Four officers fired, forced out from law enforcement back on the job in NW Wisconsin

The state DOJ tracks police who leave employment with law enforcement agencies under negative circumstances. The Badger Project found these officers analyzing that database.

Four officers fired, forced out from law enforcement back on the job in NW Wisconsin
Clockwise from top left, Hurley Police Officer Noah Bunt, UW-Superior Police Officer Damen Rankin, Bayfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Brittany Letica and Price County Sheriff’s Deputy Jay Thums.


Wandering officers, problem police who get fired or forced out from one department, then go work at another, are a problem across the country.

To help prevent these officers from bouncing between agencies, the Wisconsin Department of Justice maintains a database where law enforcement agencies can flag officers they fired or forced out. Police and sheriff’s departments can check the database when considering hiring a new officer.

Also, the Wisconsin State Legislature passed a law in 2021 that requires law enforcement agencies to maintain a work history file for each employee and creates a procedure for law enforcement agencies, jails, and juvenile detention facilities to receive and review an officer candidate’s file from previous employers.

Previously, some law enforcement agencies had agreed to seal a fired officer’s personnel file in exchange for leaving quietly, so potential law enforcement employers couldn’t see why the officer had left their last job.

Nearly 300 officers currently employed in the state were fired or forced out from previous jobs in law enforcement, according to data from the state DOJ that The Badger Project obtained through a records request.

The state of Wisconsin currently has about 15,000 certified active law enforcement officers, including jail officers, according to the state DOJ, so fired or forced-out officers make up nearly 2 percent of the total.

Some of those flagged officers were simply novices who didn’t perform at an acceptable level during their initial probationary period, when the bar to fire them is very low, experts say. Sometimes the bosses simply don’t like a new hire and want them gone. Or the officer couldn’t handle the high pressure of working in a busy urban area, and do better in slower-paced positions and agencies, says Steve Wagner, a longtime police officer in Racine who is now an administrator for the state DOJ.

But others lost their jobs for more negative reasons.

The Badger Project looked at the state DOJ’s database and found four officers working in northwestern Wisconsin who had been fired or forced out from another law enforcement agency. A fifth officer was forced out from a police department in the area and moved one county over to continue work in law enforcement.

All the officers were given the chance to comment for this story. Those who provided them were included.

Noah Bunt

  • Shawano Police Department – May 2006 to November 2018
  • Resigned prior to completion of internal investigation
  • Now employed by Hurley Police Department

Bunt was accused of having a sexual relationship with another officer’s wife, and of communicating with her in a “sexual nature” while on duty with the Shawano Police Department, according to text messages collected from their phones.

Bunt was placed on administrative leave and resigned before the investigation concluded.

The Hurley Police Department hired Bunt on Nov. 30, 2018, 11 days after his last official day at the Shawano Police Department.

Hurley Police Chief Chris Colassaco and Bunt did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Brittany Letica

  • Superior Police Department – January 2021 until April 2022
  • Resigned in lieu of termination
  • Now employed by Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department

Letica “was released from probation” from the Superior Police Department because she was not meeting the standards of our department, said Assistant Police Chief John Kiel.

In an email to The Badger Project, Letica said she was “set up to fail from the beginning without any help from the department.”

“I was not treated fairly at this department and I realized, is this what I really want anyway?” she continued.

The Bayfield County Sheriff’s Office hired Letica in October 2022 as a full-time sheriff’s deputy.

Bayfield County Sheriff Tony Williams noted that Letica was hired before he became sheriff, but said she has “been doing great for us.”

The administration was aware of her exit from the Superior Police Department, and an “extensive background check” is conducted by the department’s investigator lieutenant before anyone is hired, Williams said.

“Deputy Letica is performing outstanding,” Williams said. “Deputy Letica is very professional and is fair with people, levelheaded and quick to respond to calls.”

Damen Rankin

  • Superior Police Department – April 2018 to January 2019
  • Resigned in lieu of termination
  • Now employed by UW-Superior Police Department

Rankin briefly worked for the Superior Police Department but “was released from probation because he was not meeting the standards of our department,” said Assistant Police Chief John Kiel.

The UW-Superior Police Department hired him to their five-officer staff in November 2020.

Jordan Milan, a spokesperson for UW-Superior, said she was not able to discuss “information gathered through the interview process,” but noted all applicants go through the same process of application review, interviews and reference checks.

