As Lakeland Union High School’s new school resource officer, Minocqua police officer William Trojan will be expected to help maintain discipline in the school, but, as it turns out, he’s had trouble maintaining discipline in his own job, having been reprimanded multiple times over the past decade, and as recently as late 2011.
Since 2002, in fact, Trojan has been disciplined 13 times for various offenses. The Times obtained the disciplinary records through an open records request to the Minocqua police department.
Only 12 of the disciplinary actions remain in the file, however. Another infraction involving an incident at Otto’s – arguably the most serious – was removed from the file. However, The Times has previously reported the details of the incident, and this week Minocqua town clerk Roben Haggart confirmed the record’s removal (see related story).
In addition, in 2009, Trojan, who will carry a firearm in the high school, was involved in an event in which he tasered a suspected suicidal man in the back.
Despite the pattern of his record, Minocqua police chief Andy Gee, who made the final recommendation to put Trojan in the position, said he is confident of Trojan’s ability to perform in a sensitive environment such as the high school.
“Officer Trojan is a valuable member of our department, and he goes out for calls for service on a daily basis, frequently with limited direct supervisions,” Gee said. “Ninety-nine out of 100 times, he handles the situation as professionally as any one of our officers, myself included. I would not put someone in the school who is not a valuable resource for our department.”
Gee said the selection process was rigorous. For one thing, Trojan not only had to write an essay about working in the position but went through an interview panel that included department officer David Jaeger as well as LUHS principal Jim Bouche and assistant principal Justin Szews. Gee also interviewed Trojan, and then took his recommendation to the town board, while Bouche presented it to LUHS district administrator Todd Kleinhans.
As for the discipline incidents, Gee said it was key that they occurred over the course of many years.
“You look at the nature of the discipline and you look at the time and distance from the various disciplines, and at the seriousness of the discipline, and, as you can see, officer Trojan has grown as an employee through those 10 years,” Gee said. “You may still have some discipline but the last discipline was that he backed his squad car into a garage door.”
Other infractions involved vehicle accidents as well, the chief said.
“Where you may have had issues before with – I hesitate to talk about personnel decisions that were made and I don’t have a background about some of these – but you have to look at the seriousness of what is being alleged and what was disciplined,” Gee said.
Crashes and more
Some of Trojan’s mishaps have indeed come in the form of various wrecks, including the most recent incident in 2011, all at a hefty expense to taxpayers.
In the garage incident, on Aug. 31, 2011, Trojan put his squad car in reverse and backed into a closed police garage door, causing approximately $680 in damage to the door.
According to the discipline report, Trojan attributed the accident to “being used to pulling forward out of the garage bays rather than backing out of the garage bays.” He also indicated he did not hear warning tones for reverse sensors.
In his report, Gee wrote that “employees are expected to watch where they are driving Department vehicles to prevent crashing.” He issued a documented oral reprimand.
Then, in 2010, Trojan received a written reprimand for a July 29, 2010, episode involving Lakeland Times general manager Heather Holmes as she took photographs at a news scene.
Trojan had responded to reports of a natural gas leak on Chicago Ave., according to the discipline report. Holmes also went to the scene to take photographs, which drew Trojan’s attention.
“During the course of this assignment, P.O. Trojan confronted Heather Holmes on at least two, possibly three occasions while she was engaged in her employment as a member of the press working for The Lakeland Times,” Gee wrote.
As Gee describes it, the first confrontation occurred as Holmes approached cones that Trojan had set up as barriers at the scene. By Trojan’s own admission, Gee wrote, Trojan told her to stay back from the scene, that she had gotten her pictures and didn’t need to get any closer.
According to Holmes, Gee continued, that occurred on two separate occasions.
“As she was approaching, he informed her that she had taken enough photos,” Gee wrote. “This led to a conversation and demonstration as to how many photos were actually taken. When Holmes later approached the cones, he informed her that she was close enough.”
But Trojan had no legal authority to confront the press to determine whether photos had been taken, Gee stated, or to decide how many were enough. Not only did he not have the legal authority to make such a determination, the incident took him away from his assigned duty, Gee wrote.
“There is an expectation that when a police officer gives a directive to a member of the public, the public needs to follow the directive,” Gee wrote. “For that to happen, there is also an expectation that Police Officers know their scope of authority and only give directives that fall within their legal scope of authority.”
