A committee of residents has filed a pair of John Doe lawsuits accusing the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office of murder in the Aug. 21 death of Thomas Selje in Pardeeville.
The first of the two cases was filed Nov. 2 by the Columbia County Citizens Against Corruption, while the second was filed by the same group Nov. 28, specifically by John Gruber of Portage.
The recent case cites public investigation files released by the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, which investigated the death of Selje immediately following the incident.
At issue, according to the suit, is that interviews with the deputy who initially responded to the call, regarding an armed domestic situation, were not documented with audio recording. The suit highlights the discrepancy of how many shots were fired by Selje. The suit claims that contrary to officer testimony in which four shots were fired, including in the direction of the deputy who returned fire, killing Selje, evidence points to two shots being fired in the air and Selje only threatening his wife, when he pointed the revolver at her.
The suit filed Nov. 2 included an array of other accusations including that of Portage School Board member and now-Portage Police Department Detective Lt. Daniel Garrigan, formerly a detective with the Sheriff’s Office, being involved in racketeering. The evidence cited includes news clippings showing Garrigan’s involvement in the Columbia County Deputy Sheriff’s Association Scholarship Award Program.
The $1,000 scholarships were awarded to county residents enrolling in a Wisconsin school to pursue study in law or criminal justice, with relatives of law enforcement members encouraged to apply.
Exhibit C of the suit featured a picture published in local news, showing District Attorney Jane Kohlwey during a debate with attorney Douglas Kammer in the Columbia County Courthouse prior to April’s election for district attorney.
In the background of the photo, standing next to the door of the courtroom where the debate was held, could be seen a Columbia County sheriff’s deputy, who heads security in the court. The suit names the deputy, calling him Jane Kohlwey’s “guard dog,” describing the photo as evidence of Kohlwey using “governmental police power” for a political campaign.
A July 2016 John Doe lawsuit accusing the Portage Police Department and Columbia County Sheriff’s Office of malfeasance and murder in earlier fatal incidents has been assigned to Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell for review. A conclusion has not yet been announced by Newell’s office.
Columbia County Citizens Against Corruption also filed a John Doe suit in March 2015, with similar accusations to that of the 2016 suit. In August 2015, the committee filed a civil suit against officials with the county and Portage Area School Board.
In the leadup to the construction of the Columbia County Administration Building in Portage, the group opposed the eminent domain dispute involving Gruber Automotive. The county eventually took possession of the property and John Gruber was evicted. Court filings during that time included accusations against the Columbia County Board of Supervisors and the Portage Police Department, including a claim that Portage police had conspired to create a situation in which they would have pretense to enter the property and kill Gruber.
On Jan. 7, following a potluck dinner hosted by Gruber and his supporters, Sheriff Dennis Richards arrived with other officers to speak with Gruber, after which the building was peacefully cleared, locked and condemned.
Petitioners in the 2015 and 2016 Citizens lawsuits have varied, though four petitioners present across the three cases are Zach Homman, of Rio, Chad Holdener, of Poynette, Bryant Herbert, of Pardeeville, and Michael O’Grady of Portage.
A press release was issued Wednesday presumably from a representative of Columbia County Citizens Against Public Corruption including copies of the most recent documents filed with the court.
The email was directed to the Portage Daily Register as well as Portage attorney Douglas Kammer. O’Grady repeatedly appeared at Kammer events during Kammer’s run for district attorney in April, though at that time Kammer denied any official affiliation with O’Grady or the Columbia County Citizens Against Public Corruption.
As of publication, no response to a request for comment has been received from the release’s email account of origin.