Jarrod Fenner, a 21-year veteran deputy with the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office is running for sheriff as an independent on November 8, 2022. He’s challenging the current Sheriff, Cory Roeseler, a Republican who was appointed by former Governor Scott Walker in 2017 to fill a vacancy. Roeseler was then elected to a four-year term in 2018.
Just as Fenner was gearing up for his campaign, he found himself the subject of an internal investigation into “inaccurate and untruthful documentation,” that would lead to his resignation on July 1, 2022, in lieu of termination.
Fenner, who began his law enforcement career in 1997 as a part-time officer for the Kohler Police Department, followed by 21 years as a deputy for the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office, admits he made some mistakes on the job. But he feels he’s being targeted because he is running for sheriff.
Fenner was initially investigated for not following up on a complaint by a school bus operator that an elderly Kohler resident hadn’t stopped for the bus’s flashing lights. An investigation also found contract logs completed by Fenner that showed untruthful reporting. Deputies complete these logs for routine patrols they are required to conduct in several county municipalities that contract with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.
Fenner told The Kohler Villager via email, “Speaking with countless department employees it has become apparent the Sheriff is using his position to intimidate his employees. Several employees have expressed concern for showing public support for me as a candidate.”
Retired deputies have commented on Fenner’s campaign Facebook page, saying that discrepancies with the contract logs are common. One former deputy said, “Many deputies would put themselves on ‘contract’ and watch TV at the fire department the entire time. This is no secret at the department, but if you are a ‘good ol’ boy,’ it’s OK. If you upset the wrong person, an investigation is conducted and ultimately forced to resign.” He said years ago when Cory Roeseler was a Sheboygan City alderman, another alderman who was a deputy was verbal about his conflicting views with Roeseler. That deputy also found himself forced to resign for “falsifying documents.”
Sheriff Roeseler balked at Fenner’s assertion that he was being targeted for running against him for sheriff, accusing him of trying to “play the victim.” Roeseler stated on his Cory for Sheriff Facebook page, “When I was first informed that my opponent may have falsified an official report at the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office, we knew that even though we utilized an outside agency to handle the investigation, that my opponent would try to play the victim because he was getting signatures to run for Sheriff.”
Though the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office was asked to investigate to avoid a conflict of interest by Roeseler, public documents show that most of the investigating appears to have been done by the sheriff’s second-in-command, Captain Matthew Spence, who Fenner called Roeseler’s “henchman.” Fenner said on his Fenner for Sheriff Facebook page that it’s “common knowledge” that Roeseler planned to serve as sheriff for two more years if re-elected, before handing the reins over to Spence to be appointed sheriff for two years.
According to an investigative document, Captain Spence conducted an extensive investigation of the school bus complaint before handing it over to Fond du Lac County. The Fond du Lac investigator went on to find seven additional false reports from a random sampling of contract logs, then completed the investigation. But Roeseler told The Review that his department then looked for more contract logs containing false reports, so he could bring an exact number to local board meetings. They found 43 total hours of patrol work affected by false reports.
Per Wisconsin statutes, government personnel issues are typically discussed in closed session at local public board meetings. Members of the public and media must leave the room during closed sessions. Roeseler apparently wasn’t in closed session at one public board meeting where he reported to board members that one of his deputies had misreported records, because The Review reported on it while covering the meeting. It’s unknown whether this was a violation of state statute. Fenner’s name wasn’t mentioned during the report. But the incident was now public, and The Review followed up on the story when Fenner resigned.
Though the sheriff denies the investigation was meant to smear Fenner for running against him, the timeline of the investigation does appear to coincide with Fenner’s campaign plans.
April 8, 2022. Fenner said he began receiving messages that his fennerforsheriff.com website had been discovered by members of the Sheriff’s Office. He said on his Facebook page that he’s unsure how the website was discovered since he hadn’t announced his candidacy at that point. The Kohler Villager can verify the website went live in April, though the exact day can’t be verified. A query on whois.com, a public database of domain names, shows that the domain fennerforsheriff.com was purchased in January 2022.
