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Report outlines why police drinking ban imposed

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published March 27, 2007, 4:11 p.m.)

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Town of Geneva Police Chief Edward Gritzner should be disciplined for his involvement in breaking up a barroom scuffle in 2005, and for not dispatching police when informed of a possible drunken driving accident in 2004, according to an attorney's 80-page investigation report.

Town Chairman Joseph Kopecky cited attorney Larry Steen's report as the reason the town board enacted a controversial drinking ban for off-duty officers in town bars and restaurants.

The ban was lifted after four officers complained to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, alleging their rights were violated.

Town attorney Richard Torhorst asked Steen to conduct an investigation after four bar patrons sued Gritzner and three officers in federal court last year over the 2005 incident. The plaintiffs say police used excessive force during arrests and displayed favoritism toward others following a scuffle at a town bar.

The civil case remains unresolved.

Steen's report became public recently as a result of developments in the civil suit, Kopecky said.
Steen, himself a former police officer, suggested Gritzner should have received a written reprimand or warning for his actions in the two incidents.

He said Gritzner showed "blatant favoritism" in early 2004 by not notifying police himself when a woman called his cell phone to report she had been in a single-car accident shortly after she left the bar where Gritzner and his wife had been that same night.

Gritzner also displayed favoritism when two people were not arrested or ticketed for their participation in the barroom fight at Hondo's in April 2005, Steen said. Gritzner had ordered the couple out of the bar because of the disturbance.

Police officers, who were at the bar later to arrest the other individuals involved in the fight, could have arrested the couple Gritzner ordered out when they returned to the bar and exchanged obscenities with the other patrons. But Gritzner never told the responding officers the returning man was involved in the earlier scuffle.

Gritzner, his wife and two friends went to the returning couple's home later that night for drinks, Steen reported.

"Such a situation can be perceived by reasonable observers as unfair and biased," Steen wrote in his report.

"Why wasn't the other couple arrested?" Steen said in an interview. "To me that was (also) blatant favoritism."

Steen said because Gritzner had been drinking at the bar, he should not have gotten involved in breaking up the scuffle between the other patrons by asking them to leave. Had he not drank any alcohol, he could have acted in his official capacity, Steen said.

During his interview with Steen, Gritzner said he would have been criticized if he allowed a fight to ensue. Even on reflection, Gritzner did not believe he did anything wrong and would repeat his actions if a similar situation arose, Steen wrote.

The Week was not able to reach Gritzner for comment.
The town board has not disciplined Gritzner, Kopecky said.

Steen said he supported the alcohol ban and said Gritzner and other officers should be mindful of their actions in public.

"You cannot actively get involved as a police officer if you've been drinking," Steen said. "Although it may not be legal to impose a drinking ban, it makes good common sense. The chief should have a ban on himself.

"The chief, by way of example when he is out in his community, should not be drinking."


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