From [HERE] For the second and third times, Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has given cash settlements to guards who it determined had used excessive force on juvenile inmates, state records show.
The payoffs — including one totaling $9,000 — were reached as the FBI continues a criminal investigation of Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, which share a campus 30 miles north of Wausau. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year reported officials at the prison complex trained staff improperly, failed to preserve video evidence, didn't document serious incidents and often shirked their duty to report matters to parents, police and social service agencies.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said he wants the Walker administration to explain why it is cutting deals after disciplining employees.
"Either they had a weak case going in or they had a strong case but they suddenly lost their backbone," he said. "Neither one is good."
The two most recent payments follow a $6,000 settlement reached in October with former guard Scott McKenna, who was fired after other guards said they saw him push a 15-year-old girl against a wall with his hand on her neck.
Newly released video from a hallway surveillance camera shows McKenna storming into the girl’s room and hurling blankets and a mattress into the hall as his co-workers look on. The video does not show McKenna’s interactions with the inmate or what happens in the cell.
At the time of the incident, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department recommended that prosecutors charge McKenna with child abuse and strangulation. More than two years later, they have not decided whether to do that.
The most recent settlement, for $9,000, went to Travis Taves, a former guard with the nickname Iceman who was fired in January 2016 for using unjustified force on two juvenile inmates.
Taves said he had planned to work at Lincoln Hills for another 20 years but agreed to the settlement so he could move on with his life after being put on paid leave for a year and then fired.
"I believe it should have been a lot more than that ($9,000) because of the pain and suffering it caused in my family life," Taves said. "It was wrongful termination, and I was a scapegoat."
Under the other recent settlement, supervisor Kyle Hoff had a five-day suspension reversed and was given about $1,100 in back pay. Hoff had been disciplined for three incidents, including one where he walked on a low-lying bed frame while a teen inmate was under it.
Hoff, who continues to work at Lincoln Hills, did not return a phone call for this article.
Department of Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook said he could not discuss specific settlement agreements, but noted they are often designed to prevent costly litigation and ensure fired employees do not return to work at the department.
“DOC will hold staff accountable for their actions and will continue to hold staff to the highest standards of integrity and responsibility,” Cook said in a written statement.
State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) scoffed at the notion that Lincoln Hills employees were being held responsible for their actions. The payoffs could worsen morale at an institution that has struggled with staff shortages, he said.
“How would you respond if you were the worker next to that guy (who got a settlement)? What kind of deterrent is that sending to everyone else at that institution?” Goyke asked.
The settlements come a year after Walker signed a law aimed at making it easier to discipline public employees and protect taxpayers. But the new civil service system did not go into full effect until September — after the three Lincoln Hills employees were fired or suspended.
"They were still playing under the old rules," said Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton), one of the sponsors of the law rewriting employment policies.