As Gee put it, Trojan couldn’t articulate his legal authority to confront Holmes because he had no legal authority to confront her.
I’ll just let them do what they want
But the confrontation didn’t stop there.
Holmes next moved away from the cones and climbed atop her own “legally parked” vehicle to take additional photographs. That prompted Trojan to confront her again, this time asking her if she indeed owned the vehicle.
“In light of the previous confrontation over the photographs and her proximity to the scene, Holmes took this as a directive to get off of her vehicle,” Gee wrote.
Holmes told Trojan the vehicle was hers and told him he could run the registration, Gee stated, though Trojan did not do so.
“P.O. Trojan failed to follow through on this despite his explanation for confronting Holmes on the vehicle was to ensure that she was not standing on someone else’s van,” Gee wrote.
Gee wrote that, as a police officer, Trojan had every right to verify a person’s ownership of a vehicle if that person might be on another’s vehicle and possibly damaging it, and the most efficient way to do that would be to verify the identity of the person and compare it to the registration. That was especially so in this instance, Gee stated, because Trojan said he did not know who Holmes was and because Holmes had given him permission to run the plate.
“P.O. Trojan stated that he didn’t know who Holmes was and that he didn’t know her vehicle, but was perfectly willing to accept her verbal statement as proof that she was standing on and possibly damaging her own vehicle,” Gee wrote.
Gee said he thought there were several possible explanations for Trojan’s failure to follow through on the investigation.
“He was either being negligent in his duties as a police officer to prevent and stop criminal activity or he knew that Holmes was the owner of the vehicle that she was standing on and therefore, he had no legal authority to confront her on it,” he wrote.
In the end, Gee said he found it hard to believe Trojan did not know Holmes.
“P. O. Trojan has been employed by the Minocqua Police Department since 2001,” he wrote. “Holmes is a long-time employee of The Lakeland Times and has been at many news scenes in Minocqua. P. O. Trojan should know who she is. P. O. Trojan has an obligation to know the other professionals that he may have contact with in the course of his duties.”
On the one hand, Gee said about the entire incident, Trojan was acting when he had no authority to do so and failing to act when he did.
“In this case, P. O. Trojan took action that he had no legal authority to take and he failed to take action where he had the legal authority and should have been able to articulate his legal authority based on his nearly ten years of law enforcement training and experience.”
Gee took issue with Trojan’s attitude as well, when Trojan told the chief he would “just let them do what they want to then.”
Wrong answer, Gee replied.
“The answer to this is not to ‘just let them do what they want,’” he wrote. “The answer is to know what your legal scope of authority is and to not interfere with people who are not operating outside of the laws that you have the legal scope of authority to enforce.”
This week, Gee walked back his written statements that officers are expected to “know their scope of authority and only give directives that fall within their legal scope of authority” and that Trojan should be able to articulate that authority “based on his nearly ten years of law enforcement training and experience.”
“It was a minor misconduct,” he said of the incident. “Yes, understand your legal scope of authority, but there is a learning process. There’s a training process within the discipline process. If an employee is engaged in a misconduct, it’s not necessarily a willful or malicious misconduct. Some of it may be, ‘I don’t know what my role and authority is. I don’t know what my job duties are in a particular case.’ And it’s up to the employer to make sure that person knows that and trains that and that has been part of my process. I’ve been here five years now and doing very active training and review of employees. Nobody can come into this job expecting to know the ins and outs of the legal system and having all the people skills necessary to do this job perfectly every single time.”
Costly and disobedient
Other of Trojan’s many violations through the years have not involved members of the public, but some have been costly, while others have amounted to insubordination.
As The Times has reported previously, on Aug. 1, 2009, Trojan crashed a department squad car into a light pole at The Waters of Minocqua. The damage to the squad car amounted to $4,876.18. The estimate of damage at The Waters was $6,115.
Gee suspended Trojan for a day for inattentive and careless driving.
Also in 2009, Trojan was again suspended, this time for insubordination.
Specifically, in August, Trojan was found to have left the Minocqua jurisdiction while on duty to obtain a meal from Jr. Salsa’s restaurant in violation of Gee’s April 2008 written directive not to leave the jurisdiction while on duty to pick up food.
