Ed Wall resigns amid Lincoln Hills investigation

Posted at 10:07 PM, Feb 12, 2016

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Wall has resigned amid an investigation into abuse allegations at the state's youth prison, the governor's office said Friday as news emerged that the FBI had taken over the inquiry.

Gov. Scott Walker's staff said Wall submitted his letter of resignation on Feb. 5. He will be replaced by Jon Litscher, who served as the corrections secretary more than a decade ago.

The allegations first came to light publicly in December when state DOJ agents descended on Lincoln Hills and a sister facility, Copper Lake, which shares a campus in northern Wisconsin. But two newspapers reported Thursday that a judge sent a letter four years ago warning Walker of possible criminal conduct at the Lincoln Hills School in Irma.

Walker has said he was unaware of allegations of misconduct until recently. His spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, has said the governor never saw the judge's note and that it had been referred to the corrections department.

The state Department of Justice opened an investigation at the youth prison last year into claims ranging from sexual assault to misconduct in public office. The FBI has been involved in that probe, but FBI spokesman Leonard Peace said Friday that the bureau "has transitioned from assisting in the investigation to leading the investigation."

He said he couldn't comment on the reason for the switch, since it was an ongoing federal matter. The state Justice Department also was unable to comment, citing an ongoing John Doe probe that was launched in October. Such probes allow prosecutors to order testimony, obtain search warrants and collect evidence in secret.

The current probe has led to an administrative shake up and several staffers being placed on administrative leave.

Wall, in December, ordered a review of all cases in the last five years where force was used against a youth in custody and the creation of a youth injury review panel. He also told his administrators to immediately determine whether the prison's staff and supervisors need more training on use-of-force, documenting incidents and de-escalating situations.

He said in his letter of resignation that in his three years as head of the largest state Cabinet agency, he has focused on "modernizing practices, creating fair policies, developing leadership, reforming segregation, improving mental health care and responding to the ever changing philosophy of corrections reform."

Wall also wrote that it was time to "step aside to allow a new person with fresh perspectives to lead the agency forward." His resignation letter makes no mention of the Lincoln Hills probe.

Walker said in December that after speaking with Attorney General Brad Schimel about the DOJ probe, he ordered Wall to deal with the situation as aggressively as possible.

The 2012 letter from a Racine County judge criticizes Lincoln Hills' response to a youth-on-youth sex crime.

"Almost 50 years in the legal system and I've seen and heard a lot, so (I'm) not naive as to what `prison' is all about," Judge Richard Kreul wrote to Walker. "But the indifference in this sordid tale is absolutely inexcusable."

Patrick said in an email that the case Kruel wrote Walker about was "referred ... to the Department of Corrections, which had already taken steps to address this incident."

Racine County social services caseworker Dan Dragic sent an accompanying letter in 2012 that detailed the assault and how prison staff handled the matter, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal. It indicates the victim was not taken to the emergency room by prison staff until after a basketball game was over, which was three hours after the assault, and was placed in a special unit for disruptive inmates a day after the incident.

Officials from Racine County, where the victim was from, law enforcement or child protective services weren't notified by prison officials, despite being mandated by law, according to the caseworker's memo.

Litscher has most recently worked as a school superintendent in Cambria. He ran the Corrections Department from 1999-2003.