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Thursday, December 2, 2010

[WI] Officer Lelinski's wife gets restraining order only after being refused and lengthy hearings

Milwaukee police officer Mark T. Lelinski

...A few minutes before the hearing in [Milwaukee police officer Mark] Lelinski's case, [Assistant Family Court Commissioner Dean B.] Zemel quickly granted an injunction to a different woman, who said her ex-boyfriend had shoved her and threatened to kill her. The woman accusing Lelinski asked Zemel to explain why the other woman got an injunction but she did not. Zemel said there were differences, but declined to explain them...

Previous posts:
[WI] Officer Mark Lelinski (brother of convicted Officer Steven Lelinski) arrested a third time for domestic violence
- ...The document said [Milwaukee Police Officer Mark Lelinski] threw her around, leaving bruises on her body and threatened to kill her... The woman also accused Lelinski of coming home drunk earlier this month and urinating on their sleeping baby... Online court documents show Lelinski's wife has taken out a temporary restraining order against him... Lelinski has been arrested on domestic violence allegations before, in 1999 and 2007...
[Wi] Milwaukee Police Officer Lelinski's Bruised Wife Denied Protective Order By Asst. Commissioner - A court official on Friday refused to grant an injunction to protect a woman who said Milwaukee police officer Mark T. Lelinski threw her around and threatened to kill her. The woman showed bruises on her arms to Assistant Family Court Commissioner Dean B. Zemel... "He's a danger to myself and my child, and he's a danger to society"... Zemel told the woman "throwing you around is subjective" and said he couldn't say for sure the bruises were a result of abuse by Lelinski. "I cannot find that there has been domestic abuse and grant the injunction," he said.

WHEN ALLEGED ABUSER IS A POLICE OFFICER: Cop's wife gets restraining order only after lengthy hearings
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Gina Barton
Nov. 28, 2010

Every year, hundreds of domestic violence restraining orders are granted in Milwaukee County's courts.

In many cases, the hearings take 5 or 10 minutes.

In the case against Milwaukee Police Officer Mark T. Lelinski, hearings stretched over more than eight hours on four different days.

What's more, the two officers who initially responded to a 911 call from the wife of Lelinski didn't write reports. An assistant city attorney fought the woman's attempts to get evidence of abuse into court. And even though Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Mary M. Kuhnmuench ultimately found in the woman's favor and granted the restraining order against Lelinski last week, he didn't have to give up his gun.

While domestic violence affects families of all kinds, those who accuse police officers face unique challenges, as this woman's story shows. When it comes to criminal justice, police officers have the advantage of knowing the players and the system. Unlike most people, they need guns to do their jobs, and an exception written into state law allows them to keep their weapons in most cases.

"At the most basic level, victims perceive that the system that they should be able to turn to for help is actually on the side of the abuser because the abuser is part of that system," said Tony Gibart, policy coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "There should be systems set up that protect the objectivity and impartiality of the decision-makers, whether it be the officers that respond to an incident or individuals in the court system."

Kuhnmuench's decision to grant the protective order reversed an earlier decision by Assistant Family Court Commissioner Dean B. Zemel. The first time Lelinski's wife went to court more than a month ago, she showed bruises on her arms to Zemel and said Lelinski caused them Sept. 15. Lelinski woke her up in the middle of the night, threw her around the bed and accused her of stealing money, the woman said. He also threatened to kill her, she said.
Officer denies threats

Lelinski denied mistreating or threatening his wife.

"I always called her honey and sweetheart, and I don't mentally abuse her," Lelinski, 42, said in court. "I'm a kind and gentle person."

Zemel told the woman "throwing you around is subjective." He said he couldn't say for sure the bruises were a result of abuse by Lelinski and declined to grant the protective order.

A few minutes before that hearing, Zemel quickly granted an injunction to a different woman, who said her ex-boyfriend had shoved her and threatened to kill her. Lelinski's wife asked Zemel to explain why the other woman got an injunction but she did not.

Zemel said there were differences but declined to explain them. He also mentioned he had granted injunctions against police officers in the past.

The woman appealed and hired Jonathan Safran, a lawyer, who subpoenaed police records, including incident reports, photographs and a recording of the 911 call. Safran also wanted to call an internal affairs detective as a witness because he was the first investigator who took the woman's accusations seriously.

