Campus Free Speech

Wisconsin College Spent $100K Investigating Instructor for Allegedly Saying Police Department Was 'Full of Racists'

The investigation was launched after the local police chief complained and reached out to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

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A vocational college in La Crosse, Wisconsin, spent more than $100,000 investigating one of its instructors for allegedly saying the local police department was "full of racists."

The school is Western Technical College (WTC). The instructor is Nicole Miller, who teaches at the college's law enforcement academy; she is also a former La Crosse County sheriff's deputy and former correctional officer. Miller purportedly made the comment while warning a potential recruit against taking a job at the La Crosse department.

When then–Police Chief Ronald Tischer heard about this, he demanded an investigation. The ensuing probe, in which Tischer also enlisted the Wisconsin Department of Justice, lasted more than a year and ended with Miller being cleared of any wrongdoing. But it has cost the public college $103,445 so far in bills to a consulting firm and law firm that it hired to handle the matter, according to figures provided by WTC.

The case shows how powerful local officials, like a police chief, can leverage their influence to punish critics. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a First Amendment advocacy group, says that investigating an instructor for giving her professional opinion to a student has a chilling effect on free speech.

"Students rely on the ability of instructors to share honest views about the opportunities available to them," says Adam Steinbaugh, the director of FIRE's individual rights defense program. "That's true whether it's a student asking about an opportunity at an academic program, a private company, or a government agency. Investigations into protected speech—such as opining on a police department's culture or actions—will chill speech, to the detriment of students."

The imbroglio started on August 13, 2018, when Tischer emailed the WTC president complaining that he had heard that Miller had been telling students that the La Crosse Police Department was "full of racists" and "you shouldn't work there."

"As you can imagine, I am outraged at this comment," Tischer wrote. "The La Crosse Police Department does more than any other police department in the state to attract and hire a diverse workforce."

A week later Tischer sent an email to officials at the Wisconsin Department of Justice about a "significant problem" that had been uncovered at WTC. "We would like to meet to discuss our options and ensure this instructor or any other instructors are never allowed to unjustly defame our department," Tischer wrote.

In October 2018, WTC officials met with Tischer and representatives from the Department of Justice. The college laid out its initial investigation, which found there wasn't evidence to support Tischer's claims that Miller had said the department was "full of racists."

Tischer then complained that the investigation hadn't interviewed enough people about Miller's alleged bias against the La Crosse Police Department, and he accused her of making several other disparaging remarks about the department and individual officers. In a follow-up email, Tischer suggested that the college could also be sued for her comments.

"Western Technical College is culpable for Ms. Miller's words and bears the burden for her actions," Tischer wrote on November 5, 2018, email. "The term Vicarious Liability comes to mind" (emphasis in original).

Tischer demanded that the college remove his name from its criminal justice advisory council and said he would be asking the state for a permanent waiver for the La Crosse Police Department to avoid sending any future officers to the WTC's law enforcement academy.

The college, at the request of Tischer and the Wisconsin Department of Justice, hired a law firm and consulting firm to conduct an outside investigation.

While the investigation was taking place, several other La Crosse Police Department officers reported that Miller had made disparaging remarks about the department, each of which added additional time and costs to the investigation.

In November of this year, after conducting 24 interviews with supposed witnesses, the firms released their final report, finding that there was not sufficient evidence to substantiate any of the allegations.

"Any discussions regarding race were private conversations and the alleged statements 'full of racists' and 'you shouldn't work there' could not be substantiated," the report stated. "In addition, the main witness related to these allegations stated that Ms. Miller had no malicious intent and that she was looking out for him."

As for the other alleged disparaging remarks, the report concluded that "rumormongering was a factor in this matter and may have worsened this situation."

One thing the report didn't delve into was whether the La Crosse Police Department was in fact full of racists.

In 2016 the city paid $50,000 to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit by a former La Crosse police officer against the department.

Anthony Clark, one of only two black officers at the La Crosse Police Department at the time, alleged that he was subjected to persistent racial harassment by officers and supervisors. Clark's suit claimed black officers were referred to as "jigaboo," that he was called a "house dog," and that bananas were put in his locker.

After Clark's complaint went public, he claimed the La Crosse Police Department retaliated by papering him with disciplinary investigations and reprimands.

"It became clear that following the public notice of my charges, the city has fly-specked my records, video and audio, searching for infractions and criticized actions which are routine for other white officers in the department," Clark wrote in a follow-up discrimination complaint.

The city did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the terms of its settlement with Clark, but it agreed to purge his disciplinary record. 

The only black La Crosse officer who worked with Clark, Nathan Poke, filed a another discrimination lawsuit this January, alleging that he was retaliated against and ultimately fired for trying to report misconduct by a white officer. In a sworn deposition, he repeated many of Clark's claims about the department. He said another officer referred to him and his music, or anything related to black culture generally, as "jigabooish."

A spokesperson for Western Technical College said that, as of now, the La Crosse Police Department has not sent any recruits back to the school. Tischer is now the police chief of Payson, Arizona.

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  1. ” . . . this instructor or any other instructors are never allowed to unjustly defame our department . . . ”

    But they can still justly defame the department, right?

    1. Oh come on. You fucking snowflake.

      1. Or did I misinterpret your comment?

        1. I don’t even need to read his to comment to know that is a yes.

          1. Yeah I did. Oops….

            1. I take it that “just” means truthful, which can be a very serious form of defamation that should never be allowed–one of the main reasons we need to entirely replace this great nation’s federal judiciary, so we can get rid of the abhorrent “Sullivan” line of cases. I’d like to take this opportunity to mention that here at NYU, we are proud to have very good relations with the police, and wouldn’t allow any defamatory statements about them, whether true or false. All the more so with regards to our own distinguished faculty members. See the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

              https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  2. One of the greatest accomplishments of America’s better citizens during my lifetime is that our vestigial bigots no longer wish to be known as bigots, at least not publicly.

