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Rock County Sheriff's Office seeks independent review of jail death

By Frank Schultz
September 3, 2015

JANESVILLE—The Rock County Sheriff's Office has decided to seek an outside review of the Aug. 18 death of jail inmate Dante T. Wilson.

Reports related to the 38-year-old Beloit man's death were turned over to the Dane County Sheriff's Office on Monday, it was announced Thursday.

Sheriff Robert Spoden said he has reviewed reports of what happened and his detectives' investigation, and “I am very confident in the objectivity of what we did.”

However, “In the spirit of open government and in the spirit of objectivity, I think it would be appropriate to have an outside agency review it, … and see what they come up with as far as a conclusion,” Spoden said.

Asked if Rock County has a conclusion from its internal investigation, Spoden said, “not a final one.”

Spoden would not comment on what the internal investigation says because he does not want to influence Dane County's work.

“I'd rather let them have a fresh set of eyes without any comment from our agency or from me and just make a determination on their own,” Spoden said.

Spoden said a Dane County lieutenant from internal affairs and a sergeant from the jail will review Rock County reports, interviews and videotapes.

It is up to the Dane County investigators to decide whether they only review the Rock County materials or conduct interviews or pursue other investigative actions, Spoden said.

Once the toxicology report and final autopsy results are available from the medical examiner's department, he will be able to see if there were violations of medical policies or department general orders and respond if needed, Spoden said.

Anthony Smith of Beloit, one of the leaders of a protest at the jail Aug. 25, said a Dane County review is the wrong call.

Dane and Rock counties often cooperate in investigations, so that raises the prospect of a conflict of interests, Smith said, so a neutral agency should investigate.

Smith suggested a federal prosecutor.

Spoden sees no problem.

“Obviously, as adjoining counties, we have to cooperate in certain criminal investigations that involve both our agencies, but they are a totally different office run by a separate sheriff,” Spoden said.

Spoden said Dane County has a larger jail, so its investigators would be more familiar with how Rock County runs its jail than a smaller sheriff's office.

Wilson informed jailers at 11:44 p.m. Aug. 17 that he was having chest pains and breathing difficulty, officials have said.

Wilson was transferred to a cell in the jail medical unit, the duty nurse consulted with a doctor by phone, and a course of treatment was decided. At 12:37 a.m., a jailer saw Wilson having difficulty breathing, officials said.

An ambulance was called. Wilson was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Janesville Fire Department records show the ambulance call was at 12:41 a.m., 57 minutes after Wilson first complained of chest pains and difficulty breathing.

Spoden did not have an estimate of when Dane County would complete its work.

“This is a tragedy for the family, and the sooner we can get all the questions answered, it just speeds up the healing process for the family,” Spoden said.