State needs to end Bowers case now
Haste makes waste.
In March 2017, then-sheriff Bruce Daniels was doing an internal investigation into the unauthorized release of confidential open homicide case files to a true-crime television program.
The investigation led to a DropBox account owned by Deputy Steve Bowers.
Rather than taking the time to secure a search warrant, the sheriff hastily directed county information technology director Melissa Lind to break into the account using a password reset.
It was the quick and dirty way to get the information the sheriff wanted rather than waiting the few hours it would have taken to get a judge or court commissioner to sign off on a search warrant.
Evidence obtained through what Judge Robert Russell reaffirmed in his ruling last week to be an illegal search led directly to the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office filing felony misconduct in office criminal charges against Bowers.
The severity of the charges had less to do with any real harm done by the release of case files — which were almost immediately recovered — but was intended solely to make an example of Bowers and drive home the lesson that “snitches get stitches.”
At the time, Wisconsin law enforcement had received a black eye over its very public mishandling of the Steven Avery case thanks to the popularity of the “Making a Murderer” Netflix series. In then-attorney general Brad Schimel’s haste to make an example of any officer who crossed the line, the state knowingly built its criminal case on the shaky foundation of an improperly conducted search.
The consequences of the hasty investigation and hasty decision of the attorney general’s office to seek felony charges has led to more than four years of waste.
For deputy Steve Bowers, his life and his law enforcement career are in waste. He lives in limbo — paying for his ongoing legal defense and facing the real chance of being sent to prison for a violation of the rules that, at most, warranted administrative punishment.
County taxpayers are suffering under the waste as they continue to pay Bowers’ salary and benefits for him to sit at home. The ever-growing taxpayer burden of the Bowers boondoggle has exceeded $350,000 with the price tag growing every day.
This waste of taxpayer money does not take into account the hundreds of hours of legal time spent by the state’s prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Annie Jay or the ongoing waste of court time and judicial resources. Haste makes waste. The haste in skipping fundamental investigative steps has resulted in years of waste with no end in sight.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul needs to stop punishing the taxpayers of Taylor County for the missteps made by a sheriff who is no longer in office. He needs to end the wasteful squandering of court resources and taxpayer dollars. He needs to drop the criminal case against deputy Steve Bowers.