Saturday, November 15, 2008

Guest Shot: Lawyers call on law enforcement to stop harassment

Truth in Justice Files Editor's Note: The following open letter to law enforcement in Taylor County, Wisconsin was originally published in the Medford Star News on November 13, 2008. While the actions of law enforcement in a specific case, in a particular location, are described, this type of "tunnelvision" conduct is standard operating procedure in a significant percentage of cases that result in wrongful convictions.

Lawyers call on law enforcement to stop harassment

A tragedy occurred in Taylor County back in January of this year. A county resident (Ms. Jean Viken) was apparently abducted from her home. A few months later, her remains were found in another county, and the implication was that a homicide had taken place. In fact, at a news conference on May 13, 2008, the Taylor County Sheriff gave a prepared statement and then took questions. In his statement, the sheriff indicated that there were "several persons of interest." He would not comment any further as to who those persons were.

Since the disappearance, the sheriff's department has focused solely upon a couple of individuals, to the apparent exclusion of all others. The "investigation" has entailed contacting a number of individuals and questioning them about these particular "persons of interest." In fact, the investigation has left no other conclusion as to who the department believed to be the perpetrators, and it appears to be a deliberate course of conduct on the part of the department.

All during the course of this "investigation" the "persons of interest" have been subjected to what appears to be a pattern of near harassment from officials, and absolute harassment from a number of civilian individuals as well (these individuals are being identified by independent means). These "persons of interest" have had great difficulty at work, and at their business, and the conduct has caused them to suffer not only emotionally, but economically, as well. They and their families have been caused what may be irreparable damage because of the seemingly inept handling of the situation.

These "persons of interest" hired us to represent them because of the apparent harassment they were, and still are, facing. During the course of becoming familiar with the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, and its aftermath, it has become apparent to us that the "investigation" has become so compromised that the heinous crime may never be solved; the real culprit(s) may walk away with impunity.

The investigators have been nothing but openly hostile to our clients, have called them names, and have been as sarcastic as possible in the hopes of furthering their "investigation." They have belittled our clients, chastising them for "non-cooperation," and all the while their mode of conduct has been startlingly lacking in anything that could be called conducive to any sort of cooperation.

The sheriff has failed to respond to communication sent to him inquiring about the re-entry to the homestead of one of the clients. This place had been listed as out of bounds due to forensic investigation, but the site was compromised from the very beginning, and continued to be compromised as certain civilian(s) came on the premises as they apparently wished. There have been civilians on and about the premises from the start. There can be no formal excuse for not allowing re-entry onto the premises; there can be no formal excuse for not even a courtesy reply to our communication; any suggestion by law enforcement that they still need the premises for investigatory purposes is surely either a bad "joke" or something perhaps more clandestine.

One of our clients was basically arrested from a place of business and brought in for fingerprints. The way this was accomplished was uncalled for and leads one to wonder why it was necessary to do so. Also, this client had his house smashed in during a warrant search that was conveniently done just after he had left the premises. The damage that occurred (all documented) was significant. A simple request would have allowed entry without creating this damage. But, apparently, that would not have gotten across any "message" officials wanted to convey.

In closing, we urge the citizens of Taylor County to begin to demand that a true investigation be initiated and bring in outside help. We suggest this due to the apparent inability of the local agency to be able to handle the matter itself. This needs to be placed on the correct path so the true culprits can be found. There needs to be an end to an apparent pattern of harassment to a couple of innocents.

— Lester H. Liptak, attorney for Duane Viken, Mark R. Mullen, attorney for Allen Viken

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