Prein’s fate is finalSeven months and one day after the Village of Roberts Board filed a formal complaint against Police Chief Ricci Prein, the end has come.
By: Laura Kruse, New Richmond News
Seven months and one day after the Village of Roberts Board filed a formal complaint against Police Chief Ricci Prein, the end has come.
Prein’s appeal against the Police Review Board’s decision to dismiss him as chief and his request for reinstatement were denied on Feb. 3 by St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Edward Vlack. The Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Web site updated the case status the same day.
Getting to the end has been a long road, filled with at least eight scheduled meetings, hearings and court dates throughout the past seven months.
Formal proceedings to remove Prein from his position began on July 2, 2008, when the village board filed an employment complaint against Prein, citing five counts of misconduct.
By July 28, the five member Village of Roberts Police Review Board had been notified of their duties and a hearing commenced. The PRB was appointed to determine whether just cause existed for the village board to dismiss Prein from his position.
After a two-day hearing and testimony from a dozen witnesses, the PRB found that there was just cause to dismiss Prein.
The PRB sustained charges that Prein
• had poor conduct toward a village official in a public place,
• made harassing phone calls to an off-duty officer,
• directed officers not to enforce closing laws against L&M Bar in Roberts,
• violated closing laws at L&M Bar himself,
• disregarded department policies and procedures by being visibly intoxicated in L&M Bar after hours and
• used his department computer for personal Internet use.
In regards to points two through five, the PRB wrote in their decision, “The PRB finds that any one of those incidents of misconduct, standing alone, warrants termination of Prein’s employment.”
Prein was dismissed from the Roberts Police Department on Aug. 1. He filed an appeal to the PRB decision on Aug. 7 in St. Croix County Circuit Court.
Judge Vlack’s written decision came about two months after oral arguments were heard in the appeal.
The court’s role, like the PRB’s, was to determine if just cause existed to sustain the charges against Prein.
Vlack wrote that Prein couldn’t reasonably be expected to know his actions in regards to calling off-duty officers or publically arguing with a board member would potentially result in termination. Discipline was a more likely consequence in those instances.
However, Vlack added that Prein could expect termination after he told officers not to enforce closing hours, drank after hours himself and used the village computer and Internet to view numerous images of women naked from the waist up, men and women in sexual acts and women wearing bikinis while he was on duty.
“Prein could reasonably be expected to know that a probable consequence of the conduct as a whole that Prein allegedly took part in, could be termination of employment,” Vlack wrote. “Thus, under this factor, the board had just cause to sustain the charges against Prein.”
Vlack next wrote that the rules Prein was expected to follow were reasonable. Rules cited in the employment complaint against Prein came from the Roberts Police Department Manual. Prein testified to being familiar with the manual, and even writing parts of it himself during the PRB hearing.
Charges in the complaint were sufficiently and fairly investigated, Vlack’s decision states.
“The (Village of Roberts) Board took steps to investigate the allegations, by interviewing the parties involved, including Prein himself, and by hiring a computer forensics expert,” he wrote.
There was no discrimination against Prein, the decision states.
“There was no evidence presented that other village department heads or other police officers engaged in the same or even substantially similar conduct as Prein and were not disciplined or disciplined differently,” Vlack wrote.
Termination is the correct response to the charges, according to the court’s decision. Prein’s actions undermined the confidence citizens have in the police department and chief position, wrote Vlack.
“It is crucial that the community have confidence and respect for the police chief and officers,” the judge wrote.
Although Vlack did not agree that any one of the charges was enough to dismiss Prein as the PRB stated, there was enough reason to terminate Prein’s employment.
Under the statute Prein filed his appeal under, this decision is final and conclusive.