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Konopski has resigned from sheriff's office; says he is 'scapegoat'

A month after losing the Walworth County sheriff’s office race, sheriff’s Investigator Craig Konopski has resigned from the sheriff’s office. His last day was Friday, Dec. 2.

Konopski said in a phone call with the Lake Geneva Regional News, “I resigned under duress and political pressure. The sheriff was looking to terminate me for a policy violation.”

He added: “Kurt Picknell is looking for a scapegoat,” referring to the investigation into Gerardo Baca, an ex-sheriff’s deputy who has since been charged with multiple sexual assaults.

Konopski said he red-flagged Baca before he was hired by the sheriff’s office, but the sheriff’s office hired an investigator to look into it and found no evidence of that.

To read more on allegations against Baca dating back to 2008 to to https://lakegenevanews.net/news/local/crime-and-courts/now-charged-walworth-sheriff-s-deputy-was-accused-of-sexual-assault-in-08-when-he/article_b191c5ac-72a7-11ed-8299-0fd20b8dcf21.html?utm_campaign=blox&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR0fbUFj0W_fMv-adZij7BddCBuJJZ5W81lbVciY2TJckMrtzmO9H5JZlck

In an email Sheriff Kurt Picknell detailed what happened leading up to Konopski resigning. The full email is here:

“The Sheriff’s Office has received a number of questions about the recent investigation related to Craig Konopski and the 2016 background investigation completed by Craig Konopski on Gerardo Baca. We have also become aware of a number of public statements from Mr. Konopski and others on these matters, as well as Mr. Konopski’s placement on a performance improvement plan in April of 2022, that are factually incorrect. As you are likely aware, Mr. Konopski resigned from the Sheriff’s Office effective 4 p.m. on Friday, December 2, 2022. Now that Mr. Konopski resigned, the independent investigation has reached its final disposition, allowing the Sheriff’s Office to finally provide a factual accounting of the investigation and Mr. Konopski’s decision to abruptly resign from the Sheriffs’ Office. Below is a brief, factual summary of occurrences from April 2022 through present date with regard to Mr. Konopski’s employment with the Sheriff’s Office:

Around April 2022, Mr. Konopski received his third annual evaluation that demonstrated an ongoing decline in his performance as a detective. To determine appropriate next steps, Mr. Konopski’s direct supervisor, Captain Shannan Illingworth, and I consulted with Human Resources. Human Resources recommended Mr. Konopski be placed on a six-month performance improvement plan. The plan identified the specific performance areas that needed to be addressed, specific examples of the poor performance, and supports for use in improving upon the necessary areas. Mr. Konopski was also provided monthly meetings with Captain Illingworth to discuss his performance on an ongoing basis and address any questions he might have. The intent was to give Mr. Konopski every opportunity to succeed in his position of detective.

Following placement on the performance improvement plan, Mr. Konoposki filed a complaint against Captain Illingworth, alleging his placement on the plan was improperly motivated. At Mr. Konopski’s request, the County hired an independent investigator to address Mr. Konopski’s complaint. The investigator concluded Mr. Konopski’s complaint lacked merit and his placement on the performance improvement plan was justified.

Throughout the performance improvement plan, Mr. Konopski’s performance in the areas identified—time management and stewardship, job skills and knowledge and communication and conflict, and quantity and quality of work and customer service—did not improve. For example, Mr. Konopski repeatedly delayed completion of investigation tasks, even after receiving explicit direction to complete them from his direct supervisor. On one of the cases assigned to Mr. Konopski, the victim became so upset with Mr. Konopski’s delays he called to complain.

The performance improvement plan was set to expire on November 8, 2022 (an extension was granted to allow for Mr. Konopski’s use of vacation time). In early October 2022, before the performance improvement plan concluded, the Sheriff’s Office became aware of statements Mr. Konopski made to you (The Lake Geneva Regional News) regarding his 2016 background examination of Gerardo Baca. These statements were published in your (Lake Geneva Regional News) October 14, 2022 article. Upon becoming aware of Mr. Konopski’s potentially untruthful statements, I issued a response, which was also published in that same October 14, 2022 article.

Following awareness of Mr. Konopski’s potentially untruthful statements, an outside, independent investigator, Attorney Joe Russell of von Briesen & Roper, s.c., was retained to look into whether Mr. Konopski made false public statements. On October 25, 2022, Mr. Konopski was also placed on administrative restrictions for purposes of removing him from all active law enforcement work. This measure was implemented in case a formal finding of untruthfulness resulted from Attorney Russell’s independent investigation to avoid undermining any active investigations under our Office’s jurisdiction.

