Initially the police chief in the little town nestled on Lake Onalaska wouldn’t cop to the grimy act.
When Tim Kelemen was questioned by a sheriff’s investigator in May, the big badge in Campbell, Wisconsin, claimed he knew nothing about emails a local Tea Party leader was receiving from gay dating, porn and healthcare websites.
But officials had tracked some online activity to a computer in the police chief’s home — not to mention the Campbell town hall — according to the Associated Press, citing an incident report.
So Kelemen soon came clean, admitting he used a computer to sign up Greg Luce on the sites — retaliation against the Tea Party activist with whom he’d been locking horns for months in the 4,000-strong burg that sits on the border with Minnesota.
But even after prosecutors on Thursday charged Kelemen with a misdemeanor — unlawful use of a computerized communication system — noting he did so during working hours, according to the LaCrosse Tribune, a conviction for the admitted misdeed wouldn’t necessarily cost the chief his job.
Sure, he might have to fork over up to $1,000 in fines and could spend up to 90 days behind bars after the final gavel comes down, but Kelemen could still stay on the force, according to the AP. Why?
Only those with felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions related to domestic violence are precluded from holding jobs as police officers, the AP reported, citing the state Department of Justice.
Still the town board on June 12 placed Kelemen on paid leave after hearing from community members that the chief had lost credibility, the Tribune noted, adding that an internal investigation is underway.
The Tribune explained that since the town lacks a police and fire commission, state law permits the town board to appoint a panel of outside representatives to consider discipline against the chief, depending on the investigation’s outcome.
Kelemen will plead no contest to the misdemeanor at a later date and enter into a diversion agreement to avoid a conviction, his attorney Jim Birnbaum told the Tribune. The charge will be dismissed in two years if Kelemen avoids new crimes, continues counseling and completes 40 hours of community service.
“This is a very quick, easy solution to achieve the result that’s excellent,” Birnbaum told the Tribune.
Monroe District Attorney Kevin Croninger spoke with The Associated Press Thursday morning before he filed the charge and said he didn’t choose identity theft or misconduct in office as charges because he didn’t feel comfortable he could prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. Croninger also said he felt Kelemen wasn’t acting in his official capacity when he signed Luce up for the sites.
“There’s not really any factual dispute about what took place. It’s just how those facts fit the statutes,” Croninger said. “This is more of a harassing situation than to harm someone’s reputation. That is the distinction I see.”
Things heated up last fall in Campbell, which is about 150 miles northwest of Madison, between Kelemen and the La Crosse Tea Party when the group used a pedestrian overpass across Interstate 90 for protests, the AP noted.
Kelemen deemed the protests a distraction to drivers and in October persuaded the town board to pass an ordinance banning signs, banners and flags on the bridge.
Luce and another Tea Party member argued that the ordinance violated their rights, so they filed a federal lawsuit, the Tribune reported. But both Kelemen and Birnbaum have charged that Luce also urged supporters across the country to bombard Campbell’s five-officer police department with harassing phone calls and threats.
Kelemen insisted he felt helpless because he received no assistance beyond an offer to bolster the department’s computer firewalls, the AP said.
Then in January and March, Kelemen used Luce’s name, address, phone number and email address to create accounts on the gay dating, porn, and healthcare websites, according to police reports. Luce’s amended lawsuit accuses Kelemen of violating his right to petition without retaliation, invasion of privacy and civil identity theft, the Tribune noted.
“It is unfortunate that Chief Kelemen exercised such poor decision making,” Luce’s attorney, Erin Mersino, told the Tribune. “The victim in the case is pursuing justice and protection of his constitutional rights through a civil case as well.”
Circuit Judge Dale Pasell on Thursday set a $1,000 signature bond for Kelemen with a condition that prohibits him from contacting Luce.
Birnbaum received exceptions to the no-contact order, including lawful contact if Kelemen is working as chief, if the chief wants to report Luce for intimidation or harassment, and if Kelemen files a harassment injunction to protect his family “if that is necessary,” the Tribune added.
Here’s a YouTube clip from last December of protesters on the bridge — and an officer instructing one that he’s violating the town’s new ordinance:
This story has been updated.