Nine individuals, including a former Wisconsin warden, face charges following a probe into the deaths of inmates.

Nine individuals, including the former warden, have been charged in relation to the deaths of two inmates at a maximum-security prison in Wisconsin. One of the inmates was determined to be a victim of homicide. The prison has had a history of issues and controversies.

On Wednesday, law enforcement officials arrested a group of nine individuals, eight of whom are now facing charges of felony inmate abuse. One of the individuals arrested was Randall Hepp, the former warden of Waupun Correctional Institution located approximately 70 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Hepp has been charged with misconduct in public office.

Amid intense scrutiny over in-custody deaths that occurred between June 2023 and February 2024, and a federal investigation into a suspected smuggling conspiracy, Hepp retired from the state agency last week. On the same day, Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt and other officials disclosed new information about the death investigations of Dean Hoffmann, 60; Tyshun Lemons, 30; Cameron Williams, 24; and Donald W. Maier, 62, leading to arrests.

Schmidt expressed his disapproval of the correctional system in the state. He highlighted the unfortunate incidents involving Williams and Maier, where staff only retrieved their bodies from their cells hours after their death. Additionally, Maier had to cope with having his water supply shut off in his cell periodically, which resulted in him missing meals. There were also instances where correctional staff failed to properly document cell checks, adding to the growing concerns about the state’s correctional system.

Prior to Wednesday, little information had been made available regarding the circumstances surrounding Maier’s death. It was only then that the public was informed of her cause and manner of death.

According to the Dodge County Medical Examiner, PJ Schoebel, the cause of Hoffmann’s death was suicide, while Lemons passed away due to an accidental fentanyl overdose. Williams, on the other hand, suffered from a rare stroke that led to their demise.

During a press conference, Schmidt expressed his outrage at the lack of concern for human safety shown in the investigations, stating that arrests have already been made and must continue. He emphasized the need for accountability among state employees for both their actions and inactions. As sheriff, Schmidt was deeply troubled by the mistreatment and subsequent deaths of these men.

Dodge County sheriff criticizes state Department of Corrections

Schmidt noted that the information presented during the briefing had left Secretary Carr visibly agitated, and rightfully so. However, instead of taking personal responsibility, he chose to shift the blame elsewhere. Schmidt emphasized the need for accountability from the top down, which was clearly lacking in this situation.

Schmidt remembered that Carr resigned from the agency three days after their conversation. “I don’t think it was a coincidence,” Schmidt said.

Last week, Schmidt engaged in a fruitful discussion with Jared Hoy, the recently-appointed Secretary of the Department of Corrections. According to a letter acquired by the Journal Sentinel, Hoy urged the sheriff to refrain from wrapping up the investigation.

Hoy wrote that the department’s internal investigation is still ongoing and will likely benefit from the information that will be shared today. This includes the final Medical Examiner’s reports on the cause of death for Cameron Williams and Donald Maier. The department has yet to receive these reports.

“I urge you to share the findings that you will present today with the department without any delay. It is essential that the information is disseminated as soon as possible.”

According to Hoy, internal investigations are ongoing and over 20 employees from the State Department of Corrections are currently under investigation. He further added that additional individuals may also be placed on administrative leave as the investigations progress.

Tension growing over conditions at Waupun Correctional Institution

According to a high-ranking official in Gov. Tony Evers’ administration, the recent announcement by the Dodge County Sheriff that his investigation is complete came as a surprise. This is because the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is still conducting internal reviews related to the same matter.

As of June 2023, at least 16 employees of the state Department of Corrections have faced disciplinary action, with seven currently on administrative leave and nine either terminated or resigned from their positions. However, none of these individuals are implicated in the latest charges, as confirmed by a reliable source with inside knowledge of the situation.

After the news conference, Evers issued a statement requesting that the sheriff’s investigation stay open whilst the state Department of Corrections’ internal investigations and federal law enforcement investigations continue.

Governor Evers emphasized the need for accountability and justice, stating that both internal and law enforcement investigations should persist until they are exhaustively and thoroughly completed. He asserted, “There must be accountability and justice,” and indicated that these values demand a comprehensive investigation.

On Wednesday, the state Legislature’s Republican lawmakers stated that further examination of the Evers administration was necessary in light of the sheriff’s findings.

In a statement, Reps. Mark Born of Beaver Dam and Michael Schraa of Oshkosh expressed their deep concern regarding the conclusions drawn from this investigation. They highlighted the lack of leadership exhibited by Governor Tony Evers and the state Department of Corrections, which has led to the neglect of the basic safety and constitutional rights of inmates in the state.

According to Wisconsin state Sen. Van Wanggaard, the current findings of the investigation emphasize the urgency of shutting down the Waupun facility.

According to a statement, Waupun has witnessed avoidable deaths in prisons, widespread drug and contraband trade, and a year-long lockdown. Although the warden is under arrest, the responsibility does not end there. The statement emphasizes that Tony Evers cannot ignore the situation any longer.

A suspected drug and cell phone smuggling ring by the staff at Waupun prompted a federal investigation. As a result, 11 state employees were put on administrative leave, and five of them either resigned or were fired.

Four deaths at Waupun over eight months

According to the Journal Sentinel, the deaths of Hoffmann and Williams have been thoroughly investigated through in-depth inquiries. The final weeks of their lives have been reconstructed using information from both prisoners and family members.

According to the Journal Sentinel, inmates who shared a unit with Williams have revealed that their desperate cries for assistance were completely ignored in the days preceding his untimely death. One fellow prisoner reported that Williams’ screams were so piercing that they were enough to send shivers down one’s spine, but still, no one came to his aid.

The Department of Corrections and prison officials are facing a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of Williams. The lawsuit alleges that his constitutional rights, which protect against cruel and unusual treatment, were violated.

Upon reviewing the records provided by Hoffmann’s family, the Journal Sentinel discovered that the prison staff neglected to administer his prescribed bipolar and antidepressant medications over 75% of the time in the 10 weeks leading up to his tragic suicide.

The Department of Corrections is facing a lawsuit filed by Hoffmann’s family in February, accusing them of violating his civil rights in the months prior to his death.

The loved ones of Lemons, who lost his life due to an unintended fentanyl overdose, have raised concerns regarding the path that led to the drugs responsible for his death entering the high-security prison.

According to data provided by the state, fatal drug overdoses claimed the lives of 10 individuals in Wisconsin prisons from 2018 to mid-2022.

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MBS Staff
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