Adams, WI – The Adams County sheriff, who is running for re-election against one of the department’s investigators, placed his opponent on administrative leave on Wednesday citing a 17-year-old case.
With less than a month to go before the election, Adams County Sheriff Sam Wollin said he recently discovered that he needed to re-examine the testimony Investigator Brent York provided during a highly-litigated case 17 years ago, the Post Crescent reported.
Sheriff Wollin announced Investigator York’s suspension just hours before their scheduled debate.
“I had a lieutenant come to my house, take my badge, my gun, my car,” Investigator York said at the candidate forum. “From the letter that I received from our district attorney, [this is due to] a 2001 case I was involved in.”
"The past two days have been extremely difficult for me and my family as I try to process the timeliness of this information," he said in a Facebook post on Thursday night. "It appears to my supporters and myself that this action was highly personal and politically motivated."
Sheriff Wollin told WSAW that he decided to suspend the investigator after he received a copy of the “Brady Notice” from Adams County District Attorney’s Office personnel on Tuesday.
According to the Post Crescent, the notice is based on two U.S. Supreme Court cases, and requires prosecutors to provide defense attorneys with information about officers slated to testify if there are matters in their background that could cast doubt on their credibility or honesty.
Adams County District Attorney Tania Bonnett, who has publicly endorsed Sheriff Wollin’s campaign, said the county’s personnel department was reviewing Investigator York’s 2004 testimony during a case involving the former undersheriff slamming an inmate’s head into a wall – an offense the investigator had witnessed.
Bonnett claimed that Investigator York provided conflicting statements regarding the events that led up to the altercation.
He initially said the inmate made a threatening gesture towards the then-undersheriff, but later said he based his statements off of information provided by the undersheriff, the Post Crescent reported.
Investigator York said the timing of his suspension is entirely political, and noted that the 2001 case was thoroughly investigated at the time, and that it did not result in him being charged or disciplined.
Investigator York said the allegations against him arose after he met with Bonnett on Aug. 8.
During their meeting, Bonnett asked Investigator York how he was responding to questions he was receiving regarding drug investigations into Sheriff Wollin’s son, 22-year-old Jacob Wollin.
“[Bonnett] wanted me to publicly say there’s nothing there, and I said I don’t know that [to be true,]” he told the Post Crescent. “I advised that I wasn’t addressing it, that I had been questioned about it on several occasions, but that I told people I would not address it or talk about it.”
Investigator York said that Bonnett told him how to publicly address questions about the sheriff’s son, then immediately brought up the 2001 case.
According to York, Bonnett said she was aware of the slight variation in the investigator’s account of what transpired, but that she had not spoken about it in public.
“I perceived that as a threat,” Investigator York told the Post Crescent. “If I did not defend the situation involving Sheriff Wollin’s son — that nothing illegal or wrong had happened — that DA Bonnett would go public with the… incident.”
Bonnett admitted that she brought up the 17-year-old case during her conversation with the investigator, but denied having threatened him.
“Brent is lying to you about that,” she told the Post Crescent.
Bonnett said she contacted the Department of Justice in September after she learned about Investigator York’s 2004 testimony.
On Oct. 8, Assistant Attorney General Randall Schneider told her he felt the incident required a “Brady disclosure” because the investigator’s actions “arguably reflect on York’s character for truthfulness,” Bonnett said.
She denied that her actions were connected to the impending election.
"The case is old, the information is not,” she said. “This isn’t a chess piece. It’s a legal obligation I have.”
However, Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School told Post Crescent that may not be the case, and Brady disclosures are only required when cases are going to trial.
“It’s not immediately apparent to me why this particular testimony would qualify as Brady evidence,” Meyn said.
During Wednesday night’s candidate forum, Investigator York announced his suspension in his opening statement as he sat beside the sheriff, WSAW reported.
“Today’s been a difficult day for me,” the investigator said. “I'd like to say a lot of things, but I'm not going to do that. And I'm not going to let this take me out.”