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Whitewater chief talks about Star Packaging case

Coan: 'We feel completely vindicated'

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published July 24, 2007, 2:21 p.m.

Previous coverage: Whitewater business owner pleads guilty

Pending a sentencing hearing, a dark chapter in Whitewater's police history should be closed.

Monday's plea hearing for Allen L. Petrie, the 48-year-old owner of Star Packaging, is vindication for the department and a now-retired investigator once accused of racial profiling, Chief James Coan said.

Coan shed light on the investigation by his department in an interview with The Week after Petrie's plea hearing.

Q: What is the department's reaction to the plea?

A: "We feel completely vindicated with the plea agreement that was reached today. It's vindication for not only (investigator) Larry Meyer and his investigation but for our department, also. I think it will demonstrate to the public that there were in fact victims here and (they were) not the people who were working at Star Packaging.

Q: For all the effort put into this case, and the aftermath that followed, was the investigation worth it?

A: For the people whose identities and Social Security numbers were falsely used, it was. It sends a message that it is a crime and hopefully it will act as a deterrent for people who are trying to do that. From that standpoint, it was worth it.

Q: Will Whitewater police investigate employers in similar cases in the future?

A: We're not actively investigating anybody else. It's not a situation where we were out actively seeking these crimes. When it's brought to our attention, we do have an obligation to investigate. We will do these on a case-by-case basis.

In the case of Mr. Petrie, we did it. There were warnings given (to him) in the past. There was ample opportunity for Mr. Petrie to cease what was going on there.

With regard to other businesses, other companies, other cases that might come to our attention, we will treat each on a case-by-case basis. I can't make any broad or sweeping comment as to what we would do other than to remind people that it is a crime.

Q: Did you learn anything in hindsight about how the case was handled?

A: In retrospect, we did what we felt was right at the time. I'm not going to say that we would do it one way or another the next time. All situations are different and have different factors, different variables. But we treat matters on a case-by-case basis. I can't predict what the future might hold in other operations we might be called upon to assist in.

Q: What caused the negative view of the Whitewater Police Department after the raid at Star Packaging?

A: What transpired is a microcosm of what's taking place elsewhere in the country. We were investigating identity theft. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), their responsibility is that of illegal immigration. It got inter-wound and I think people viewed us as the agency that was going after illegal immigrants in the case. That was not our responsibility. That was the responsibility of ICE. Ours was to focus on identity theft, which we did.

Q: Did the investigation cause the social or economic hardship on the community because the business has virtually closed, leaving dozens without jobs?

A: We can't forecast the social or economic consequences of something like this that we undertake. There was a crime committed. We investigate crime. The district attorney's office prosecutes the crime. The consequences from all of this are not our responsibility. It is those who commit crime.

Mr. Petrie admitted he committed crimes. There was a plea agreement to that effect. It's not the police department or the city's responsibility... I would put it upon those who have committed, in one way or another, illegal activity.

Q: What will people think now that there has been a plea?

A: Hopefully there will be an understanding. They'll see the details of this. They'll have an understanding of those who were victimized as a result of this and that there were in fact crimes committed. I hope people take a different view of this whole issue and whole case and know it's not an issue of racial profiling from our standpoint.

Q: Will everyone see it that way?

A: I think there are some in the community who are still using this for whatever personal or political gain. I can only tell you that from our standpoint, we continue to provide, I believe, the utmost professional police service to all members of our community regardless of their immigration status. When someone calls the Whitewater Police Department, we respond and we do everything we can to help the person regardless of their race, gender, age or immigration status.

Q: How do you feel about the plea agreement and that prison time will not be sought?

A: Our job is to enforce the law. As far as the court aspect of things, the trial, the sentence, that's the responsibility of the courts. It's up to them to decide on an appropriate sentence in this matter. We are not advocating for any jail time. That is up to the DA's office and for the courts to decide.

We hope the strong message that it sends to (Petrie) is that this is against the law and that it's unacceptable.


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