Janesville police cleared in probe; changes suggested

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Frank Schultz
July 31, 2015

JANESVILLE—An investigator's report released Friday concludes no wrongdoing by Janesville police in a Dec. 21 incident that involved an off-duty police detective.

City Manager Mark Freitag and Police Chief Dave Moore might tweak some policies and procedures in response to the report, however.

Both men indicated in an interview Friday that money should be found to buy more body cameras for Janesville patrol officers.

The incident involved an argument between Detective Erik Goth and Goth's girlfriend Nicole Morgan. Initial concerns were that drunken driving or domestic violence might have been committed. A review by an outside lawyer/investigator concluded police acted properly in not arresting anyone on those charges.

“(The investigator) didn't find any significant misconduct, negligence or inappropriate behavior. That's good news,” Freitag said.

“There is no factual basis to believe Detective Goth received favorable treatment during this incident …” wrote the investigator, attorney Steve Zach of the Madison law firm of Boardman & Clark.

Freitag, Moore, City Attorney Wald Klimczyk and some other city officials met with a Gazette reporter Friday to answer questions about the probe.

The investigation caused friction earlier this month between Freitag and some city council members who thought they should have been informed sooner.

Freitag said in the future, a weekly memo to city council members will note whenever the city hires outside legal help.

Freitag said he has no second thoughts about ordering the investigation and would do so no matter what city department was involved.

“My responsibility to the citizens is to make sure the city is operating properly and effectively,” Freitag said.

“What I think I would do better is better communicate with the chief about what's going on and what my concerns are and where we're going,” Freitag continued. “I don't think I did a good job of that, and I mentioned that to the chief.”

The matter appears to have soured relations between police and at least some city officials. Deputy Chief Jimmy Holford and Klimczyk openly disagreed during Friday's meeting. Klimczyk said “it was like pulling teeth” when his office first tried to get police reports of the incident, but Holford disputed that statement.

And in a letter accompanying the report, Freitag wrote: “Understandably but unfortunately, the police department saw this investigation as a breach of trust. I disagree.”

The letter goes on to say the investigation shows the police department “is providing for public safety professionally and in most part correctly. As with any organization, there is always room for improvement.”

Asked about the trust issue, Freitag said: “I don't think it's about trust. I think it's about business and job performance. As I've told Dave and Deputy Chief Holford, I think we ought to be able to be open books. If you think something's wrong in my organization, whether it's the city, a department or a division, and you want to come in and take a look, by all means. … We've got nothing to hide.”

“That may be a cultural difference from my previous experience in the military, but frankly it's a very worthy culture to instill across the city,” Freitag added.

Moore indicated the fact that Zach would not tell officers what offenses he was investigating remains a concern, but Klimczyk insisted no one was accused of anything.

Asked whether the matter harms morale or performance of police, Moore measured his words and answered briefly: “It is of concern to the officers, but we will work through this, and we'll be fine.”

Freitag said he did not yet have a projection for the final bill from the law firm. A preliminary bill was for $8,000.

Freitag noted Zach had been hired to prosecute a traffic violation by Morgan, who was cited for reckless driving.

Morgan had contested the ticket, telling Assistant City Attorney Tim Wellnitz that she was not the driver, according to Zach's report.

She had told police that night that she was the driver.

Zach's firm, Boardman & Clark, was hired because the city attorney's office had conflicts of interests.

Morgan had come to Wellnitz to contest the ticket. If she hadn't, the entire matter would never have come up, Klimczyk said Friday.

Zach's review turned up “abnormalities and inconsistencies” in the police reports, and Zach suggested he be retained to look into those, officials said.

Klimczyk brought the matter to Freitag, who said Friday: “I told Wald Klimczyk to tell attorney Zach to expand his investigation that he was already doing, as he had identified additional issues. …

“Coming from a military background, investigations like this are commonplace: something doesn't look right, someone makes an accusation, whatever the case may be,” Freitag said.

Freitag said he and Moore would have a “good, healthy” talk over the next month to consider questions raised by Zach in the report, including:

-- Who should make decisions about law violations in cases where an officer is involved in a police incident? In this case, sergeants on the scene made some of the decisions, and Zach suggests for “significant situations” such as drunken driving or domestic violence, those decisions should be made elsewhere.

-- Should all interviews of department employees be recorded? The interview of Goth that night was not recorded because all available body cameras were being used elsewhere.

-- Should such incidents be reviewed more closely? Morgan was not asked in her interview that night whether she drank alcohol after she drove, although indications were that she did. A sergeant was reprimanded for failing to ask the question.

Zach says the failure to ask the question was not discovered until he began investigating.

-- Should something be done to streamline transfer of records from the police department when the city attorney's office requests them?

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