DOJ: Agent let 43 child porn cases languish

  • Article by: TODD RICHMOND
  • Associated Press
  • April 22, 2014 - 5:35 PM

MADISON, Wis. — The former supervisor of the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Milwaukee office allowed nearly four dozen Internet child pornography cases to languish for months, agency officials said in his termination letter.

An internal investigation found former Special Agent-in-Charge Willie Brantley held 43 cases longer than 120 days before assigning them between 2011 and 2013, according to the letter Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John sent Brantley on March 19. Brantley held some cases for years and some were never assigned, St. John wrote.

He noted the investigation turned up examples of other special agents-in-charge holding child pornography cases during that time. But he called those instances "outliers" and none of those cases ever sat longer than three months.

"There is no other conclusion I can reach but that your inattention amounts to extreme negligence to duty," St. John wrote. "This discipline takes into account the ongoing risk to the public safety that was set in play by your actions."

Dan Bach, Brantley's attorney, included St. John's letter in documents he sent to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission on Thursday appealing Brantley's termination. Bach alleged the Department of Justice fired Brantley in part because he's black, noting he was the only black special agent-in-charge in the agency's Division of Criminal Investigation.

He went on to say DOJ officials were aware of a backlog in online child pornography cases well before Brantley was fired and no one set up a timeline for assigning cases. He also argued the agency lacks the resources to investigate every tip as it comes in.

"Mr. Brantley was sanctioned for violating a non-existent procedure or workplace rule that was not within his exclusive control, and was based on a systemic problem known to DOJ management," Bach wrote.

The materials offer the first definitive details on the extent of DOJ's child porn investigation delays. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has prided himself on prosecuting Internet crimes against children, and agency officials have been vague about the details.

Van Hollen said on March 19 that a supervisor and an agent had lost their jobs. He said an internal investigation found they were responsible for delays in assigning and investigating tips about online child pornography.

In one instance, a DOJ agent identified an Internet address that was distributing child porn in December 2012. The case was assigned in February 2013 but it took a year to execute a search warrant at the man's home. The man confessed to inappropriately touching an 11-year-old boy the weekend before the warrant was executed, according to court documents.

In another case, DOJ got a tip in March 2011 alleging a man had distributed child porn via Facebook but the agency didn't notify local police until April 2013, more than two years later. The man's attorney argued the search warrant police executed at the man's home was dated, resulting in a plea deal that kept the man off the state's sex offender registry.

Van Hollen declined to name the two employees or say whether they were fired or terminated. He also said the delays weren't systemic but added that he didn't know how many cases may have sat or for how long.

DOJ identified Brantley as the supervisor last week and the agent as Anna King. They haven't said whether King was fired or resigned. Bach said in an interview he didn't know if she had an attorney or if she had filed anything in hopes of getting her job back.

Agency officials also said last week a third employee has been disciplined after a tip about a suspected Milwaukee child porn distributor sat for more than three years. They've declined to name that person or elaborate on the punishment.

Agency spokeswoman Dana Brueck said Tuesday that Van Hollen stands behind what he said last month. She declined to comment on Brantley's appeal.

Van Hollen announced last fall he wouldn't run for a third term. State Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ are vying for the Democratic nomination. Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel is the only Republican running.

Richards on Tuesday accused Van Hollen of avoiding a full public accounting. He said the U.S. attorney in Madison, John Vaudreuil, should investigate.

Van Hollen responded with a statement saying if Richards wants U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to run the Wisconsin DOJ, he can hand the agency over to him if he becomes attorney general. A Vaudreuil spokeswoman declined comment.

An Ozanne campaign spokesman called on the Legislature to investigate. Brueck declined comment on that statement.

Schimel, meanwhile, issued a statement saying DOJ is holding its agents accountable and people shouldn't inject politics into protecting children.

Happ's campaign had no immediate comment.

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