June 18th, 2024

Wisconsin warden jailed hours ahead of news conference on prison death investigations

By Todd Richmond, The Associated Press on June 5, 2024.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Wisconsin prison warden was jailed Wednesday just hours before a scheduled news where officials planned to discuss the findings of investigations into multiple deaths at his facility.

Online jail records indicate that Waupun Correctional Institution Warden Randall Hepp was booked into the Dodge County Jail around 8:20 a.m. The records didn’t offer further details on why he was jailed or what charges he might face. Online court records didn’t show any charges filed against him as of mid-morning Wednesday.

But state Sen. Van Wanggaard told The Associated Press that the warden and numerous other people will be arrested and charged with crimes related to their work at the prison. Wanggaard said he was briefed on the developments Tuesday by the secretary of the state Department of Corrections. Wanggaard is chairman of the state Senate committee that oversees prisons.

Wanggaard said he didn’t have details on how many people would be charged, or what the charges would be, other than there would be felonies charged.

Jail Sgt. Chad Riter said that Hepp’s attorney had visited him, but Riter did not know the attorney’s name. Riter didn’t immediately return a follow-up message inquiring if a reporter could speak with Riter and asking why he was booked into the jail.

Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt planned to hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss investigations his agency has launched into multiple inmate deaths at Waupun.

Four inmates have died at Waupun since June 2023, when Dean Hoffman killed himself in solitary confinement. His daughter filed a federal lawsuit in February alleging that prison officials failed to provide him with adequate mental health care and medications.

Tyshun Lemons and Cameron Williams were both found dead at the facility in October. Dodge County Medical Examiner PJ Schoebel said Lemons overdosed on acetyl fentanyl, a potent opioid painkiller, and Williams died of a stroke.

Donald Maier was found dead at the prison in February. Authorities have not released any details in that death.

The state Department of Corrections imposed a lockdown at Waupun, and at prisons in Green Bay and Stanley last year due to a shortage of guards.

Waupun inmates filed a federal lawsuit in October alleging the the conditions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. That lawsuit is still pending.

Stanley resumed normal operations in November. Movement restrictions have eased at Waupun and Green Bay, but as of the department’s latest update in April, in-person visitation had not resumed at Waupun and recreation time was still limited. Prisoners were being allowed to make phone calls and text using electronic tablets, however.

Waupun’s problems don’t end there. Gov. Tony Evers’ office said in March that federal investigators were probing a smuggling ring involving prison employees.

Hepp announced on May 28 that he planned to retire at the end of June and that Deputy Warden Brad Mlodzik will take over.

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