State DOJ charges deputy with disorderly conduct
Woman claims he “never did anything physical” to her
by Gary King
BURNETT COUNTY - The Wisconsin Department of Justice has filed a charge of disorderly conduct against the road deputy at the center of a months-long controversy involving the Burnett County Sheriff’s Department.
Christopher Culvey, 34, has been summoned to appear before Burnett County Circuit Court Judge Ken Kutz on Wednesday, April 24. He has been on paid administrative leave pending the state investigation that was handed off to the DOJ by Burnett County District Attorney William Norine last fall.
The charge stems from two domestic-related incidents in early 2011 involving Culvey and a woman who was described as his girlfriend at his West Ash Street home in the village of Webster. The DOJ’s complaint charges that Culvey “while in a private place engaged in boisterous and unreasonably loud conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tended to cause or provoke a disturbance.”
Special Agent Robert Powell of the Department of Justice reviewed reports and records for the Burnett County Sheriff’s Department, related to the computer-aided dispatch system.
Powell also interviewed the woman who placed the 911 calls to report Culvey in both incidents. She told Powell that Culvey “never did anything physical to her” as “he (Culvey) knew he would get into trouble for it.”
Powell also spoke to Culvey about both incidents and reports that Culvey said an argument between him and the woman’s daughter on Feb. 9, 2011, turned into an argument between him and the woman. He alleges the argument started because the daughter “did not show proper respect” by failing to do chores and that she started calling him (Culvey) names. He acknowledged raising his voice but denied throwing anything or slamming things.
Regarding the March 24, 2011, incident, Culvey told Powell that he spoke to the daughter in a loud manner, but when asked by Powell if it was possible that the girlfriend felt she was in danger due to the level of arguing, Culvey replied “she may have thought that, she never was.”
Two dispatchers and two deputies were fired for not filing reports or properly recording the incidents and five other sheriff’s department personnel were disciplined. The deputies claimed the disputes at Culvey’s home were verbal only in nature and did not warrant an arrest.
However, a report by Jeffery Kohler, an independent hearing examiner, noted that Culvey’s relationship with the woman was so volatile that fellow officers often let him stay at their homes in order to separate them. And one officer allegedly warned the woman that her calls to 911 could get Culvey fired and she would lose her health insurance.
Dispatch records show the calls were listed as a disturbance and not “domestic.” State law requires a mandatory arrest in domestic abuse situations.
Sheriff Dean Roland declined an opportunity to comment on the charging of Culvey. But he has gone on record in the past as saying the personnel disciplined knew policies regarding domestic cases, but chose to ignore them.
Last month he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he felt he was being condemned as the bad guy for firing the deputies and the dispatchers. (One firing was found to be unfounded by a hearing examiner and she chose not to return to her job).
“Everybody thinks it’s my fault because I went after these people and held them accountable,” Roland said. “People say I’m crazy, I’m insane and these were the best officers ever. Well, most people don’t know the facts.”
The two deputies fired, Travis Thiex and Sgt. Thad Osborne are challenging their dismissal and will appear at a grievance hearing set to begin May 7 at the Burnett County Government Center.
Andrew Schauer, an attorney for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, told the Star-Tribune that Sheriff Roland overreacted and that the actions of Osborne and Thiex “never rose to the level of termination.”
A copy of the DOJ complaint can be downloaded from elsewhere on this page.