MADISON, Wisconsin — Wisconsin Department of Justice field offices across the state have delayed assigning and investigating child pornography cybertips for months, newly released records show.
DOJ officials on Thursday insisted that no systemic delays in launching child pornography probes exist, saying overwhelmed agents prioritized most of the cases properly.
"A deep dive on any of these cases will reflect that they ... were handled appropriately or resulted in discipline," said DOJ Division of Criminal Investigation Administrator Dave Matthews.
DOJ's Internet child pornography unit has taken intense criticism since March, when Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced Milwaukee Special Agent-in-Charge Willie Brantley had been fired and Special Agent Anna King had left her job after agency officials determined they had let nearly four dozen cases languish for months. In one case, the agency got a tip in 2010 that Christopher Kosakoski of Milwaukee was downloading child pornography. Agents finally reviewed the tip in January — nine days after Kosakoski was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
Van Hollen insisted no systemic problems existed within DOJ. He based those remarks on an internal review Matthews launched in January. Matthews ordered the review to focus on cases that hadn't received attention for 60 days or more.
The agency released documents tied to the review in response to open records requests from media outlets, including The Associated Press. They include a spreadsheet shows 46 cases had languished for two months or longer across the Madison, Eau Claire, Wausau and Milwaukee field offices as of Feb. 23.
The agency's Madison office, for example, took 38 months to assign the Kosakoski case and 35 months to assign another child pornography possession case opened in 2011. The records also show the Madison office was responsible for delays of a year or more in launching investigations in eight other cases opened between 2011 and 2013.
The Eau Claire office, meanwhile, took anywhere from six months to a year to begin investigating a half-dozen cases opened last year. The Wausau office took more than a year to begin investigating two cases opened in 2012.
The spreadsheet included 18 Milwaukee cases but it wasn't immediately clear how many were tied to Brantley.
Matthews blamed the delays in Madison on an employee whom the records show was suspended without pay for five days in April. A discipline letter DOJ released as part of the records request accuses the worker of sitting on seven cases, including Kosakoski's.
The letter notes the worker might have been able to prevent the 15-year-old from being assaulted. It also says that in a number of the other cases the information was too stale by the time it reached agents to conduct investigations.
"We will never know in those cases whether agents might have brought guilty parties to justice," Matthews wrote in the letter. The worker's name was redacted.
Matthews said he's satisfied agents properly triaged the cases not linked to Brantley, King and the unknown employee. If any systemic problem exists, he said, it's a lack of funding to hire more agents. The Internet child pornography unit's 17 agents are all juggling 20 cases each and receive about 100 tips every month, agency officials say.
"Every person identified (through the tips) is a risk to children," Matthews said. "And yet there's no way to provide the funding ... so each case gets attention as it comes in the door. It's a complex reality."
Brantley reached a settlement with DOJ earlier this month calling for the agency to reclassify his termination as a retirement and Van Hollen to apologize for labeling him a rogue agent. It's still unclear whether King resigned or was fired.
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