How do I get a job like this?
Deputy's files reveal a pattern of problems
By Steven Elbow
May 11, 2004
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Segregation cell #1 in this Public Safety Building photo. (Photo by Rich Rygh/The Capital Times)
She has been a persistent problem. In the course of her nearly 25-year career as a Dane County deputy, Cathy Bishell had been suspended repeatedly for being insubordinate, threatening, abusive, discourteous and negligent.
On at least two occasions she was ordered to address her lack of interpersonal skills by completing counseling programs.
Then she was fired, but the Wisconsin Professional Police Association got her job back and is now negotiating the settlement of yet another suspension.
Eight months after Bishell returned to work, she ignored an inmate's pleas for medical care and told him to "shut up," according to inmates housed in the same cell block.
Terrance Griffith - a heroin addict placed in the Segregation Unit of the Public Safety Building for medical observation for withdrawal symptoms - died of a heart ailment hours after Bishell's shift ended on Nov. 17, 2002. Following an investigation by the Sheriff's Office into Griffith's death, neither Bishell nor anyone else has been disciplined.
Personnel records obtained recently from the Dane County Sheriff's Office show that Bishell has displayed a pattern of behavior that is consistent with the conduct inmates described in the Griffith case.
The Capital Times requested Bishell's personnel records two weeks before Griffith's story was published. Under state law, Bishell had the option to contest their release but chose not to.
It's unclear how often the Sheriff's Office deals with problem employees who remain on the job because of union influence.
"I wouldn't want to speculate on that," Sheriff Gary Hamblin said.
But he said he holds no grudge against the union, and he supports the efforts of unions in representing their members in the Sheriff's Office or in any other governmental agency.
"This union and unions everywhere have their responsibilities to their members, and they're going to carry them out as they see fit," he said. "I'm not going to accuse them of being obstructionist or anything else."
Gordon McQuillen, director of legal services for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, did not return calls seeking comment, and Bishell has not returned a message left at her home.
The records show that the WPPA went to bat for Bishell on numerous occasions after she had been disciplined for displaying a hostile and unprofessional attitude toward inmates, co-workers and members of the public.
Since beginning her employment at the Dane County Sheriff's Office in 1978, Bishell was reprimanded once, received verbal counseling twice, and was suspended at least six times before being fired in 2001. Once her suspension was reduced after the Dane County Deputy Sheriff Association interceded on her behalf. The WPPA succeeded twice in getting her suspensions reduced.
After nearly 25 years with the Sheriff's Office, she currently ranks as Deputy 1-2, an entry-level position, and earns $48,193 a year.
While documents supplied by the Sheriff's Office provide an incomplete record of Bishell's infractions, the information available includes the following:
In 1993 Bishell was reprimanded for a Nov. 19 incident during which she allowed an inmate to travel unescorted from one area of the jail to another, and for being discourteous and hanging up on another deputy who called her about the incident. The previous day, in a performance evaluation, a sheriff's lieutenant told her that her discourteous behavior toward co-workers was an issue.
On July 19, 1994, Bishell was given a three-day suspension without pay for unprofessional conduct toward prisoners and co-workers. The suspension was subsequently reduced to two days after the Dane County Deputy Sheriff Association negotiated on her behalf.
In September 1995 Bishell was handed a five-day suspension for conduct between May 5 and June 28, 1995. The nature of the conduct was not specified in records provided to The Capital Times. Three additional days were held in abeyance and were to be imposed if she displayed similar behavior.
In April 1996 officials imposed the additional three days for unprofessional conduct that consisted of "threatening, intimidating, interfering with, or using abusive language toward others," and "failure to exercise good judgement, or being discourteous, in dealing with fellow employees, or the general public."
Bishell was handed a 10-day suspension in January 1997 for a number of policy violations, including: locking a nurse in an inmate's cell and then leaving them unattended; being rude to a probation agent; being discourteous to a schoolteacher; and using abusive language while referring to an inmate. Twenty additional days were held in abeyance on the condition that Bishell meet several requirements, all of which were redacted from documents supplied to The Capital Times.
In March 2000 Bishell was given a 15-day suspension for an Oct. 27, 1999, incident during which she placed cardboard over the speaker of a cell and placed a mattress under the door to block profanities from a belligerent inmate in the Public Safety Building's Segregation Unit. She also turned up a radio to drown out the man's voice. After 90 minutes she opened the cell and demanded the inmate's mattress as a disciplinary measure. When the inmate refused to hand it over, Bishell, acting without a supervisor's approval, requested pepper spray and sought the aid of other deputies who entered the cell, provoking a violent struggle.
