Former LCSO Lieutenant Collinsworth retires after allegations, investigation into complaints
Retirement and Release Agreement authorizes $25,000.00 payment to Collinsworth
By Tina L. Scott
LINCOLN COUNTY – Chad Collinsworth, of Gleason, former Lieutenant with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO), entered into a Retirement and Release Agreement dated Oct. 1, 2022, whereby he retired from the LCSO effective Oct. 1, 2022.
The Agreement authorized a $25,000.00 payment to Collinsworth and stipulated he could not seek re-employment with Lincoln County in any capacity.
Allegations, investigation begin in early 2022
This comes six and one-half months after Collinsworth was placed on paid administrative leave from his position with the LCSO, and five and one-half months after then Lincoln County Administrative Coordinator/Human Resources Director Cate Wylie completed an investigation and submitted her report and findings of that investigation dated April 11, 2022, to Lincoln County Sheriff Ken Schneider and Chief Deputy Nate Walrath.
The investigation began as the result of complaints from both male and female deputies with the LCSO, officially lodged in early 2022, documenting allegations of harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and threats of retaliation dating back several years, and indicating complainants feared retaliation from Collinsworth, which is why it took them so long to come forward.
Some witnesses interviewed in the investigation corroborated the complaints, and others added complaints of their own to the tally of offenses alleged against Collinsworth during the investigation.
Collinsworth was placed on paid administrative leave on March 18, 2022.
It is unclear what transpired between the submission of Wylie’s report to Sheriff Schneider and Chief Deputy Walrath in mid-April and the effective date of the Retirement and Release Agreement on Oct. 1, and why Collinsworth remained on paid administrative leave all that time.
Likewise, it is also unclear why Lincoln County’s zero tolerance policy for the alleged behaviors, which states “offenders will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including discharge,” did not result in any such disciplinary action.
An open records request initially filed on Oct. 13, 2022, which was met with a number of delays, ultimately led to the release of nearly 400 pages of documentation in this matter. However, none of those records gave any indication of disciplinary action brought against Collinsworth as a result of these allegations, even after Wylie submitted her report.
Originally hired by the LCSO on Dec. 11, 2007, as a Patrol officer, Collinsworth’s official personnel file showed he was promoted to Sergeant Investigator on Sept. 1, 2009, and then to Lieutenant heading up the Detective Division on Feb. 14, 2017. He was also a Handgun and Rifle Instructor for the LCSO.
Collinsworth’s formal employee evaluations were all either Satisfactory or Very Good, including the most recent dated Jan. 7, 2021, except that his annual review for 2017 dated Feb. 2, 2018, rated him as Very Good/Outstanding. His working employee file at the LCSO reflected years of training, particularly as it relates to investigating drug crimes, and numerous commendations from various sources for his investigative work, particularly relating to drug investigations.
Details of Retirement and Release Agreement
Additional terms of the Retirement and Release Agreement state Collinsworth’s personnel file would reflect that he “retired” and that he would be classified as “retired” in the Acadis Portal of the Wisconsin Department of Justice; and that Lincoln County agreed to treat Collinsworth’s separation from employment with the LCSO as a “retirement in good standing;” award him his duty handgun; allow him to keep his badge, provided it is mounted or encased to prevent future use; provide him with a retired deputy ID card; and provide, at Collinsworth’s expense, certification training to enable him to get and keep his retiree concealed carry permit.
It also stated Lincoln County agreed not to seek to recover any paid administrative leave or other benefits paid to Collinsworth during the six and one-half months he was placed on paid administrative leave.
Further, the Agreement included a “Non-Admission” paragraph “made in full, final, and complete compromise and settlement of any disputed claims” between Lincoln County and Collinsworth “inclusive of those matters discussed in the investigative interviews conducted,” and not to “in any way be construed as an acknowledgment or admission by any of the parties of any liability or wrongdoing whatsoever under federal, state, or local law.”
It stated that “Any requests for references from potential employers” would only say that “Chad Collinsworth was hired by Lincoln County on Dec. 11, 2007, and at the time of his retirement, was a Lieutenant earning $38.71 per hour,” except that “if the County receives a request from a prospective law enforcement employer, County shall respond truthfully and may disclose the nature of the events leading up to Employee’s separation/retirement. The County will further comply with all of the requirements and mandates effective under 2021 Wis. Act 82.”
What isn’t clear
What isn’t clear as a result of Wylie’s investigation and report is whether Collinsworth was deemed guilty of the allegations leveled against him in the complaints filed by other LCSO and County employees.
Wylie doesn’t question the credibility of the complainants or witnesses, or witnesses turned complainants, in her report and findings. But she does cite Lincoln County’s zero tolerance policy for the behaviors Collinsworth is alleged to have exhibited, the words he is alleged to have said, and the actions he is alleged to have taken.
“Lincoln County has clear policy on these accusations that include zero tolerance which includes immediate termination if any employee is found guilty of these behaviors,” her report reads.
Yet Collinsworth remained on the payroll, an employee of Lincoln County, on paid administrative leave, for five and a half months following the writing of Wylie’s report. Before taxes are considered, at $38.71 per hour, for an average of 40 hours per week, times 4.33 average weeks in a month, times 5.5 months, that’s $36,875.15.00 Lincoln County paid Collinsworth while he was on leave during that timeframe, all of which Lincoln County agreed not to try to recover as part of the Retirement and Release Agreement the parties signed.
So what transpired during that five and one-half months’ time?
If Collinsworth chose to retire, why did Lincoln County pay him $25,000.00 to do so?
If Collinsworth was deemed guilty of the allegations, why wasn’t he disciplined or terminated in accordance with Lincoln County policy? And why did Lincoln County agree not to try to recover the more than the roughly $36,000.00 he was paid while on paid administrative leave?
And if he was found not guilty of the allegations, why didn’t he return to work at the LCSO?
The one thing that appears certain: the signed Release and Retirement Agreement pretty much ensures the public will never get answers to those questions.
To read a more in-depth report on this story, www.bit.ly/3GcZ1rB.