As much as I enjoy sharing the antics of my family with readers, there comes a time when more difficult matters are important for me to cover in my column.
It is never easy to write about “sticky stuff.” I do not get joy out of it, but feel there are times I should address rumblings in the community.
I want to start by saying I am a huge fan of the Amery Police Department. I have lived in this community for years and am grateful for the work they do. I have worked closely with the department throughout the years because of my role with the Fall Festival and have always found it to be a pleasant experience. I have respect for the people who work such a difficult job, where you may often feel scrutinized by the public.
A few months back, chatter started in the community alleging two members of the Amery Police Department used excessive force on two separate occasions with juveniles. As the chatter grew a bit louder, it seemed I should look into the allegations so that if the paper needed to report on anything, we had actual facts.
I reached out to the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations who said they could neither confirm nor deny an investigation. I reached out to the School District of Amery, and the city.
Shortly after reaching out to those entities, I received a visit at the Free Press from one of the officers the allegations were being made against. The officer was concerned about what I may be writing about the situation in the newspaper. The officer asked what I had been told and who had told me. I declined to share the names of people who had brought concerns to my attention. I said, “I have been told that questionable restraint has been used on minors.” The officer responded, “What some call questionable, others may call unpopular.” I explained that I was not writing anything in the paper until we had facts to present to readers.
In the months that have followed, the chatter about the situation has grown. Rumors spread when facts are not presented. When there is an open investigation, I cannot present facts until the investigation is completed. Because of the fact that I can not/ will not write a news story without hard facts, I am writing an OPINION column to share with readers that concerns are not falling on deaf ears.
On June 6, 2019 the Amery Free Press made a request under Wisconsin’s public records act for all records from the completed investigation into alleged police misconduct by members of the Amery police force concerning use of force restraining students, including but not limited to body cam footage.
It was not just the “rumblings” that prompted us to do so. Agendas of the past four months of city council meetings listed police matters to be discussed in closed session. These closed sessions may or may not have anything to do with allegations being made; we do not know that to be a fact.
This is not the first time readers have asked me why we are not writing about a topic in town. I want to explain that I very much believe the public has a right to keep informed on matters. When statements are not released, gossip in a small town spreads like wild fire.
My hope is that when our open records request is fulfilled, facts can be presented, and readers can decide for themselves whether they agree or disagree with any actions that may or may not have occurred. At that time readers can also decide whether or not they agree with the way the process was handled.
I ask that you keep two things in mind: First of all (and it is silly that some need to be reminded of this), everybody is entitled to their own opinion and because someone’s opinion differs from yours does not automatically make them a bad person. Second, it is easy to judge people who are on boards (whether it be City Council, School Board, or even Fall Festival) for decisions they make. If you are not happy with decisions being made you have the right to voice your concern or even make the decision to run for office.
I enjoy sharing my thoughts with you and look forward to readers sharing their thoughts in return.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery WI. 54001 or I can be reached by phone at 715-268-8101.