Lafayette County is a small, agriculturally centered county in Southwestern Wisconsin full of small rural towns where life is a little bit slower than in the crowded, crazy big cities and where everyone knows everyone else.
That’s how many residents of the area would describe and think of the place that they live. And generally most people who come to visit or stay would comply with that description, however, there have been some recent incidents that have shook up that idea of small, safe, anonymity that Lafayette County has.
Within the last year and a half, Lafayette County has seen an unfortunate increase in the amount of high profile criminal and violent crimes that have taken place in the area.
In September of 2012, Armin Wand III, with the assistance of his younger brother Jeremy Wand, burned down his home in Argyle resulting in the deaths of his three sons and the severe injury of his wife.
Then in April of 2013, Jaren Kuester traveled across the state from the Milwaukee area and murdered three elderly Lafayette County residents in their rural South Wayne home.
Additionally, Darlington was home to yet another large-scale crime case that was uncovered in August when Timmy Reichling was arrested and charged with sexual exploitation of a child in connection with a Darlington minor. As more evidence was uncovered, officials stated that this could be one of the worst cases of child pornography in the state’s history and Reichling was indicted on federal charges.
Obviously these events and the drawn out court proceedings that follow them have had a huge effect on Lafayette County through the several organizations and departments that have had to deal with these unfortunate circumstances, as well as the overall atmosphere and attitude throughout the county.
“There have been a number of negative effects on the agency and community with these events,” said Lafayette County Sheriff Scott Pedley, who, as head of the sheriff’s department, has seen the toll these crimes have taken on the county, both financially and emotionally.
“The impact to the budget is enormous,” said Pedley. So far, there have been costs for additional staffing to deal with both the Wand and Kuester cases on the scenes, during imprisonment of the individuals, as well as during court proceedings.
Then there is the special care and procedures that need to be taken into account for prisoners such as Kuester, who required a suicide watch, which is a huge staffing commitment, as well as a special suicide smock that needed to be purchased specifically, just to name a few examples.
In general the enormity of dealing with an inmate such as Kuester was extremely taxing for the jail, according to Pedley. “Mr. Kuester is probably the most lethal inmate of the Lafayette County Jail ever,” said the sheriff.
Pedley described Kuester as being “a very dangerous and physically muscular individual” and when in contact with him, Lafayette County jail staff often endured threats and physical aggressiveness.
“The emotional toll on the staff is enormous. They work tirelessly,” Pedley added.
Aside from the notable financial costs that have been attributed to Kuester alone, which at the end of November 2013 were tracked to be $96,743.63, there are also intangible costs that are not directly reflected in a cost sheet.
“We’ve lost two employees due to the Kuester situation,” said Pedley.
Kuester, who was kept in solitary confinement, was required to be removed from his cell for one hour every 24 hours. This process takes a minimum of three deputies escorting and chaperoning Kuester, who is in shackles and handcuffs the entire time.
Two full-time and tenured employees who had to deal with Kuester in such situations on a daily basis left employment with the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department as a result.
“That’s a huge investment and experience that just walked out the door on us,” said Pedley. Now the department will have to deal with the replacement and potential training of new hires. “That’s even more cost to the taxpayers,” added Pedley who estimated the cost of bringing a new employee on board with training to be around $7,000.
The two employees who left specifically stated that they were leaving due to the Kuester situation, said Pedley. Both of the employees left the department in September.
Although so far, there has not been a court trial to deal with, if there would have been, that would have incurred even more of a cost on the county, to the tune of around $40-50,000 for each trial, according to Pedley.
However, both of the Wand cases concluded without going to trial. In April of 2013 Armin Wand was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for three first-degree intentional homicide charges and Jeremy Wand was sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole in 34 years.
The Kuester case is still in motion, but just barely, with the next court date scheduled for January 31, when Kuester’s fate will be determined. Kuester’s attorney has stated that that date should be the culmination of the proceedings and hopes that the judge will find Kuester not guilty due to disease or mental defect, which would earn Kuester a lifetime sentence to a mental facility.
Lafayette County Human Services, who have also had dealings with Kuester and his treatment, said that situations like these affect the entire county and all of its departments.
“Not just the jail is affected, but it ripples out into other departments as well,” said Shane Schuhmacher, director of Human Services. “It’s very unfortunate for such a small county,” he added.
The county’s human services department declined to comment directly on any specific examples, but said they work with the jail to accommodate inmate needs when the occasion arises.
Aside from the financial effects on the county these events have also had a large effect on the attitudes and feelings of safety that residents have.
“Immediately following the triple homicide we witnessed, during a number of contacts, the protective behavior of residents that were arming themselves and making firearms available in their homes,” said Pedley.
Pedley also said that the number of calls to dispatch regarding suspicious vehicles or activity have increased since these incidents as well. People just don’t feel as safe as they did before after seeing examples of how we as citizens really are vulnerable.
“These are doses of reality that the rest of the nation is enduring,” said Pedley. “They’re new to us, here, but not to the rest of the country…It’s an unfortunate reality of the times we live in.”
Doing things like always locking the doors to homes and cars and installing alarm systems aren’t generally how people in small areas like Lafayette County think.
However, Pedley explained that those are the best ways to protect yourself and also to provide evidence if criminal actions are taken against your property. “People leaving keys in cars and leaving doors unlocked doesn’t make it easier. Evidence is needed to see what happened,” said Pedley.
According to Pedley, there has been a general ramping up of more aggressive criminal behavior and aggressiveness towards officers as well as a decline that is placed on human lives and safety in recent years.
“The level of criminal sophistication is getting much higher and the result is a much lower quality of life,” said Pedley.
Even with the devastating reality of violence and crime in Lafayette County, Pedley notes that the people connected with these crimes are being held responsible. “I’m exceedingly proud of the men and women working here. It has been a tremendous team effort and approach on these investigations and they have performed exceptionally well.”
In Pedley’s opinion, there is even some good news to take away from these events: “With the Wand case, neighbors stepped up and didn’t ignore it. Someone stopped Armin from putting that little girl back into the fire. In every case like this volunteer firefighters and EMTs step up and respond and that’s the Lafayette County we know.”