What should you know about Wisconsin’s inconsistent system for tracking police caught lying?

AP News

Jacob Resneck, Wisconsin Watch

This article was first published by Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom.

Public access to information about police officers caught lying is inconsistent across Wisconsin’s 72 counties. This is a key finding after Wisconsin Watch submitted records requests to all district attorneys’ offices and the state Department of Justice.

Here’s a recent example and a look at Wisconsin’s inconsistency compared to Colorado, the first state in the nation to mandate tracking and disclosure.

Drug investigator caught forging signatures on arrest warrants

An Appleton police sergeant investigating suspected drug trafficking was caught forging the signatures of a prosecutor and a district court judge on a warrant that would otherwise have expired. He resigned for this misconduct and pleaded no contest on April 30 to a single misdemeanor charge carrying a maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Special prosecutor Wendy Lemkuil said former Sgt. Appleton Police. Jeremy Haney’s dishonesty has tainted other investigations conducted by the Lake Winnebago Metropolitan Enforcement Group, the multi-agency narcotics task force to which he was assigned as an investigator.

“It affects the work done by other officers,” Lemkuil told the court. “Since there is now a challenge regarding many different co-defendants in the original underlying case, as well as in other cases, whether the credibility of these cases can be based on the fact that Mr. Haney may have been involved.”

Still, the Brown County prosecutor and Haney’s defense attorney agreed to a plea deal that spared the former officer any prison time. The court reduced the fine to $500 plus court costs.

Sentencing Judge Raymond Huber noted that catching an officer dishonestly could impact future cases in which he is involved.

“I want every law enforcement officer who sits there (to know),” he said in open court, “their actions have long-term consequences.”

Jeremy Haney is seen through a vertical glass window in a wooden door.

Former Appleton Police Officer Jeremy Haney ultimately pleaded no contest to one count of misconduct in public office, a Class 1 felony. Additional charges of forgery and obstructing an officer were dismissed. (Source: Shane Fitzsimmons for Wisconsin Watch)

Haney, who did not admit or deny guilt in his statement, apologized for his actions.

“I’m sorry for what I did,” he said. “I apologize to everyone involved.”

What is the Brady List?

Haney’s willful lies – a forgery offense – is the type of crime that could land a police officer on the Brady List. Because he is a criminal, Haney’s career in law enforcement is over.

However, not all cases of misconduct are prosecuted, and officers sometimes continue to testify under oath against defendants despite documented cases of dishonesty. Defendants often use evidence of prior wrongdoing to undermine the credibility of their accusers. For this reason, prosecutors often keep in their files a list of officers containing the Brady letter as a reminder of their constitutional obligation to inform defense counsel about the officer’s past credibility problems.

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police and prosecutors could not withhold evidence that might cast doubt on a defendant’s alleged guilt. The decision, named after a U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, brought the term “Brady” into common use in the criminal justice system. In this case, prosecutors used one man’s testimony to convict another man of murder, even though the first man confessed to the crime. This testimony was never disclosed to the defense.

The U.S. Supreme Court expanded disclosure requirements again in a 1972 case Giglio v. United States. In this case, the government concealed the fact that it had granted a key witness leniency in exchange for testimony that was used to support the indictment.

Both cases helped set a standard that prosecutors must disclose any material that could be used to question the credibility of prosecution witnesses, including police officers involved in the case.

Sometimes district attorneys’ lists of dishonest police officers are called the Brady/Giglio lists or simply the Brady lists. Whether a Brady violation would be admissible in court and disclosed to a jury is ultimately up to the judge.

The consequences of disregarding the Brady Rule can be far-reaching. If a violation is detected during the trial, the judge may declare the trial invalid and even prohibit the prosecutor from using evidence undermined by withheld information. More often, Brady violations are found after a conviction and are used in appeals seeking to overturn a conviction.

How is the Brady Doctrine applied in Wisconsin?

The Brady Doctrine is applied inconsistently throughout Wisconsin. Some district attorneys keep a list, some keep paper records of each individual case, and some have not disclosed their policies at all, arguing that their service records are protected from public disclosure as part of the prosecutor’s case file.

Wisconsin Watch found no evidence. The Department of Justice provides local prosecutors with uniform guidance.

Green Lake County District Attorney Gerise LaSpisa noted that the state agency “is required by law to provide guidance and advice to Wisconsin prosecutors.”

Several other district attorneys said they began searching local law enforcement agencies for the names of potentially rogue officers only after Wisconsin Watch requested the Brady list.

“Given my recent appointment, after receiving your initial email, I asked law enforcement if there were any officers subject to (Brady) disclosure,” wrote Jillian Pfeifer, the Oneida County prosecutor who took office on August 1.

She added that neither agency reported law enforcement officials exposed by Brady.

Oconto County Prosecutor Hannah Schuchart, appointed in October 2022, said she was aware of only one case from five years ago that led to the officer’s firing.

“I am developing a formal process for Brady lists because one did not exist prior to my nomination,” she told Wisconsin Watch.

St. County District Attorney Croix running back Karl Anderson said there were no procedures in place for Brady’s list when he was elected in 2021. He doesn’t send letters, but he raises the issue during meetings with district police chiefs.

“I know some offices are sending out letters,” he told Wisconsin Watch. “I’d be curious to see how many offices do this, compared to an approach similar to mine or others. There is no clear guidance on this subject in the case law, except that we are obliged to look for it.

Ashland County District Attorney Blake Gross, whom Evers appointed in October, said he could not locate any of the Brady lists left by his predecessors. However, following an investigation, Wisconsin Watch contacted local law enforcement for the names. He learned of one corrections officer at the sheriff’s office and said he plans to regularly check with each agency at least once a year to keep his list up to date.

Colorado offers a statewide model

In 2019, Colorado became the first state to pass a law imposing standards for tracking law enforcement dishonesty.

The following year a Denver Post Office the investigation found inconsistencies in how officers on Brady’s list were tracked, with only nine of 22 district attorneys agreeing to release their lists.

The subsequent bill expanded disclosure requirements to make the rules and mechanisms surrounding the Brady List transparent to the public. However, how it turned out in practice is debatable.

Unlike Wisconsin, Colorado maintains a searchable Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) database that includes decertification information and disciplinary records, including those related to falsehoods. The 2021 bill required dishonesty flags to be made public.

Jeffrey Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, points to recent regulatory reports that showed data gaps and inconsistencies in law enforcement.

“It’s not clear to me how complete it is,” Roberts said of the state database.

Lists of signs of dishonesty date back to 2022, when state lawmakers mandated public disclosure of the data.

“In terms of disclosure, it is much better than before, but there are still some problems with it,” he said.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch partners with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, published or distributed by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.