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STATE CRIME AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Outagamie authorities violated policies by not sounding warning sirens

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An internal sheriff’s department memo said authorities violated Outagamie County policies, by not sounding warning sirens as tornadoes hit early on August seventh. Appleton Post-Crescent Media reported during the weekend about problems with the county’s response to five tornadoes. The storms caused 31-million-dollars in damage in Outagamie County. Public Safety Committee chairman James Duncan released a memo from sheriff’s captain Mike Jobe. It said a severe thunderstorm warning at 12:30 a-m should have triggered the sirens, along with damage reports from a twister in Hortonville just one minute later. On Friday, the committee recommended that County Executive Tom Nelson reprimand Emergency Management Director Julie Loeffelholz. The panel also said the sheriff should tell his dispatchers to sound the sirens if all conditions are met, without waiting for emergency management approval. Nelson said he won’t give out any punishments until giving Loeffelholz a chance to tell her side of the story. He says he wants to avoid a rush to judgment. Some local officials and the National Weather Service said people should not rely on sirens as their only warning, because they’re meant to alert people outside – not folks sleeping in their homes. They suggest that people get weather radios. Duncan says that’s fine, but the county panel is only looking at its own policies on activating the sirens. 

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Despite Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage, couples in the state’s Domestic Partner Registry could soon be eligible for spousal retirement benefits under Social Security. Federal agencies are working on policies for handling same-sex benefits, after the U-S Supreme Court ruling threw out the federal Defense-of-Marriage Act in late June. Both the Social Security Administration and the American Civil Liberties’ Union are encouraging registered same-sex couples to apply as soon as possible for spousal retirement benefits. Carmen Marino of Social Security says the sooner they apply, the more benefits they could get retroactively once the new policies are finally in place. Chris Ahmuty of the ACLU tells the Wisconsin State Journal that not many people know about the possible same-sex benefits – but the group’s about to spread the word. Ahmuty says the state constitutional amendment against gay marriage is not a factor, since Social Security is under federal law. The Social Security Administration recently said the Supreme Court ruling affects at least those in 13 states which allow gay marriages. The agency is urging same-sex couples in all states to apply in case they’re found to be eligible. 

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A state legislative leader says new policies for recovering Medicaid payments from the estates of dead couples are on hold, while they’re being reviewed. A spokeswoman for Republican finance co-chair John Nygren tells the A-P that “concerns were raised” about new recovery measures placed into the state budget. It gives the Health Services agency until the middle of 2015 to submit more exact proposals to the finance panel for approval. Federal law requires states to recover Medicaid payments from a couple’s estate for long-term care, after a surviving spouse dies. The state budget measure goes much farther, tapping marital property owned for five years before a husband-or-wife applies for funding for programs like Family-Care. The state can also seize property from trusts. Also, the new law ends the practice of selling businesses for less than their market values to qualify for long-term care funding – even if the businesses are being sold to their children. State health officials defend the changes, saying that surviving spouses can keep control of marital property for as long as they live. They say more people are setting up trusts to protect assets from legal probate fights to escape the state’s recovery efforts – and the result is that taxpayers are covering more people’s long-term care just so inheritances can be left to others. Family attorneys are concerned that the state is unfairly prohibiting people from leaving inheritances for their children. Eau Claire attorney Peter Grosskopf says more couples may consider divorce, to try and protect at least one spouse’s assets to there’s something left to pass on. 

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Madison Police now say a man killed by officers on Saturday had a knife at the time. Assistant Chief John Davenport said his department was first told that the man cut his wife in the stomach, and he was suicidal. When officers confronted the man, Davenport said they tried to settle him down with a Taser stun gun, but it didn’t work. Officials said the suspect ignored officers’ commands, was approaching them, and was acting aggressively when he was shot. Officials later learned that his wife was not hurt. Police have not said how many officers were involved, or how many shots were fired. Davenport said the affected officers were put on paid leave while the matter is being investigated. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is overlooking the police probe. The suspect’s name was not immediately released. It’s the third time in the last nine months that Madison Police shot-and-killed somebody while on duty. 

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A judge is expected to decide this week whether to let Jeremy Wand withdraw his guilty pleas to burning down his brother’s house in Argyle and killing three kids inside. Visiting Judge Thomas Vale is scheduled to hear arguments Thursday morning on a plea withdrawal. If he rejects it, Wand could be sentenced Thursday afternoon. The 19-year-old Wand said he was pressured by one of his lawyers to accept a plea deal for setting a house fire last September that killed Armin Wand’s three sons, injured Armin’s wife Sharon, and killed her unborn daughter. After his pleas, Sharon Wand recanted her previous statements to police. She now says Jeremy and Armin Wand did not set the fire, although her sister has raised doubts about the validity of Sharon’s change-of-heart. For the moment, Jeremy Wand is convicted of three counts of being a party to first-degree intentional homicide – plus counts of attempted homicide, and felony murder. An attempted homicide count was dropped in the plea deal. Armin Wand is serving three life prison terms plus 105 years for his reported role in the fire. 

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Milwaukee’s health director says a loss of federal funds will cut in half the numbers of homes where lead-based paint will be removed this year. Paul Biedrzycki (bid-zick’-ee) says the timing of the cut is horrible. That’s because a U-W Madison report last week said kids exposed to lead-based paint are three times more likely to be suspended from school by the fourth grade. The study analyzed data in the Milwaukee Public Schools, which found that African-American youngsters are three times as likely as whites to be suspended – and lead paint exposure accounts for 23-percent of the difference. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Wisconsin Partnership Program funded the study. Lead was banned from paint in 1978. Milwaukee officials said 130-thousand homes were built before 1950 and are at risk for causing lead-paint exposure. Biedrzycki said just over 16-thousand of those homes have had cleanups from lead abatement teams. The abatements cost around five-thousand dollars each. Also, Milwaukee has been aggressive in promoting lead tests for children. As a result, Biedrzycki said lead poisoning in children under-6 has dropped from 34-percent in 1997, to just over three-percent today. 

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Authorities near Green Bay expect to say more today about a domestic-related killing over the weekend. Brown County sheriff’s deputies said a woman was fighting with her boyfriend when she shot him at her apartment in Howard early on Saturday. Officials expect to recommend a charge of second-degree intentional homicide. Deputies said there were no apparent reports of domestic incidents in the past which involved the couple. The victim’s name was not immediately released. 

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A former leading voice of Wisconsin’s Democratic Party is due in court September fifth for his third drunk driving offense. Graeme Zielinski was arrested in Jefferson County in early June, and was later charged with a criminal O-W-I misdemeanor. He was also cited for driving a vehicle that was not registered. The 40-year-old Zielinski is a former Milwaukee newspaper reporter. He was let go as the Wisconsin Democrats’ chief spokesman earlier this year, after tweeting what he called comparisons between Republican Governor Scott Walker and Milwaukee serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. 

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Jason Schulte
Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts with his wife and two daughters. 
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