The Chippewa County District Attorney’s office could soon gain another full-time legal secretary — a position that District Attorney Wade Newell said is very much needed.
An overflow of methamphetamine cases, a jump in felony cases and additions of several K-9 officers around the county mean that Newell’s office is faced with an “increasing case load,” a resolution for the new position said.
The Chippewa County Executive Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the resolution granting the DA office the position, moving the matter to the county board for discussion. The board will take up the matter at a March 13 meeting.
This is the second step in a two-part process, District Attorney Wade Newell said Tuesday. The county board voted to raise the tax levy by $72,000 in November 2017 to fund the position; Newell’s office must now get final approval from the board to make a hire.
“I appreciate the county board funding the position for this as part of the 2018 budget,” Newell said.
Chippewa County methamphetamine-involved cases tripled from 2015 to 2017, the resolution said; the number of felony cases has increased almost 40 percent since 2015.
With the Stanley and Chippewa Falls Police Departments adding the county’s fourth and fifth K-9 officers, respectively, in 2018, “More dogs inevitably will equal more cases,” the resolution said.
In addition to the cases that filter into Newell’s office each day, lower-priority cases are piling up. Cases fall into one of three tiers, Newell said.
“One, where a person gets arrested and gets some sort of immediate court date … there’s a set deadline in which the (criminal) complaint has to be ready by,” he said. “The second group is the high-priority cases that the person wasn’t immediately arrested for. Those could be felony cases, child abuse cases, sexual assault cases … there’s an immediate impact on the victim that needs to be dealt with immediately.”
Cases that don’t fall into those categories, however, often are postponed.
As of Nov. 1, 2017, the DA’s office had 227 such cases — some dating back nine months to Feb. 2017 — that were still waiting on initial processing, Newell said in a Nov. 1 letter to the county board.
“All support staff is working to process these cases as quickly as possible, but there is only so much that can be done with the current staffing levels,” he wrote.
Currently, the DA’s office doesn’t have the means to address that gap, with just four legal secretaries, one of whom also works as the office’s receptionist, Newell said.
“These are lower priority cases by prosecutorial standards, however, they are high priority cases by victims’ standards,” the resolution said.
The hiring request initially met with disagreement with former County Administrator Frank Pascarella. He would not reconsider funding for a legal secretary in 2017, he wrote in a Sept. 15 letter, saying other departments had greater staffing needs.
However, the county board eventually approved funding for the position. By raising the tax levy by $72,000, the county could pay the new hire up to $41,718 per year, according to a county fiscal impact document.
The DA’s office may soon be relieved in other ways. A state bill currently making its way through the Wisconsin Legislature could add additional assistant DAs to several Wisconsin counties, including Chippewa and Dunn. If the bill passes the state Senate, it would add an additional three ADAs for the area — one to Chippewa County and two to Dunn County.
However, if the bill passes, the DA’s office will still need the extra hands, Newell said. Although the attorney positions are paid for by the state, the county funds the legal secretaries and other support staff.
“…Right now (the bill) has only passed the Assembly, and the Senate is only back in for two weeks. If they don’t put it on the agenda, it might not even go forward,” Newell said. “The more prosecutors we have, the more support staff we would like to have.”
The DA’s office at the Chippewa County courthouse will not require expansion to fit the new secretary, Newell told the committee Tuesday, and the state will provide the secretary’s computer.
If the county board approves the resolution March 13, Newell expects the hiring process to take about a month, depending on the candidate.
The Town of Lafayette is considering contracting services from the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office.
In a very preliminary move, the town board asked the sheriff’s office to present options and ideas for contracted services at the town board’s meeting Monday evening.
With a population of just over 6,000 — and growing — chairman David Staber said as the community continues to grow, the need for additional services does as well.
“We don’t have the capabilities to deal with it on our own,” Staber said.
Adding contracted services from the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office would not be something the township would consider this year, Staber said. The money is not in the budget for it this year, he added, but it would be something the township could consider in October when working through the 2019 budget.