“We conduct extensive background checks on all police officers, including physical and psychological assessments,” Milan said.

“Officer Rankin has met job performance expectations during his employment at UW-Superior,” she added.

Jay Thums

  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – May 2016 to February 2022
  • Terminated for Cause
  • Currently employed by the Price County Sheriff’s Office

Thums started working for both the Wisconsin DNR and the Price County Sheriff’s Office in 2016. In February 2022, he was terminated from his limited-term position as a conservation officer with the DNR due to “failure to follow supervisory directive related to the use and parking of the department squad (vehicle) that you are assigned to use during your shift,” according to a letter he received from his supervisor that The Badger Project obtained through a records request.

Thums told The Badger Project in an email that the DNR supervisor had allowed several full-time officers to take their squad vehicles home, an exception to the department’s rules. He also said supervisors told him they terminated him because he continued to take his squad home after a warning, but Thums said he never received a warning.

Thums remains employed as a deputy with the Price County Sheriff’s Office.

About Thums, Sheriff Brian Schmidt said “his performance is good. He’s doing what we ask and doing his job. What’s expected of him.”

Grant Schuenemann

  • Park Falls Police Department in Price County – December 2017 to March 2020
  • Resigned in lieu of termination
  • Currently employed full-time by the Three Lakes Police Department in Oneida County and part-time by the WisDOTourism State Fair Park Police

Schuenemann, who is now working outside Price County, did not complete his probationary period with the Park Falls Police Department. In records obtained from the department in a records request, Schuenemann was reprimanded for not completing some reports, not completing reports in a timely manner, submitting reports with misspellings and other errors, missing a scheduled training session, and misusing department property.

Regarding the property issues, he lost control of a patrol vehicle and it slid off the road, taking him out of service until it could be towed back onto the road, according to the records, which note he may have been violating the law by driving too fast for conditions.. He also closed an automatic garage door on a vehicle, damaging the door.

The Three Lakes Police Department hired him in November of 2022.

“The Three Lakes Police Department is pleased that Officer Schuenemann has chosen to join the Three Lakes Police Department and look forward to his opportunity to join the Three Lakes community,” Police Chief Scott Lea said in an email to The Badger Project.

“Applicants that choose to apply to our agency are evaluated and vetted through the hiring process and determining the reasons for an officer leaving an agency are evaluated as part of the process,” the chief added.

In response to a question about Schuenemann’s job performance, Lea said his department “does not comment on employees.”

This story was funded in part by the Wirtanen Fund at the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

The post Four officers fired, forced out from law enforcement back on the job in NW Wisconsin first appeared on The Badger Project.

Four officers fired, forced out from law enforcement back on the job in NW Wisconsin was first posted on October 17, 2023 at 10:03 am.

Maine’s rural counties scramble to fill gaps in police patrols

A late summer breeze whispers through the soaring pines that surround Andy Foss’ home on the shore of Gardner Lake in Washington County, where he sits reflecting on his more than a quarter-century of public service as a law enforcement officer.

The former Maine State Police trooper retired earlier this year to focus on his cancer recovery. Foss said he’d rather be back on patrol but knows his health would suffer.

“Oh, I miss it, I do,” Foss said from the home where he and his wife Jane raised two children. “But working the road in law enforcement is a lot of stress. I was covering probably like 23 or 25 towns myself, answering anywhere from 850 to 1,000 calls a year. It’s just nuts when you think about it.”

The Bureau of Maine State Police agrees. Faced with diminishing numbers from retirements and recruiting challenges, the Bureau decided that with 52 vacancies there were too few officers to provide dedicated patrols in the state’s expansive rural counties such as Washington — a county the size of Delaware — so they gradually began trimming or cutting out rural patrols completely.  

But some rural counties have decided to push back, demanding restoration of trooper patrols or more funding to offset the losses. Rather than waiting to be picked off one by one as contracts with the state police expire, rural county sheriffs, commissioners and the organizations that represent them are banding together to make sure their voices are heard at the state level. 

Some legislators have taken the fight to the statehouse, with two bills already introduced and at least one more on the way. 

Over the past few years, Washington County and some other rural counties had reluctantly agreed when the state police presented them with the drastically pared down “resource sharing agreements” that mapped out what the state would provide. But Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton balked at a plan that would have left troopers covering only two of his county’s six rural zones, instead of half as they are now.  

Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, and Rep. Joe Perry, D-Bangor, each submitting bills seeking funding for more deputies. Guerin’s bill was approved but amended without funding.

“My bill ended up being a broader discussion of the State Police role and the different county sheriffs’ roles, and how that’s going to play out,” Guerin said. “It really did open the conversation.”

The new law, L.D. 756, approved on July 26, limits changes to the Resource Coordination Agreement between the Bureau of State Police and the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, keeping the current contract terms in place through 2024.

It also requires the Bureau of State Police to report to the joint standing committees of the Legislature “having jurisdiction over criminal justice matters, transportation matters and appropriations and financial affairs regarding resource coordination agreements between the Bureau of State Police and all county sheriffs’ departments …” 

Mary-Anne LaMarre, the Maine Sheriffs’ Association executive director, said the MSA welcomes the legislature’s help.

“In some counties, there is an issue with adequate resources to meet the demands of patrol coverage,” LaMarre said. “The Maine Sheriffs’ Association is going to be working closely with the legislature and other partners to secure adequate funding, outside of property tax, to meet our standards.”

The State Police began restructuring a few years ago, beefing up its specialty units and reducing or eliminating routine rural patrols, as it did in Washington County. The county does still receive State Police specialty team services (as all counties do), troopers agreed to answer half of the county’s DHHS calls, and they respond to all fatal crashes. But designated patrols in Washington county and other rural counties are gone.

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The loss of designated patrols left rural counties reeling from the sudden gaps in coverage, the cost of hiring more deputies and the prospect of higher taxes to pay for local law enforcement.

In Penobscot County, officials said the price for six more deputies would be roughly $1 million over two years. Washington County commissioners already approved $140,000 for an immediate hire of an additional deputy. But officials say at least four more are needed and will likely be added in the next county budget.  

Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Washington, said she is encouraged by the prospect of a more cooperative dialogue with the State Police, but Washington County can’t afford to wait and see how the talks pan out. She plans to submit a bill before the Sept. 29 deadline for next spring’s session to seek more emergency funding from the legislature. 

“I have to be a little selfish, I’m going in just for Washington County,” Moore said. “These bills are supposed to be on an emergency basis, so I’m going to have to justify it to the Legislative Council and hope they’ll let it go forward.”

It might be wise that the senator isn’t waiting for a broader, statewide solution. The State Police objected when Guerin and Perry asked the legislature for funding, even though they were not seeking the money to come from State Police funds. At least for now, State Police officials seem to be doubling down on their previous positions. 

“The State Police cannot comment on pending legislation that we have not reviewed,” said Major Lucas Hare, head of the State Police operations division. “With that said, any proposed legislation that seeks to defund the State Police to fund other law enforcement agencies would be detrimental to public safety. Our resources benefit the entire state, not just one county.”

But officials in rural counties say those State Police resources — primarily specialty teams such as tactical units, crisis negotiation, underwater recovery and the bomb unit — are not helping understaffed sheriffs’ offices, and municipal police departments meet the core responsibility of law enforcement – public safety. 

According to the most recent state crime data, 14 people have been killed in Washington County since 2017 — one of the worst rates statewide. Deputy Chief Mike Crabtree said the county’s soaring drug problem is largely to blame.  

“We’ve always had violent crime, the problem now is the frequency of the violence,” Crabtree said. “A lot of these calls lead to death. These are no longer one-person calls.” 

In Patten, public safety officials said a reduced police presence resulted in slow response times for emergency calls by Maine State Police, who went from 28 troopers responding from the Houlton Barracks down to only two, according to Lt. Brian Harris, Maine State Police Troop F commander.

Since June, officials say there have been several times that ambulance crew members waited up to two hours for police and one time no one came, according to a report this week in the Bangor Daily News.

Even further north, the situation can be worse. Although there are three small municipal police departments in Piscataquis County, the sheriff’s office, with only five deputies, covers 99% of all calls, about 4,000 calls a year spread out over roughly 3,900 square miles, excluding Baxter State Park. Chief Deputy Todd Lyford said the lack of law enforcement and the jaw-dropping geography means they run the risk of suspects getting away before officers can reach the scene. 

