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Time for state to drop Bowers case

Rather that continuing to waste government resources in an attempt to show that snitches get stitches, the Wisconsin Department of Justice should drop the felony charges against former Taylor County Deputy Steve Bowers over the improper release of case file information.

Back in 2017, Taylor County was working with producers of a true crime television program to attempt to get leads on an unsolved murder case. Bowers, who was then a detective with the sheriff’s department, was found to have released other case file information to the show’s producers. Bowers was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the case. Taylor County taxpayers continued to pay his wages and benefits until last summer when he formally retired from the department.

After a nine month investigation, Taylor County threw the proverbial book at Bowers with administrative punishment demoting him two pay grades and giving him a lengthy unpaid suspension.

This wasn’t enough for former Attorney General Brad Schimmel. At the time, law enforcement in Wisconsin was still reeling from the embarrassment of the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” highlighting the mishandling and police misconduct during the high profile Steven Avery case. Schimmel’s office saw an opportunity to make an example of Bowers and send a clear message about what happens to law enforcement personnel who break ranks and share information with members of the media.

The only problem was that the state’s case largely rests on information obtained from the county accessing Bowers’ personal Dropbox account. Access that was done without benefit of a search warrant.

In the nearly six years since the investigation started, the legal understanding of electronic property rights has evolved. Hindsight being 20/20, there is little doubt, now, that a search warrant should have been obtained.

The Wisconsin Appeals Court affirmed this in their December 29 ruling.

Last April, a federal judge said the same thing despite dismissing a civil lawsuit on grounds of “qualified immunity” protections.

Faced with the recent appeals court ruling, the attorney general’s office has a window of opportunity to drop the case and allow all involved to move on with their lives.

The state’s case against Bowers is currently in limbo. The main prosecutor has left the Department of Justice to work in the Dane County district attorney’s office, and Bowers’ defense attorney has become a judge.

Rather than start the whole case over again, the Wisconsin Department of Justice should stop wasting judicial and legal system resources in their crusade against Bowers. Bowers, and the taxpayers who have been footing the bills for the past five years, have already been amply punished for any transgression that occurred. It is time to move on.