Right now, the township is mainly interested in learning more about the options available to continue planning for the township’s future, Staber said.
“I just wanted to see what they could offer Lafayette and what kind of costs associated with it,” Staber said. “We’re always trying to think ahead … and how do we plan for it.”
Often when the township receives calls about fireworks or speeding vehicles, it has to call the sheriff’s office with the complaints, decreasing the chances the town ordinances can be enforced, Staber said.
Mitchell Gibson, field services lieutenant with the sheriff’s office, said the Village of New Auburn is the only other town, village or city in the county the sheriff’s office does services with in a similar capacity.
There is a higher volume of calls to the township of Lafayette, Gibson said, given the number of people in the township. Adding contracted services with the sheriff’s office would guarantee an officer presence to help enforce town ordinances, he said.
The service, Gibson said, is also based on the sheriff’s office staffing abilities.
“(It’s) geared toward more of a proactive approach of having an officer there more frequently,” Gibson said. “So it’s just basically directing more concentrated services there.”
The township could present what it learned from the sheriff’s office at its annual meeting — legally required to be the third Tuesday in April — dependent a sizeable amount of people attending the meeting, Staber said. This year’s meeting is April 17.
Michael walked out of the Oshkosh Correctional Institution in April 2017 at age 60 with $140 to his name, a record as a sex offender and a GPS monitoring bracelet strapped to his ankle.
Michael, who requested that only his middle name be used to avoid public attention, was convicted of two child sex crimes, the most recent in 2006, for which he spent 10 years in prison. He traveled to Vernon County, where he had committed his most recent sex crime, and stayed in a Westby motel while he searched for permanent housing. His probation officer gave him a few months to find a place.
The housing search ended in failure. Michael, who is disabled and relies on Social Security, was unable to navigate the process with residency restrictions and landlords leery of renting to sex offenders.
His search was further complicated by Wisconsin’s requirement that he reside at least initially in Vernon County, where he was convicted, along with DOC rules of supervision that attempt to prevent serious sex offenders from living too close to one another.
He continued his search, but came up empty-handed, and so like many sex offenders, he became homeless, living in a tent at a $10-per-night campground during the summer and early fall of 2017. A couple times a day, he plugged his GPS monitor into an outlet meant for trailers. He said wearing the bracelet is “shameful, and it does hurt my ankle.”
DOC data show that of the 1,258 offenders on GPS monitoring in January, 131 had no permanent place to live. This means about one in 10 offenders may not have regular or easy access to an outlet to charge a monitoring device. A DOC spokesman said agents typically allow homeless offenders to charge their bracelets in parole offices.
DOC records show some homeless offenders avoid this logistical challenge by absconding — removing their bracelets or letting them run out of power — which completely defeats the purpose of GPS monitoring.
Michael’s struggle to find housing illustrates a problem that is widespread in Wisconsin communities, where dozens of sex offenders are homeless due in part to ordinances restricting where they can live.
DOC officials have acknowledged that highly restrictive municipal residency ordinances in more than 150 Wisconsin communities such as Green Bay and until recently, Milwaukee, are contributing to the problem, according to emails obtained by the Center under the public records law. These local laws prevent sex offenders from residing too closely to places including parks, schools and day-care centers, leaving virtually nowhere for them to live.
Green Bay’s requirement that offenders live at least 1,500 feet away from schools, parks and day-care centers means offenders are banned from nearly the entire city, although they have the opportunity to appeal in front of a board.
In a recent ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, a judge essentially struck down the village of Pleasant Prairie’s 3,000-foot buffer zone as being too restrictive, saying 90 percent of the village was off-limits to child sex offenders and the remaining land was largely nonresidential.
Some municipalities have pre-empted legal action. Waukesha and New Berlin, for example, reduced child safety zones from 1,500 to 500 feet.