Assistant City Attorney Melanie Swank filed a motion to quash the subpoena, saying because the documents - and the detective's knowledge of the incident - were part of an internal department investigation into Lelinski's behavior, they should not be turned over.

Kuhnmuench disagreed.

"You can't prevent her from getting that information under the guise that somehow it's going to interfere with an internal affairs investigation. I'm not buying that," Kuhnmuench said Nov. 5. "A 911 . . . tape should not be considered top-secret information."

If Lelinski had not been a police officer, the judge said, the materials would have been turned over weeks before.

She also ordered the internal affairs detective, Thomas Glasnovich, to testify.
Woman wasn't interviewed

Glasnovich ended up investigating the woman's claims because the first two officers to respond to the 911 call didn't do anything, according to the woman's testimony. Officers Robert Welch and Melanie Beasley didn't talk to the woman the first time they were dispatched. They spoke to Lelinski, who was still at the couple's house, but didn't track down his wife, who was at her in-laws' house down the block.

When the woman realized the two officers had left without talking to her, she called the district station and they were sent back. They told her they would not be writing a report, she testified. Further, she said, Welch told Lelinski: "My wife is a psycho, too."

Responding officers typically offer some of the most valuable testimony during hearings involving protective orders, Kuhnmuench said during the hearing.

In this case, though, Welch and Beasley took the witness stand only briefly. Both were represented by Milwaukee police union lawyer Jonathan Cermele, and both refused to answer questions based on their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Cermele explained in chambers that the two officers did not want their testimony to be used against them in either criminal or disciplinary proceedings, Kuhnmuench said.

It is unusual for responding officers to formally take the Fifth, but it's not unusual for them to be less than forthcoming in their testimony, said Diane Wetendorf, an Illinois-based consultant who has specialized in officer-involved domestic violence for the past 15 years.

"They try to say as little as possible: 'We weren't there. We don't know,' or they try to hide under discretion," she said.

The two officers' refusal to testify may have hurt Lelinski's defense, as well, because his attorney, D. Michael Guerin, called them to testify in hopes that they would back up his version of events.

After Welch and Beasley left the Lelinskis' house on Sept. 15, the woman called her sister, who, like Lelinski, is a Milwaukee police officer. Her sister intervened to get Glasnovich to the scene.

His testimony and the documentation he amassed, including photographs of the woman's bruises, were the strongest corroborating evidence of her allegations. In granting the protective order, Kuhnmuench also cited the consistency of the woman's story from the time she called 911 until the final hearing. The woman would not have had time to make up a story or fake the bruises, the judge said. Further, some of Lelinski's explanations for his actions defied logic and were not credible, she said.

In granting the order, Kuhnmuench defended the professionalism of Zemel, the court commissioner who had earlier refused to grant the protective order. She took offense to Lelinski's wife's contention that Zemel had ruled against her because Lelinski is a police officer.

The woman did come across as "a woman scorned" - more concerned with Lelinski having an affair than with her injuries - in describing one of the arguments with him, Kuhnmuench said. The woman also admitted to saying hurtful things to Lelinski during one of the altercations. If Zemel made a mistake, the judge said, it was in ending his review there.

"Even prostitutes and drug addicts deserve the protection of the law," the judge said. "It doesn't matter if I like or dislike (Lelinski's wife). It's irrelevant. Even unattractive people who do mean-spirited, ugly things are entitled to the protection of the law."

Kuhnmuench granted the protective order for two years instead of the maximum four years. She chose the shorter term because the two eventually will have to get along well enough to raise their young son, Kuhnmuench said. She also did not order Lelinski to give up his gun.

A prohibition on firearms is automatic for civilians with protective orders against them. Police officers, however, automatically keep their guns unless a judge rules otherwise. Judges usually let officers keep their guns, Wetendorf said. Police departments are not required to fire an officer who cannot carry a weapon, but many do, she said.

In Milwaukee, only a felony conviction is grounds for immediate dismissal, said Anne E. Schwartz, spokeswoman for the Police Department. There is no hard-and-fast rule for officers who lose their right to carry a gun, she said. Discipline under those circumstances is decided on a case-by-case basis, she said. [LINK]
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