    May America’s liberal-libertarian progress continue — against the wishes and efforts of conservatives.

    1. I agree, making you hide behind a pseudonym to express your bigotry was one of our better accomplishments

      1. The rev reminds me of the religious right guy condemning gays with fury only to get busted for being gay.

        1. I know and have known quite a few Reverends in my life. Not one of them had time to troll online. In general they are very busy people.
          I would like to know where this reverend finds that time?

          1. It’s just a title he gave himself to mock religion.

            He’s gone downhill since he was just Arthur Kirkland on the old Volokh Conspiracy (VC before Reason.com, before WaPo). The failure of a third term for the Clinton Administration (dem) or (the election of Donald Trump (none of the above)) did a number on his mind.

    2. Your own comments disprove your hypothesis since you remain the most vitriolic bigot in these threads.

    3. Fuck off, slaver

    4. One time I saw a dude take a 300 lb. hooker behind the dumpster in the alley behind a machine shop where I was working night shift so they could do the nasty. The same dumpster where many, many street people stopped to relieve themselves.

      Yeah, I kinda get how cops can dehumanize some of the animals they have to deal with sometimes.

      The revs “betters” in action showing why none of us should believe our lyin’ eyes.

      Haha.

  3. File this one away for the next time people claim college PC culture is out of control.

    1. As yet another piece of evidence?

    2. It’s a vocational school. These are a little different.

  4. “The instructor is Nicole Miller, who teaches at the college’s law enforcement academy; she is also a former La Crosse County sheriff’s deputy and former correctional officer.”

    Those who can, do…

    Seriously tho how do you fail at those jobs

    1. By being a good apple.

      1. Ok, but how did SHE fail at them?

    2. Will probably end up teaching gym.

    3. She didn’t fail at those jobs.

  5. Do you know when the Nicole Millers are coming in from Milan?

    http://yarn.co/yarn-clip/f6ac8d1c-b29d-430a-89ba-622d97c97f25

    1. Don’t make us cut off your ponytail

  6. $100,000? Damn, that’s a lot of money wasted – almost half the salary of a Vice-President For Diversity and Inclusion in Genderfluid Studies.

  7. Cops racist and bigoted?

    How are they supposed to enforce common-sense, sensible gun legislation in an even-handed manner?

    1. Easy. When it comes to disarming people, they only see two colors: blue, and not-blue.

  8. Was it foolish for me to hope, even for a second, that the investigation was into the validity of the complaint so that the offending officers could be fired?

    1. Yes. Kinda sweet, but hopelessly naive.

    2. ” It is a dream I have …” — Arthur, Excalibur 1981 film

  9. The police department is accused of racism and the chief responds with “The La Crosse Police Department does more than any other police department in the state to attract and hire a diverse workforce.”

    Diverse? So they hire both bigots and non-bigots?

    Or is the implication that non-whites are less likely to be racist? That’s a pretty racist thing to say…

    1. I was thinking that if you have to do more to attract a diverse workforce, there might be a problem with your internal culture

  10. Why would instructor Nicole Miller continue to teach in that institution and in that field if she thinks that way. She she should know she is not going to change the climate there while she is just an instructor. So she should try for the head of the department where she could institute better policies or if not attaining that position leaving that institution and going to another.

    1. Some googling shows she started as a policewoman on the campus police force, so I’m guessing she got a job teaching after completing a degree from the college.

      If I were black and found that the only two black officers on the county police force were harassed, then I’d think that there was racism going on.

      She didn’t claim the school was racist, just the sheriff’s department.

    2. She’s not trying to change anything. And she doesn’t think the *college* is full of racists – but that the local cop shop is.

      All she did is point that out to a student who was considering applying to work in that police force.

  11. “The college laid out its initial investigation, which found there wasn’t evidence to support Tischer’s claims that Miller had said the department was “full of racists.”

    And if there had been enough evidence, then what? Cops proving it day after day what POS them are. Just another glimpse of police tyranny.

  12. Was the potential recruit to whom NM is alleged to have made the remark Tischer’s source? And in his August 2018 e-mail was Tischer using several of Miller’s students as the source for his claims?

    If the main witness claimed that Miller had no malicious intent, then that implies that she made the statement; if he also stated that, in making the statement, Miller was looking out for him, then why did he report the statement to anyone?

    I don’t understand why either FIRE or Ciaramella thinks there is a problem: nobody has a right to libel, slander, or defame anybody, and investigating someone to determine whether they libelled, slandered, or defamed someone is not an assault on anybody’s freedom of speech.

    I don’t understand why it should have taken so long and cost so much to ask Miller’s students at the time whether she had made such remarks.

    And our reporter seems biassed—the investigation concerned the question of whether she made the remarks; until that was determined, there was no reason to ask about the truth of the statement.

    Ciaramella thinks that the allegations in a settled lawsuit are evidence that the department is in fact “full of racists,” but they are not—if the two black officers were indeed the subject of harassment, it would have been quite easy for them to wear a wire, take photographs, and do other things to support their claims: if you somehow you manage to find yourself in an organization where almost everybody is a racist, it would be simply stupid to think that, if you complained to any of them, or to the presumably equally racist cronies who govern them, they would believe you.

  13. “The ensuing probe, in which Tischer also enlisted the Wisconsin Department of Justice, lasted more than a year and ended with Miller being cleared of any wrongdoing.”

    So when will Clint Eastwood be making a movie about this travesty?

  14. Out of curiosity, isn’t the first thing a police department does when something goes wrong (cop shoots someone without cause, no-knock raid gone bad, etc) is defame the victim? Free speech for me but not for thee, apparently.

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