She also did not perform required security checks of inmates in the unit, which houses inmates on medical and psychological observation, as well as disciplinary cases. On the day of the unauthorized entry into the inmate's cell, Bishell logged only two security checks for an entire four-hour period, according to sheriff's records. Guards at the Segregation Unit are required to perform a security check every 15 minutes.
While being interviewed about the incident, Bishell admitted that she routinely didn't review shift logs on inmates in the Segregation Unit prior to beginning her shift, a procedural violation.
The suspension also involved a Nov. 29, 1999, incident during which Bishell made "rude and condescending" comments to an inmate in front of other inmates in reference to sexual assault charges against him.
In a settlement brokered by the police union, the Sheriff's Office agreed to reduce Bishell's suspension to six days and toss out disciplinary measures related to the remarks made to the sexual assault suspect.
In September 2000 Bishell was given a 30-day suspension for a series of infractions during a March 17, 2000, training exercise.
A letter of suspension documenting Bishell's conduct said that she disrupted a class by complaining loudly about having to take a written test while it was being administered; refused to follow instructions during firearms training; and refused to follow commands from an instructor to point her pistol in a safe direction after firing off her magazine.
According to the letter, as she held her pistol she pointed it toward other people waiting their turn to shoot.
Her suspension was later reduced to 15 days in a settlement negotiated with the union.
Included in the same agreement, Bishell was also issued a five-day suspension for an unspecified infraction that occurred while she was working as a bailiff at the Dane County Courthouse.
The agreement included provisions to deal with Bishell's work-related interpersonal skills, the specifics of which were redacted from documents supplied to The Capital Times.
On March 8, 2001, Bishell was finally fired from the department for incidents - not described in documents provided to The Capital Times - while she was assigned to supervise a sequestered jury. A letter to Bishell accuses her of failing to perform required duties, ignoring requests from Clerk of Court staffers, failing to follow instructions from her supervisor and making numerous inappropriate personal phone calls.
An arbitrator was eventually brought in, and she was reinstated after a year off the job, though not authorized to carry a firearm.
With union backing, she is now appealing a suspension imposed since her March 5, 2002, reinstatement, according to Kristi Gullen, assistant Dane County corporation counsel.
Gullen and sheriff's officials said they could not release details concerning that suspension.
Published: 9:44 AM 5/11/04
I feel funny today....
I almost hate to say this, but it seems to me that "pleas for medical care" would be continual in a medical section of a corrections facility.
Sounds like she doesn't mince words. Might be "unprofessional", but when one's profession consists in giving mostly bad news to people (e.g. "You were speeding", "You're under arrest for murder", "You tried to attack me, so now you're gonna have this here bullet inside you"), "professional" might not get the message across.
Well, that was certainly a Bad Thing.
Upon hearing that evaluation, she probably told him to asl;kdjdfjkasf;ldsjkfdalsfdsa.
Well, which is it? Threatening, intimidating, interfereing, or abusive language? And police are NEVER discourteous. [alistaircooke]"I beg your pardon, sir, but you really must put that nasty gun down and come along with me, then."[/alistaircooke]
And what did the schoolteacher say?
It was probably true.
This is bad because....??
Well, there were probably better ways to handle that. His voice'll give out eventually.
This is another Bad Thing. We have only two or three so far.
Behold, a government lack-of-cover-up.
Another Bad Thing.
Who says unions are all about their own preservation? This one seems to take a lighter view toward danger to its members....
"Officer Bishell, when I use the term "throw the book at someone", you are NOT to take it literally!"
Because they worked so well before....
I suppose much of this depends on who she called, but this sounds like another Bad Thing. OTOH, I have a problem with sequestering. Sounds like an unreasonable deprivation of liberty to me.
I wonder if she has a CCW...
When I was in High School, my English class received this advice from our teacher:
"Learn to play the game."
Officer Bishell clearly does not know how to play the game. Whether it's fair, just, right, or not, she is losing. Her union is there to try to help her keep her job (make no mistake - a union is not there to further the interest of the entity which employs its members).
Well, someone will have a good rant from this.
Until you've been in or associated with management, you don't know just how ridiculous unions can be.
I was associated with management at a factory I worked at and we had people with RAGING drug habits that would not show up for work or even call in for a week and the UNION would get their job back for them. I got to the point where I believed the only way a union employee could be fired was if they killed someone ON THE JOB.
I'm also former union myself, and have witnessed the absurdity within them myself.
They were a great idea at one time, but they've long outlasted their usefulness and are now a detriment.