reported that Dunn County participates in regular joint training exercises with the Menomonie and village police departments and Wisconsin State Patrol. The county is also a leader in having a well-developed Safe Schools Program with its schools that includes emergency responders and the community.
“We talked to all of the schools, asked them to get all their response plans the same so they knew what we were going to do and they knew what we were going to do,” Smith explained, adding that the coalition meets three times a year.
“I think we’re sitting in a good place,” Smith said. “You’ve got to get ready in case — but you hope it never happens. If it does, you want to do be able to do the best you can.”
Benefit of his experience
Who will aspire to become the next Dunn County sheriff remains to be seen. The job entails being in charge of the jail, the civil process, buildings and court security, patrol and investigations, among other responsibilities.
Asked what advice he has to offer his successor, Smith recommends that he or she select good sergeants and hire people to support them — “ones that are smart or smarter than you are” — and be sure to use and support them in the decisions they make.
As a general overall philosophy, Smith said he tells everyone he oversees: “It’s not our job to judge; it’s our job to keep the community safe.”
When it comes to the jail and the programs that are offered to inmates, Smith noted, “People, when they come in the jail, they’ve usually been drinking or on drugs. ... I want them to be better when they leave than when they came in.”
But the very first order of business? “Sometime between the day you’re elected and the date you start, make a list of the things that you want to accomplish and prioritize them,” Smith concluded. “Because once you get in, you’ll be busier than you ever thought.”