Rock County sheriff’s actions investigated; DA believes he hindered police investigation

Report found sheriff's actions were not criminal
Rock County sheriff’s actions investigated; DA believes he hindered police investigation

The investigation into an underage drinking party in Janesville should have taken hours but instead took days, and the Rock County district attorney said it’s because Sheriff Bob Spoden hindered the investigation.

“As the Janesville Police Department was simply trying to investigate to find out what happened, they ran into, basically, resistance from the families who were being told by the sheriff not to cooperate,” District Attorney David O’Leary said.

News 3’s partner The Gazette first reported that the Janesville Police Department started investigating the August party after reports on social media that there was underage drinking and a young man jumped in a pool and was partially paralyzed. During the investigation, O’Leary said it seemed Spoden told the people at the party they didn’t have to talk to police and said the investigation was unnecessary because nothing criminal happened.

“For him to advise the parents of these kids or the kids themselves, run away, leave a child paralyzed, floating in a pool and don’t cooperate with law enforcement is inappropriate,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary said he became so concerned with Spoden’s actions that he asked the state Department of Justice to also investigate , so the investigation would be impartial.

“I asked them to look at the matter to make sure that the investigation would be objective and that even the appearance of impropriety would not be there,” O’Leary said.

According to the state’s report, “the reason for the request was documented instances of interference in the investigation by the Rock County Sheriff, Robert Spoden, whose son was in attendance at the party.”

The state reviewed the sheriff’s actions to see if there was a possibility of criminal misconduct in public office .

After reviewing the case, an assistant attorney general found the sheriff had not committed a crime by inserting himself into the Janesville Police Department’s investigation of the underage drinking party, according to documents The Gazette obtained .

“It’s not illegal to advise people to not cooperate police, but based on his position, those involved and the fact that he was telling another agency investigating the matter that they shouldn’t be investigating these people because of who they were, was inappropriate,” O’Leary said.

Specifically, the state report said Spoden’s actions “did not meet the criteria for Misconduct in Public Office because Sheriff Spoden did not have authority over the law enforcement officers conducting the investigation.”

Spoden did not return News 3’s calls or texts for comment. His office said he was on vacation. He did tell The Gazette he did nothing wrong and was acting as a concerned father and citizen, trying to protect the friends of the injured teen.

O’Leary said the Janesville Police Department found no criminal charges during their investigation of the underage drinking party, but three teens were given citations related to underage drinking.

O’Leary said he was working with the teens’ attorneys and giving the teens an opportunity to do diversion program instead of charging them.

“I don’t really think it’s appropriate for me to fully prosecute those individuals when those are the three individuals who were truthful during the investigation when other individuals refused to cooperate or were not truthful and because of that escaped prosecution,” O’Leary said.