April 12, 2022. According to Fenner, the Sheriff’s department Spillman records show that an internal investigation against him began on this date.
April 15, 2022. Fenner officially announced that he was running for Sheriff.
April 18, 2022. Fenner said he was confronted by a visibly upset and argumentative Sheriff Roeseler in the lobby of the Sheriff’s Office building. Fenner said Roeseler demanded to know why he wasn’t told of Fenner’s intention to run for sheriff, and that it was disrespectful to not inform him. Fenner said he chose not to engage him and walked away, due to agency policies that forbid discussing politics while on duty.
April 21, 2022, Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Captain Matthew Spence investigated a February, 2022 school bus operator’s complaint that Fenner had handled.
April 30, 2022: Fenner held his “Fenner for Sheriff” kick-off party.
May 4, 2022: Fenner was walked out of the Sheriff’s Office and was placed on administrative leave with pay, after an internal investigation found discrepancies in his handling of the February school bus driver complaint and logging of patrol work.
May 11, 2022: Fenner was sat down for a two-hour recorded interrogation by a lieutenant from the Fond du Lac Sheriff’s Office, who was asked to conduct the investigation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest by Sheriff Roeseler.
According to investigative documents, on April 21, 2022, Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Captain Matthew Spence queried all open and active cases involving the school bus operator who had filed the complaint against the Kohler resident. There is no indication in the document as to what prompted Captain Spence to do this. The query resulted in identifying one active case that was assigned to Deputy Jarrod Fenner on February 4, 2022. Spence saw that Fenner had cleared the incident, noting that additional follow-up was needed, so Spence e-mailed a Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant and two sergeants requesting that they ask Fenner why he hadn’t completed a follow-up for the investigation. The sergeant emailed Spence the next day, Saturday, informing him that Fenner said he would type a supplemental narrative and clear the investigation. On Monday, Spence asked Fenner at roll call where the documentation was, and Fenner replied that he hadn’t gotten to it yet. He completed the documentation after roll call, stating that he had attempted to contact the registered owner of the vehicle on a couple of occasions, and was unable to contact him both at his residence and via the phone. He stated that since there was no violation and felt it was a teachable moment, he didn’t plan to attempt further contact.
Spence then took the following actions:
- Reviewed the video of the bus incident
- Queried a vehicle locator log to see if Fenner traveled to the home of the suspect to talk to him
- Had the county IT department query all agency VOIP phones for the suspect’s phone number to see if he had been contacted by Fenner
- Requested records for a department-issued phone assigned to Fenner to see if he attempted to call the suspect with that phone
After all of those efforts found no evidence that Fenner contacted the elderly suspect, the investigation was turned over to Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office due to “the nature and gravity of the investigation,” according to the investigative document.
The document says, “Spence reviewed the video which would suggest that some enforcement action should be taken, whether a written warning or citation. Furthermore, given the age of the registered owner it would be prudent to determine if driver behavioral conditions could have attributed to the ability to recognize the school bus or the necessity to stop.”
The Kohler Villager reached out to Fenner via email to ask why he determined there was no violation, and he responded, “From the time the stop sign on the bus was fully extended, until the time the vehicle passed, was between 2.7 and 3.2 seconds when I timed it. Being a trained accident re-constructionist, I am aware the average reaction time for drivers is between 1 and 1.5 seconds. In looking at the registration of the vehicle, the owners were elderly. This will add .5 to 1 second to their reaction time. So in my opinion, their reaction time would have been between 1.5 and 2 seconds. The speed limit was 35 mph, maybe 40, which doesn’t matter. The law states to stop for a school bus only if you can do so safely. I do not believe you can stop a car safely in 1.5 seconds or less. This is why I do not believe there was a violation.”
Fenner told The Kohler Villager, “If Spence truly believes there was a violation, he has the authority to write the citation to the operator or the registered owner of the vehicle. He never did, nor asked another deputy to do so.”
