Witness testimony sheds light on complaints against Hortonville Police Chief

Michael Sullivan accused of intimidation, sexism
Posted at 9:29 PM, Dec 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-22 17:39:40-05

HORTONVILLE,WI -- It was a tense hearing in Hortonville Wednesday night over accusations of misconduct and intimidation tactics allegedly committed by the police chief.

Chief Michael Sullivan has been on paid administrative leave since October.

On Wednesday night, the community--which has largely been left in the dark over the accusations until now--heard eyewitness testimony for the first time.

The Hortonville Police Commission now has a lot to process, and it's far from over.

Several witnesses, including a representative of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the Hortonville Police Sergeant, testified tonight under subpoena.

Sgt. Brian Bahr even admitted, when asked by attorneys during his testimony, that he felt uncomfortable being put on the stand in a case focusing on alleged intimidation from Chief Sullivan.

The Village Board President filed a 14-page complaint against Sullivan, accusing him of violating employee rights, and making discriminatory comments.

Evidence and testimony presented tonight included an alleged memo from Chief Sullivan to officers, telling them not to disclose or discuss grievances, which witnesses testified he made them sign.

"The statement specifically here... 'however, if I hear the word 'grievance' mentioned again, that person will be getting disciplined, and you know who you are,' that seems to be a directive from Chief Sullivan to specific officers... to not discuss or file grievances," explains Wisconsin Professional Police Association attorney Andrew Schauer, "and.. employees discussing amongst themselves matters of common concern is called concerted activity, and there are specific statutory protections for employees to be able to do that."

Chief Sullivan is also quoted by witnesses as saying to officers "I'm Caesar, and this is Rome."

Other claims include allegations of derogatory and sexist comments toward female Village leaders.

"The female officer who had been hired came to the first portion of the meeting, and then had left. The chief told us that we needed to be careful about what we were saying because there would be more 'PMS-ing' going on in the department," says Bahr during testimony, which was echoed by other witnesses.

Meanwhile, Sullivan's attorney Greg Gill is calling the investigation a "witch hunt."

During opening statements, Gill admitted to the Commission that Sullivan has made some mistakes, including some off-color comments in the "shop" with cops.

"I think the hearing is going fine. I wish we had a full commission," says Gill, referring to a commissioner who he says stepped down before the hearings began under intense outside pressure, "but, I'm confidant that the law at the end of the day is going to find [Sullivan] innocent."

During cross-examination, Gill used part of the time to call into character the witnesses' objectivity.

Thursday's hearing will include witnesses wishing to defend Sullivan's character.

Sullivan himself is expected to testify.