“We just had a call in the deep, deep woods up into Chesuncook, which takes 2 1/2 hours to get to. Then I had to get on a boat across a lake to an island to deal with a call,” Lyford said.

Like six other counties, Piscataquis chose not to have a call-sharing agreement with the State Police. Lyford said his understanding is the call-sharing agreement they had 15 years ago was not continued because of “poor communication.”  

Still, all the officials interviewed for this story said the reality on the ground is that with or without a call-sharing agreement, in a pinch the State Police will assist when called, at least to the best of their ability.

For example, the recently signed call-sharing agreement with Washington County acknowledges the potential for this type of informal arrangement, stating in part, “The Maine State Police will continue to staff a uniform trooper in Washington County to the extent resources and staffing allow. To the extent that resources and staffing allows when a trooper is assigned to work in the county, we will respond to all requests for assistance from the sheriff’s office.”

But the agreements are fast becoming irrelevant because there aren’t enough troopers to cover Maine’s vast state, and also provide the technical and specialty assistance that every county relies on. 

The governor’s 2020-21 biennial budget proposal requested from the legislature a total of 10 State Police trooper positions and five sergeant positions to meet severe staffing shortages. The positions were not approved.

“The State Police have not seen a compliment increase to our rural uniformed patrol division in over 40 years, while the demands and mission of the State Police have increased significantly beyond just rural patrol,” said Shannon Moss, the public information officer for the Maine Department of Public Safety.   

Since local law enforcement appears to have a slightly better track record with recruiting, some county officials had suggested shifting to the unused funds from the State Police’s unfilled vacant positions to the county. The proposal was dead on arrival due to statutory and prior allocation restrictions. In an interview conducted prior to his summons on an OUI charge, Washington County Commission Chair Chris Gardner expressed outrage at the impasse.

“Public safety is the No. 1 responsibility of the collective. And if you aren’t stopping bad actors, and you can’t get to the hospital when you need it, what really is government spending their money on?” asked Gardner, who also serves as a reserve officer in Eastport.

But former trooper Andy Foss said shifting the money would have only replicated what’s happening with recruiting. He said it’s an illusion that local departments are attracting more officers.

Foss said officers are simply being shuffled back and forth due to better pay and a host of other reasons, including burnout. Not atypically, during his 24-year career Foss has served as a municipal officer, a part-time deputy, as a Marine Patrol officer, as well as a trooper. 

Andy Foss sits at his dining room table.
Andy Foss said he covered 23-25 towns answering nearly 1,000 calls on his own. Photo by Joyce Kryszak.

Lyford in Piscataquis County agreed, saying it’s also happening there, with one deputy recently switching to the Greenville Police Department. Lyford said local law enforcement departments are offering more money, better benefits, and beginning to look beyond state boundaries for recruits, with modest success.

Foss added that pulling troopers out of their communities to serve exclusively on specialty teams also should be re-examined. He said it’s the opposite of community policing, which he knows is successful.

Foss has gotten heart-felt letters of encouragement during his recovery from people he had to arrest and send to jail. He recounted one incident involving a violent suspect when Foss told the State Police tactical team it needed to stand down.

“I said, ‘what do you need a tactical team for, I know this guy,’ ” Foss said. “I went alone and told the guy I had to take him in. He just said, “yeah, OK — if you don’t mind, I just want to put down a bunch of food for my cats before we take off.”  

Foss said an officer’s tongue is his most valuable weapon. Maine’s rural residents, increasingly worried about public safety and rising taxes, are hoping county and state officials also can learn that lesson, and it’s becoming critical that they do.

In Lubec, for example, most homeowners just saw their tax bills double after a re-valuation. It’s a harsh reality many communities are facing as they brace for yet another hit for additional police coverage. 

Washington County Sheriff Barry Curtis told the Quoddy Tides that the Maine Sheriffs Association and County Commissioners Association plan to meet in September, holding a joint session to discuss the law enforcement pressures the state’s counties are facing.

York County Commissioner Richard Dutremble, president of the County Commissioners Association, said he is confident all officials can come together and find a compromise. 

“There are answers if people will sit down and talk about it. We’re all here to solve this for the taxpayers. So let’s get it done,” Dutremble said. 

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The story Maine’s rural counties scramble to fill gaps in police patrols appeared first on The Maine Monitor.