Further investigation by a Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant discovered that Fenner had also neglected to accurately report patrol activities for six County municipalities that contract with the Sheriff’s Office. Some of the infractions included Fenner documenting that he had conducted radar on a certain road when the closest he got to that road within one hour was 3/10 of a mile; conducting stop sign checks for 10 minutes in an area he was never at; or patrolling parks he never entered. GPS was used to track where Fenner had traveled, to compare with what he wrote in his logs.
When Fenner was asked during the interrogation why he misreported his activities, most of his answers were “I don’t know.” (During the interrogation, Fenner was represented by a Wisconsin Professional Police Association Business Agent and Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office Union President). Fenner acknowledged to the investigator that he made mistakes, and took responsibility for them. He said he felt it was a “coachable” situation, but not worthy of ending his career. When asked if his actions violated several performance and conduct policies, he answered “yes.
Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski then reviewed the internal investigation and notified Roeseler that he believed the facts of the investigation needed to be shared as Brady evidence with every defense attorney and/or defendant in any case where Deputy Fenner is involved. Urmanski issued what is referred to as a “Brady letter.” For law enforcement officers, getting on a Brady list can be a career-ender, because their credibility can be called into question when they take the witness stand in trials for suspects they may have investigated or arrested.
The investigator from the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office concluded that due to the untruthful reports, Fenner would no longer be able to perform an essential job function and their agency would have terminated Fenner’s employment if he worked for them. Fenner then resigned in lieu of termination.
Fenner said he is still running for sheriff. From the beginning, his campaign slogan has been, “Keeping politics out of policing,” and states on his fennerforsheriff.com campaign website that he believes the Sheriff has lost his connection with the community and has lost touch with his employees. Fenner states on his website that Sheboygan County’s citizens and its visitors are a diverse group who offer a vast amount of information, knowledge, and ideas that contribute toward law enforcement better serving those they are sworn to serve and protect. If elected Sheriff, Fenner said it would be his priority to “reach out to the county’s population, building better relationships, to better serve its citizens.”
I emailed Fenner asking him to expound on that statement more. He said, “As you are aware, Sheboygan County has a diverse population in many aspects. Each citizen and visitor to Sheboygan County wants to feel safe and secure in their lives, leisure, and travel. This is a core mission of the sheriff’s office, but these populations also have different needs to achieve that safety and security. The sheriff’s office also needs to work with communities to identify those needs and respond in kind. I feel the department’s mission is safety, security, and quality of life for all living and visiting Sheboygan County.”
He went on to say that after working for the Sheriff’s Office for over twenty years, and under Sheriff Roeseler for almost six years, and before that as Captain of Patrol, He feels the sheriff “has had very little interest in seeking out community leaders from our diverse population, asking for their needs, and trying to answer those needs in any way. The only time the department, or community, sees Sheriff Roeseler reaching out to the community he serves is during an election year, when it would benefit him.”
Fenner said the sheriff has been absent at the department over the past few years, and unavailable to employees, especially the young new deputies. He said Roeseler’s main focus has always seemed to be on traffic enforcement. “He put no emphasis on other activities an officer may do during their shift, such as community meetings or the simple task of stopping at an event to speak with those in attendance. When an officer received their annual employment review, the main emphasis was on the amount of traffic stops and traffic citations that officer issued for the year, and was always told to do more. This was regardless of any other activities an officer was involved in that previous year. There is much more to law enforcement than an officer parking on the highway, writing traffic citations all day. If elected Sheriff, I would meet with each employee and find their strengths, empowering them to use those strengths to make a strong department within our community.”
“When I decided to run for Sheriff of Sheboygan County, I had the best of intentions, seeing a need in the community and department for better leadership in that position,” Fenner said. “As I have stated, I wanted to better bridge the gap between the Sheriff and department employees, and the department and the community it serves. I had every intention to run an honest campaign and avoid any political games. As my motto states, I wanted the politics out of policing, but it appeared quickly that Sheriff Roeseler did not want the same.”