During the investigation, Gee wrote, Trojan acknowledged that he was aware of the directive and he conceded he remembered a verbal conversation with the chief in which Gee told him directly that he could not go to Jr. Salsa’s for food while on duty.
“P. O. Trojan’s explanation for going to Jr. Salsa’s despite the directive was that he had a craving for Jr. Salsa’s and that it is good Mexican,” Gee wrote. “He also stated that he didn’t think it was that big of a deal as there was still another officer in Town during his absence.”
That suspension was combined with yet another incidence of insubordination, also in August of 2009.
In this case, Gee sent Trojan an email directing him to make his portable radio available Aug. 25 for an upgrade during regular business hours. When Aug. 25 came, however, Trojan was the only officer receiving the email whose radio was not available to the technician. Trojan’s explanation was that he “just forgot.”
Also in 2009, Gee issued Trojan a written reprimand for failing to complete or turn in his activity report by the assigned date documenting traffic stops and contacts during the Click It or Ticket Campaign.
Then, in July 2008, Trojan was issued a documented oral reprimand for failure to complete two case files despite two verbal directives from the chief. At the time of the oral reprimand, Gee again directed Trojan to complete the case files because they had been outstanding for a month.
However, though Trojan continued to work until 11 that night, about two hours after being told to complete the files, and though he did not leave the building to respond to any calls, Trojan still did not complete the files. That netted him a written reprimand.
Episodes of speeding
Some reprimands resulted from actions directly affecting public safety. For instance, as this newspaper has previously reported, Trojan was verbally warned in 2005 about disobeying traffic laws when backing up other officers in non-emergency situations.
This time, on May 5, 2005, the complaint came from a fellow police officer, Woodruff officer William Nichols. Minocqua Sgt. Nathan Ferris took the complaint.
“On May 5 I was advised by Woodruff Officer Nichols about a concern he had regarding Officer Trojan’s operation of his squad car,” Ferris wrote in his report.
The event occurred as Ferris and officer Brad Peterson were attempting to catch up to a speeding, errant vehicle traveling northbound on Hwy. 51. The officers activated their lights and siren and notified dispatch of their attempt to catch the car.
They finally stopped the vehicle by Fox Fire campground and soon notified dispatch they were not in any trouble. Trojan arrived at the scene as Ferris was writing out a citation.
Shortly thereafter, Ferris said he was called to William Nichols’ dive shop, where Nichols told Ferris he had been cut off by Trojan near River Valley Bank.
“He stated that Squad #3 (Trojan) was driving very quickly with its lights and siren off and was zigzagging in and out traffic,” Ferris wrote. “Nichols estimated that Squad #3 changed lanes to go around vehicles approximately five times between River Valley and Hwy. 47.”
And, Ferris wrote, Nichols said he tried to pace Trojan’s squad and paced it at approximately 50 miles per hour until the squad was slowed by heavy traffic.
“I was told that Squad #3 used the right lane of traffic to pass two school busses which were operating in the left lane,” Ferris stated.
Trojan subsequently denied zigzagging around vehicles, Ferris wrote. Trojan also said traffic was light, and that he changed lanes only three times, an estimate Ferris said Trojan then changed to four times.
Ferris said Trojan told him he went around the school busses on the right because he knew they would be turning left at the lights at Hwys. 51 and 47.
Trojan denied driving too aggressively, Ferris stated, and he again denied driving too fast when he discussed the complaint with the police chief Norbert “Mac” McMahon.
In his summary, McMahon says he reminded Trojan that two officers were already on the scene, and no real need for additional personnel was needed for a traffic stop: “Trojan was reminded of his past episode with speed and the consequences which resulted.”
The past episode the chief was referring occurred on Sept 29, 2002, when Trojan lost control of his squad car and went into a ditch. After maintaining power in an effort to drive out of the ditch, he traveled through a swampy area, a small creek and over a culvert and through more swampy area before making a right turn and crashing into some small trees.
According to Trojan’s account in police documents, the accident happened when he swerved his car to avoid a deer. The time was shortly after midnight.