Within the October 25, 2022 letter issued to Mr. Konopski placing him on administrative restrictions, he was directed not to discuss the internal investigation with anyone other than his spouse, his clergy, or his representatives to ensure the investigation was fair and effective for all involved, including Mr. Konopski. On October 29, 2022, Mr. Konopski issued public, written statements explicitly addressing the ongoing, independent investigation into his October 14 and October 25, 2022 statements to local media. This directly violated the October 25, 2022 directive issued to him. Attorney Russell expanded the scope of his investigation to address Mr. Konopski’s potential insubordination, in addition to his potential untruthfulness.

In late November 2022, Attorney Russell finalized his investigation into Mr. Konopski’s alleged untruthfulness and insubordination and published an attorney-client privileged report. Mr. Konopski was then placed on full administrative leave, as the findings included a determination of untruthfulness. Attorney Russell concluded:

Mr. Konopski falsely claimed to Ms. Jones that he “red-flagged” Mr. Baca and that he recommended not hiring him. The investigation did not produce evidence to support this claim. While Mr. Konopski neutrally identified the City of Madison report in Mr. Baca’s background summary, the summary stated Mr. Baca was qualified for the position and noted Mr. Baca’s then-Chief of Police believed Mr. Baca to be an excellent employee. Around this same time, Mr. Konopski completed another background summary of a candidate and explicitly stated they should not be hired, demonstrating he both understood how to raise concerns over a candidate and that he was willing to raise such concerns when he felt it was appropriate. Mr. Konopski did not raise similar concerns for Mr. Baca in late-2016.

Mr. Konopski falsely claimed to Ms. Jones the Sheriff’s Office removed relevant documents from Baca’s background investigation file. The investigation did not produce any evidence to support this claim.

To the extent Mr. Konopski’s present claims of concern over the hiring of Mr. Baca are believable, the 2016 background investigation report he completed and filed as part of Mr. Baca’s hiring process constituted a false report, because it failed to contain any recommendation not to hire Mr. Baca, let alone any notation of concern over his hiring. Between the submission of Mr. Konopski’s 2016 background report and October 2022, at no point did he correct, amend, or otherwise update his report despite his present claims to have always been concerned over Mr. Baca’s hiring.

Mr. Konopski publicly and insubordinately criticized the Sheriff’s Office’s independent investigation and Sheriff Picknell via October 29, 2022 social media posts, directly violating explicit orders previously issued to him to not engage in conduct that might interfere with the ongoing investigation and to not speak about the investigation with anyone other than his spouse, clergy member(s), or representative(s).

A Loudermill hearing was set for December 6, 2022 with Mr. Konopski to allow him the opportunity to address the outcome of the independent investigation and the outcome of his PIP before I made a final decision on disciplinary action. On December 2, 2022, Mr. Konopski chose to resign from the Sheriff’s Office. As a result, the Loudermill hearing was cancelled and no formal disciplinary action was levied. By law, I will be required to designate Mr. Konopski as “Resigned Prior to Completion of Internal Investigation.” I will also notify any required authorities of the investigatory findings to fulfill any legal duties I may have in that regard.

In addition to providing the summary above, it is important to address the questions you (the Lake Geneva Regional News) raised on the City of Madison investigation related to Mr. Baca. Mr. Baca did apply in 2008 and a final hiring decision was not made on him for this application prior to the expiration of the eligibility list in 2009. Mr. Konopski was not involved in that background process. Mr. Baca again applied in 2016. The Madison report was reviewed and considered as part of the process, as well. The detective who conducted the Madison investigation notes near the end of the report none of the allegation against Mr. Baca could be verified and, as a result, the case was being closed. Following the City of Madison investigation, Mr. Baca maintained successful employment as a police officer the prior 8 years in Delavan, including at the time the Madison allegations arose. In addition to reviewing the Madison report and speaking with City of Madison officers and others involved in the investigation, the Sheriff’s Office also spoke with Mr. Baca’s current and former employers, all of whom provided high marks with regard to his character and work ethic. A physical and psychological examination was also conducted on Mr. Baca, as is standard protocol for the Sheriff’s Office. After completing the background process successfully, Mr. Baca was hired in early 2017. While the Sheriff’s Office is deeply troubled by the recent revelations of Mr. Baca’s alleged conduct, the Sheriff’s Office did not have reason to believe he would engage in such conduct as of its late-2016 background investigation.”

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