Stratman Ordered Reinstated - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Stratman Ordered Reinstated

Posted: Updated: June 25, 2013 6:26 PM

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) -- La Crosse County sheriff's deputy Trisha Stratman, who was fired in August, 2011 after a car crash that killed a Holmen teen, has been reinstated to the department and will receive roughly 20 months of back pay. 

Stratman was responding to a bar fight in January, 2010 to assist a fellow officer dealing with an unruly crowd at roughly 1:00 a.m. 

Those involved in the fight were not using any weapons, but Stratman had no way of knowing that. 

While driving on Highway 35, Stratman collided with a car being driven by 16-year old Brandon Jennings. 

Stratman's squad car was traveling in the range of 100 miles per hour seconds before the crash. 

Jennings's vehicle, which attempted to cross Hwy. 35 at the OT intersection as Stratman was approaching, was traveling at approximately 20 miles per hour. 

Stratman was charged with first degree, negligent homicide in connection with the crash. 
She was found not guilty by a La Crosse County jury in November, 2011. 

Stratman testified during her trial the officer responding to the bar fight was urgently calling for assistance over her radio. 

Wisconsin law allows first responders to drive in excess of the speed limits, and even drive through stop signs and red lights, provided they are doing so in good faith and with due regard for others on the roadway. 

Following Stratman's dismissal in 2011, La Crosse County Sheriff Steve Helgeson issued a statement reading, "I could not ignore the fact that as a result of (Stratman's) misconduct, a young boy lost his life." 

"Any form of discipline short of termination would be inappropriate in light of the effect of this event on the victim's family and friends, the community and the La Crosse County Sheriff's department," the statement read. 

Stratman appealed her firing to the county administrator in September, 2011. 

Administrator Steve O'Malley, who said he had no comment following Stratman's reinstatement, decided Helgeson's decision to fire Stratman was justified. 

But an arbitrator reviewing the ruling decided differently. 

Arbitrator John R. Emery ruled in a decision issued Monday evening that Stratman's "termination should be reduced to a thirty day suspension commencing October 9, 2011," with Stratman also entitled to back pay beginning at the same date. 

Emery said her reinstatement is contingent on Stratman "passing a fitness for duty examination and satisfactorily undergoing remedial, emergency vehicle operation and control training." 

Emery's ruling cited the review of Stratman's accident as one reason her firing was unjust. 

Car crashes in La Crosse County are typically reviewed by the sheriff's department's accident review board. 

But Helgeson eventually opted against using the ARB, and instead conducted the review himself along with Chief Deputy Jeff Wolf. 

The pair found Stratman's speed on the night of the crash had been reckless, and inhibited her ability to stop as Jennings pulled out into the roadway in front of her. 

But Jim Palmer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said the decision to sidestep the ARB in favor of the Helgeson/Wolf investigation meant Stratman did not receive the same treatment as other officers involved in car accidents. 

"If a department has a uniform review policy in terms of how it's going to investigate matters like this, it ought to adhere to it, not abandon it, as the sheriff in La Crosse County did with respect to deputy Stratman," said Palmer. 

Palmer also said the department failed to establish a "threshold," that would classify an officer's speed as reckless. 

"There were numerous officers responding to that same call in 2010," Palmer said, "and several of them acknowledged they were responding at comparable speeds." 

The WPPA represented Stratman in her appeal. 

Palmer also said Helgeson might have imposed a harsher sanction than necessary on Stratman, by terminating her, because he was deeply saddened by the loss of Jennings. 

"I think that showed he lacked ability to handle this matter objectively," Palmer said. 

Helgeson is out of town this week. The Sheriff's department said it had no comment on the ruling. 

Palmer added Stratman is excited to return to work. 

"I know Trisha is looking forward to doing what she loves," he said, "looking forward to rejoining the law enforcement profession." 

Palmer said the county could choose to appeal the arbitrator's ruling to a circuit court system. 

Read the arbitrator's decision here.

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La Crosse, WI (WXOW) The former La Crosse County Sheriff's Deputy fired after causing a fatal accident in 2010 will get her job back.

An arbitrator has ruled that Trisha Stratman was improperly fired in 2011 by Sheriff Steve Helgeson.

Stratman was found not guilty of negligent homicide by a jury last year in the death of 16 year old Brandon Jennings of Holmen. Stratman's squad car struck Jennings car at an Onalaska intersection. She was on her way to an emergency call in Holmen.

The arbitrator ruled Stratman's punishment should have been limited to 30 days suspension.

Also, that she should get her job back immediately with 20 months back pay.

Read the arbitrator's decision here.

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