Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
Dan Bethards was a unique representative in the Wisconsin Department of Justice in 2012.
His 14-year profession and life were overthrown after he reported his manager and good friend, Jay Smith, for making and offering guns without a license, a possible federal offense.
Since blowing the whistle on Smith, Bethards has been fired. He lost him the home of foreclosure. He figures his future in the police is over.
Bethards stated he regrets his option to report Smith, and would not do it once again.
” In specific with me, it wasn’t an advantage because the ‘thin blue line’ ended up being an unfavorable thing. You do not snitch on police officers. That’s simply the way it is, you simply do not. Otherwise, bad things happen. And bad things took place for me,” Bethards stated.
Bethards stated he understood Smith’s activities for many years before he chose to report him. He was triggered to blow the whistle after Smith approached him, requesting for help to customize an apparently taken government-issued AR-15 rifle to a completely automated Gatling gun.
Much more troubling to Bethards, he understood then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Division of Criminal Investigation administrator Ed Wall both had acquired weapons from Smith.
Bethards stated he reported the activity regardless of the danger to his profession because “we are the police officers, we are expected to do the ideal thing every time, all the time, without question? That’s what you expect from your policeman.”.
After Bethards made his claims, he was placed on paid leave and later fired. In reaction, he submitted a series of retaliation grievances, which triggered a legal fight in between the previous narcotics representative and DOJ.
In May, the state Court of Appeals ruled versus Bethards. The court found the way Bethards reported his claims– by alerting both his superiors and the head of DOJ’s personnel’s department– nullified whistleblower security.
The firm argued Bethards informed the incorrect people at DOJ of his claims, that just members of his hierarchy must have been notified.
DOJ spokesperson Johnny Koremenos decreased talk about the litigation.
Bethards stated he cannot manage to take the case to the Supreme Court.
” The opportunities of even getting heard are very little, and the possibilities of winning there are little,” he stated. “You cannot take on the federal government and win. They are simply too effective– and big-headed.”.
Strife in DOJ’s.
Jim Ohm was a unique representative who operated in the exact same workplace as Bethards. Their bureau in Superior was comprised of 4 representatives consisting of Smith and Smith’s partner, Michelle.
Ohm stated the workplace altered for the even worse after Smith was promoted to manager in 2011 and his spouse signed up with the workplace. Ohm began tape-recording some discussions and conferences with DOJ authorities, consisting of one conversation where Wall joked about a weapon he had purchased from Smith.
Efforts to reach Smith through the DOJ were not successful.
” As unique representative elders, our duty and our authority were to be self-motivated and your anticipated level of guidance is very minimal, and we were being dealt with as though we had simply been worked with as if we were probationary representatives. There was a great deal of disputes and fights from both Jay and his spouse,'” Ohm stated.
Bethards went on tension leave in October 2012 as he was pondering whether he must speak out about Smith. 2 months later, Bethards sent out an e-mail to 2 DOJ authorities informing them that Smith might have been breaking state and federal guns laws. The 2 authorities were David Matthews, then-administrator of the Division of Criminal Investigation, and Mary Casey, director of personnel.
After several months on leave, Bethards asked to go back to work. At the demand of Matthews, Bethards was assessed by a DOJ-appointed psychologist, who validated he was fit to go back to task. Bethards returned for one day, but he was placed on leave the following day, June 2, 2013, while the company examined him. Bethards was fired Oct. 10, 2013.
No charges, no.
Under DOJ policy, “all thought offenses of laws … given the administrator’s attention will be examined.” According to Bethards, that was never ever done. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives did examine.
Bethards, who was a witness in the examination, stated the ATF figured out Smith had constructed and offered some guns but that the United States Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, which managed the case because of a possible dispute of interest, did not consistently prosecute such offenses.
Smith was never ever charged.
The choice not to prosecute Smith is perplexing to Kyle Torvinen, the lawyer representing Bethards in his whistleblower suit. Torvinen stated he was never ever able to obtain copies of the ATF’s investigative reports.
In Bethards’ termination letter, the DOJ mentions many supposed guideline offenses. Amongst them was presumably using his work e-mail to acquire parts for his own personal guns business. Bethards stated he purchased the products for weapons used at work.
Another claim was that Bethards lied when he declared his previous manager had a taken semi-automatic weapon– an allegation Smith rejected.
” Somebody needed to be lying, and they selected Dan which was another factor that they fired him for,” Torvinen stated.
Bethards stated he understood blowing the whistle would have considerable repercussions. He understood his relationship with Smith was going to be ruined as would his profession. He was.
” Everybody turned their back on me,” Bethards stated.
In the 4 years since being fired by DOJ, Bethards stated he has been primarily not able to find work.
He quickly worked for Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Police near Hayward, Wis. He stated the job lasted simply 6 months, till a local district whistleblower lawyers chose not to prosecute any of his cases. Bethards acknowledged that if contacted us to affirm, a defense lawyer might raise his firing to harm his reliability as a witness.
Long legal fight.
ends in defeat.
Bethards submitted numerous problems of retaliation with the state Department of Workforce Development. The firm at first figured out Bethards might have undergone prohibited whistleblower retaliation.
When the 3 problems were combined into a single case, Administrative Law Judge Allen Lawent figured out that Bethards did not certify for whistleblower defense because he had alerted Casey, the human resources director, who was not in his “supervisory chain of command.”.
Bethards then took the matter to Douglas County Circuit Court. Judge George Glonek disagreed with Lawent’s judgment and found in 2015 that Bethards had not broken the treatment in the state Whistleblower Law. DOJ appealed that choice, which in May ruled versus Bethards.
According to Torvinen, if the appeals court had agreed on Bethards, the case would have been returned for a hearing before an administrative law judge where Bethards would have had the ability to provide the proof supporting his claims.
” I think the Department of Justice is using the system itself … as sort of a weapon to diminish (Bethards’) inspiration,” Torvinen stated. “The hardest part for me is the justice system being made use of in such a way that basically rejects the advantage that it sorts of pledges.”.
a tough roadway.
Bethards stated the experience of being a whistleblower has been ravaging.
” I wasn’t much of a daddy to my boy and child this last, most likely, 5 years,” he stated, admitting that he at first relied on alcohol for convenience.
Those kids are now operating in a factory to save money for college; Bethards stated he is unable to support them economically any longer. He stated he is grateful that he is still wed but included, “I have no idea why she’s still with me.”.
Others have experienced the difficulties Bethards has gone through.
” His home entered into foreclosure because he could not make payments and he’s needed to move all over the state and simply take any tasks he can get, and it’s unfortunate,” Torvinen stated.
Bethards sibling Jeff, a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigator, has seen it, too.
” There was practically an instant change in Dan when he blew the whistle,” Jeff Bethards stated. “He began getting messages from buddies and colleagues questioning his actions. Dan understood how severe the allegations were and comprehended under DOJ policy, an examination would be opened.”.
Bethards stated he stopped training basketball and baseball from humiliation. Jeff Bethards stated it has been “heartbreaking” to watch the effect on his sibling, an embellished and effective representative.
” The DOJ did whatever they might ruin or challenge Dan,” he stated. “I have been required to watch as Dan has been embarrassed, and destroyed economically and expertly. Dan is not the very same person he was when all this begun.”.
Bethards want to go back to police but questions if it is far too late.
” So, I wish to return in,” he stated, “but I do not wish to be the person who is contacting the radio for backup, but no one is coming.”.
This story was produced as part of an investigative reporting class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication under the instructions of Dee J. Hall, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s handling editor. The not-for-profit center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) works together with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works developed, released, published or shared by the center do not always show the views or viewpoints of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.