On June 1, the Dane County Sheriff's Office put out a press release stating that one of its deputies was fired for hitting a handcuffed suspect who was resisting. What deputy was it? The office isn't saying, at least not yet.
"For specifics, we're going to have people make an open records request," says sheriff's spokeswoman Elise Schaffer, citing the need to "abide by the county's policy" of giving the deputy 10 days to seek to block release.
That's bonkers, according to Madison attorney Bob Dreps, a public records expert. "The open records law does not limit the government's authority to disclose its own personnel decisions," he says. "It is not a privacy statute."
There is a notification process for records regarding disciplinary investigations, but it does not extend to the subject's name. And while Wisconsin has a privacy statute, it exempts matters of "legitimate public interest." In this case, says Dreps, "There is quite clearly a legitimate public interest in the identity of a law enforcement officer who was fired for using excessive force on a handcuffed prisoner."
The incident happened on Jan. 4, 2011. Madison police officers were also investigated for their role in the arrest, and exonerated of wrongdoing. An internal MPD report (PDF) obtained by Isthmus relates that "multiple blows were administered by deputies."
In its release, the Sheriff's Office says "one deputy delivered punches and elbow strikes to the man's midsection." The man, identified in news accounts as Jeffrey L. Vance, was taken to the hospital "due to the injuries he sustained as a result of the deputy's use of force."