Burnett Co. Sheriff's Office Investigated for 'Cover-up'

Updated: 11/21/2012 11:32 AM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert

One quarter of the employees at the Burnett County (WI) Sheriff's Office have been under investigation after dispatchers, deputies, and supervisors conspired in a "cover-up" to change call logs, details, and even the very nature of the allegations made by a woman who twice accused one of the department's deputies of domestic abuse, authorities say.

"There was a concerted effort to not report this, to conceal this," said Burnett Co. Sheriff Dean Roland in an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

When asked if his employees betrayed the public trust, Sheriff Roland answered, "some of them, I believe, did."

The plot was discovered, Roland said, when the Polk county sheriff informed him that Burnett county Deputy Christopher Culvey was under investigation by Polk County Human Services. It had received a report of possible "child sexual assault" involving one of Culvey's kids, Roland said.

While looking into that report, an investigator discovered that Culvey's girlfriend had twice called 911 in 2011 to accuse Culvey of domestic assault, but that neither case had been investigated.

Instead, as a hearing officer report details, dispatchers, deputies, and supervisors helped make the domestic assault case against Culvey essentially go away, by changing call logs, details, and even the victim's allegations, while not filing required reports.

By failing to flag the audio of the 911 call for further investigation, the report states, the tapes were automatically erased 11 months later.

"This action... reeks of cover-up," wrote hearing officer Jeffrey Kohler, who upheld one dispatcher's termination and reversed another.

"The clear implication was to keep the communication secret," Kohler continued, describing efforts by deputies to communicate by cell phone rather than on the recorded radio channel.

Writing of two dispatchers, Kohler determined "they were protecting a fellow officer... By not coming clean, they impeded an investigation, a clear policy violation."

The eight-page report describes the "manipulation" of records; of incidents being "disguised"; and the "massive disservice" done to the department.

The document, issued last month, ends with this searing quote: "A frightful chaos was visited upon the Burnett County Sheriff's Department because some people thought they were smarter than everybody else."

Eight of the nine Sheriff's Office employees under investigation have been disciplined so far: four were punished internally and four others - two dispatchers and two deputies - were terminated. One of the deputy's terminations is being grieved; no hearing date has been set.

Deputy Culvey has not been disciplined and is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

No criminal charges have been filed yet, but they could be forthcoming. The entire investigation was forwarded Friday to the Wisconsin Attorney General. A spokesman in the office confirmed the investigation was "ongoing" but declined to comment further.

When approached at his Webster, WI home Monday evening, Culvey said, "I'm not going to be making any comment on it at this point in time," and referred 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS to his attorney.

A message left for his attorney Tuesday was not returned.

Sheriff Roland said he has apologized to the domestic assault victim for his department's failure to help her or investigate her allegations.

"I have told her that we will make her whole. I am sorry for what took place and we are doing everything we can to make the problem corrected," Roland said.

When asked if he worried that other crimes may not have been reported, the sheriff answered: "That is always a possibility. And that's something that we cannot know or do not know, may never know."