Report: Former Stevens Point Police Chief Used Slurs, Created Culture Of Fear

In Response To An Investigation Report, Elected Leaders Call For Changes In City's Police Governing Body

Stevens Point Police Department sign
Photo courtesy of Stevens Point Police Department

An investigation into the former Stevens Point police chief found he used racist and sexist language, created a culture of fear in the department, and may have been drunk on the job multiple times.

In response to new revelations about the investigation’s findings, the Stevens Point City Council president said she wants to see changes at the city’s Police and Fire Commission, which oversees the department. Another council member told the Stevens Point Journal the commission’s chair should resign.

It’s the latest fallout from allegations against former Chief Martin Skibba that surfaced in March. Skibba resigned in June after a prolonged inquiry into an incident where he was found to have been drinking alcohol during the work day.

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The city’s Police and Fire Commission initially suspended Skibba for 15 days based on an internal investigation of the incident. It also required Skibba to seek counseling and receive random breath testing for several months. But that punishment was met with criticism from the community — including from members of the local police union. The union’s spokesperson said the penalty was “disproportionately lax” and called for an outside investigation.

The results of that investigation, conducted by the Wausau Police Department, led to Skibba’s resignation. But their contents only became public this week, when the Stevens Point Journal obtained the full investigation report after an open records fight with the Police and Fire Commission.

The Journal’s report on the investigation revealed additional incidents where officers and elected leaders believed Skibba had been drunk on the job, as well as reported incidents of his making sexist and racist remarks, and a pervasive feeling among subordinates that he would retaliate against them if they raised concerns.

“My heart sunk” at the new information in the investigation report, said City Council president Meleesa Johnson. “I wasn’t even angry. I was just dismayed (and) sad.”

Johnson said the report shows the need for the city’s next police chief to repair the culture in the department. She’s requested the mayor schedule a City Council meeting that will allow Stevens Point representatives to weigh in on the issue and consider needed changes, such as a potential requirement that the Police and Fire Commission include members from minority or marginalized communities. All five commissioners are white men. Commissioners are appointed by the mayor. Commission chair Gary Wescott, in an email to WPR, said membership of the commission is up to the mayor and the council.

In a letter sent to council members Tuesday, attorneys representing the commission stressed its members “were not aware of the alleged conduct of former Police Chief Skibba until the information was brought to its attention” by the investigations.

“It is very unfair to accuse the Commission members of ignoring their responsibilities when in fact no information was brought to their attention upon which they could take steps and address the concerns,” the letter said.

In an interview, the commission’s attorney, Dean Dietrich, said the commission has already taken steps to protect officers from retaliation after they express concerns about the conduct of others in the police department. He said the commission sees rebuilding positive relationships in the department as one of the most important jobs of the next police chief.

The Journal’s report detailed incidents uncovered by investigators where “substantial evidence exists” that Skibba drank alcohol on the job in 2017 and 2018, as well as four other occasions where he reportedly smelled of alcohol at work. The investigation also documented Skibba referring to members of the department’s records staff using a vulgar sexist slur, using a racial slur to refer to an officer’s Italian descent and making derogatory comments about Hmong people. Officers said they feared retaliation if they made complaints, and one told investigators that complaining would be the end of their career.

In his email, Wescott said the “very troubling allegations brought forward against the former chief were the direct result of our choice as a Commission for an investigation that sought a full accounting from officers of the department.” Without directly addressing public statements by council members, he decried to “lack of civility in local politics.”

Johnson said the commission and the City Council owe it to the department and to the community to make substantive changes as a result of the new information.

“We have an obligation to protect our employees from bullies, from retribution, from sexism,” Johnson said. “That’s what we need to address.”