Another officer investigated the scene later in the day and “found that there was no marks on the blacktop to indicate that Officer Trojan had attempted to avoid a deer. However, there were indications that Trojan had been traveling at a speed too fast for the curve that is prior to where Trojan went off the road.”
The state patrol also investigated, according to the officer.
“(The state trooper’s) initial response after looking at the squad and the crash site was that Officer Trojan has been going too fast to make the curve and lost control,” the report stated. The officer did cite the preliminary nature of the state patrol findings, saying its officers would take a statement and further review the scene and reports.
In an Oct. 10, 2002, meeting about the accident, McMahon wrote that Trojan still maintained that a deer ran in front of him. McMahon said he pointed out that no deer tracks had been found alongside the highway.
“I went on to state that I had visited the scene, and traveled it at the reported speed that he (Trojan) estimated he was traveling at (45 mph),” McMahon wrote. “I determined that even 45 mph in my estimation would be too fast for that series of curves, and that I believed he was going faster than 45 mph.”
McMahon also cited the state patrol accident report, which indicated a speed too fast for conditions. The chief then extended Trojan’s probationary period by six months.
On Dec. 16, 2002, McMahon received yet another complaint about Trojan, this time for “spending a great deal of time at a local hotel.” The call came from a citizen who said the citizen was with a group of people who had been in the lounge area of The Waters on Dec. 14, 2002.
“The caller went on to state that an Officer of the Minocqua Police Department entered the lounge area and proceeded to the bar,” McMahon wrote in a report. “At the bar, the officer engaged the bartender in conversation, which was described as less than professional.”
The caller said the officer never conducted a bar check and never looked at anyone else in the bar. Trojan allegedly continued his conversation for more than a half-hour.
At one point, the caller said the group he was with left the bar to go home, only to find Trojan’s squad car sitting under the canopy outside with the engine running.
“They felt that the conduct exhibited by Officer Trojan was in their opinion, very unprofessional and gave the appearance that ‘I’m a cop and I can do anything I want,’” McMahon summarized.
McMahon says he subsequently spoke with Trojan about the complaint, but Trojan maintained his visit to The Waters was legitimate.
“Spoke with Officer Trojan in regards to complaint, he admits to being at the Waters in the bar area but states he was doing a bar check,” McMahon wrote. “When asked about the length of his stay, Trojan said he didn’t think he was there that long.”
McMahon issued a verbal warning for loitering.
Finally, in February 2004, Sgt. Nathan Ferris orally reprimanded Trojan for violating Ferris’s order not to use the police department garage bays and water supply to wash his personal vehicle while on duty.
Trojan’s conduct has also been questioned in other cases that have not led to disciplinary actions.
In 2005, the officer tasered a reportedly suicidal person in the back as the subject walked away from the officer and attempted to get into a truck.
The subject was not suspected of committing any crime. He had told Trojan to leave him alone and disobeyed Trojan’s order to not get back into the vehicle, according to a police report. Trojan said he feared the subject might have had a firearm in the truck.
The action appears to have violated state guidelines concerning the use of Tasers. The guidelines in place at the time said Tasers should be used only to overcome active resistance to police officers, resistance that must include the physical assault of, and the threat of bodily harm to, those officers.
That means police generally could not use electronic control devices on individuals running away on foot, or on handcuffed subjects, or to coerce or intimidate those offering only passive resistance to an officer’s commands.
Passive resistance occurs when a subject refuses to comply with a law enforcement officer’s commands – as in this case – but does not attempt to engage in physical action likely to cause bodily harm to the officer or to another person.
The state has also stressed the importance of recognizing “excited delirium,” a medical phenomenon it said had recently been recognized as a cause of death for subjects in police custody. It is also considered to be a potentially “substantial contributor” to deaths of people whom police have tasered.
Per school policy, Trojan does not carry a Taser in the school, a position Gee says he doesn’t necessarily agree with. Gee would also not comment on the tasering incident.
“I can’t comment on personnel matters that I wasn’t involved in,” he said. “I can’t say that he was in violation. I can’t say that he was not.”
But Gee was steadfast that the multitude of disciplinary actions has helped Trojan become an excellent officer.
“My role as a department head is to help employees become successful employees,” he said. “It’s not to discipline for the purpose of dismissal. It’s to build and grow employees into the best professionals that we can possibly have.”
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.