The attorneys in the Pleasant Prairie case, Mark Weinberg and Adele Nicholas, are also representing 11 registered sex offenders in a case that ended the 2,000-foot residency restriction in the city of Milwaukee, where sex offenders, some on GPS monitoring, are homeless.
On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Common Council approved a $74,400 settlement in that case after the city significantly rewrote its residency requirements.
The plaintiffs in the Milwaukee case are sex offenders who are either homeless or attempting to move. Sylvester Jackson, a 51-year-old homeless offender, stated in an affidavit that he has tried for years to obtain housing but to no success. A diabetic, Jackson often sleeps in a broken-down car.
Another offender, 35-year-old Chris Bills, wanted to move out of the three-bedroom townhouse he shared with seven others, but was unable to find another option due to the residency restrictions and the desire to stay in the area so his autistic son could attend his special school.
Other plaintiffs stated that they investigated each address Milwaukee deemed compliant, but that none of them was available to rent. One such location ended up being the Milwaukee airport.
Months after the plaintiffs’ motion seeking an immediate halt to the law, Milwaukee’s city council in September voted to repeal the city’s sex offender “buffer zone,” doing so without Mayor Tom Barrett’s signature.
The move let sex offenders essentially live anywhere in the city, although it did leave in place a requirement that offenders must return to the county where they committed their offense upon release. The 2015 state law that maintains a 1,500-foot buffer zone for a specific category of offenders deemed sexually violent also remains in effect.
The two attorneys argue that such residency restrictions and “original domicile” clauses, which make it unlawful for a sex offender to live in a city unless he commited his crime there, are unconstitutional and “not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”
“There’s just no evidence to support the (claim) that these laws are making communities safer, preventing crime or protecting anyone from crime,” Nicholas said. “This law just makes people homeless.”
Federal courts are beginning to agree. In August 2016, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down Michigan’s application of several restrictions for sex offenders on the basis that they violated the Constitution’s ban on retroactive punishment.
The provisions include having sex offenders’ names on a registry, prohibiting sex offenders from living, working or “loitering” within 1,000 feet of a school, and requiring them to notify law enforcement in person when they update personal information.
Michigan’s sex offender registration law “brands registrants as moral lepers solely on the basis of a prior conviction,” wrote Alice Batchelder, one of the judges for the case, adding that “it consigns them to years, if not a lifetime, of existence on the margins.”
Batchelder also challenged Michigan’s contention that its sex offender laws deter recidivism. She cited studies that suggest sex offenders are actually less likely to recidivate than other criminals, and that sex offender registries and their accompanying restrictions make it “hard for registrants to get and keep a job, find housing and reintegrate into their communities.”
Batchelder emphasized that Michigan could provide no evidence that the difficulties its sex offender restrictions imposed had any positive outcomes.
In Florida, where prohibitive residency restrictions have led to homelessness among sex offenders, some seek refuge in an isolated community in South Florida called Miracle Village, which is home to more than 100 people, most of them sex offenders.
In Wisconsin, Michael eventually managed to establish a more permanent residence. He found a friend in Kendall in neighboring Monroe County who agreed to let him move into his house. He asked that his photo and location not be disclosed.
Like some other sex offenders, Michael encountered difficulties with GPS monitoring, spending the weekend of Oct. 21 in jail for an unspecified probation violation. He sat in jail throughout the weekend until his probation officer returned to work on Monday.
“I was scared,” Michael said of the arrest. “I didn’t know what happened … And then I started thinking, ‘Well, this is what I’m in for the rest of my life.’ ”
He later learned his arrest was triggered by a 10-minute visit to his sister’s house in Wilton. Unknown to Michael, a church nearby houses a day-care center, which is one of his “exclusion zones.” His probation officer then created a “safe zone” around his sister’s house, preventing at least one future arrest.
“As far as the GPS goes, I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s overkill. I did 10 years, I’ve got 15 on paper (probation),” he said. “What more do they need? Why is the bracelet necessary?”