Waupun Correctional Institution Warden, employees brought in on charges of misconduct

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JUNEAU — Nine Waupun Correctional Institution employees were charged by the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department Wednesday morning following an investigation into the four deaths that occurred over the last year.

Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt announced the charges at a news conference held Wednesday afternoon.

The arrests included Waupun Correctional Institution Warden Randall Hepp, as the official accountable for maintaining the prison. The Associated Press reported that Hepp had been charged Wednesday morning, but details about the arrest or charges were not publicly released prior to the news conference.

Upon starting the conference, Sheriff Schmidt explained a few definitions that he would use throughout the . He specified the difference between “cause of death,” meaning the specific medical or injury that resulted in death, and “manner of death,” which is the action which caused it.

He also pointed out that the term the Department of Corrections mandates the use of the phrase “persons in our care” in replacement of “inmate” or “prisoner.”

Once completed, he went on to describe the exact details of the deaths that occurred since last June.

The inmate deaths are as follows:

First inmate death June 29, 2023: Suicide by ligature hanging. During the investigation it was found that the inmate had an inconsistent medication schedule. While some policies were not followed, none were considered to the point of criminal negligence.

Second inmate death October 2, 2023: Fentanyl overdose by smuggled drugs, declared accident. There is still an ongoing investigation into how the smuggled drugs made it into the prison.

Third inmate death October 30, 2023: Stroke, with allegation of medical negligence. According to the documentation, the nurse on duty reported no medical emergency the night of the stroke and the inmate was dead in his cell for over 12 hours before discovery the following morning. Manner of death was declared “natural causes,” but it brought up questions of negligence.

Fourth inmate death February 22, 2024: Malnutrition—starvation/dehydration by hunger strike. Despite the ongoing hunger strike the staff did not institute hunger strike policies. The manner of death was declared a homicide by the medical examiner.

Only the last two deaths were being considered for filed charges against the employees of the Waupun Correctional Institution. The overall allegation is that the prison is liable for these two deaths via gross negligence.

Sheriff Schmidt went on to describe the concerns he brought to DOC Secretary Kevin Carr on February 27 that contributed to these deaths, namely the lack of documentation, lack of training, lack of following procedures, and lack of accountability of staff.

One topic that has been a major issue for the Waupun Correctional Institution is the lack of staffing, where WCI has been operating on a nearly halved recommended workforce for the number of inmates they currently oversee. This has greatly affected conditions for both staff and inmates and resulted in a long term modified security protocol that prevented inmates from taking visitors and, at points, near-solitary conditions. Many Correctional Officers and other workers are required to work nearly double-overtime to make up for the poor staffing situation.

“The intent of the conversation was to bring to light the issues to ensure no further tragedy occurred,” Schmidt said. “Instead, Secretary Carr was agitated by the information presented to him and took no responsibility but rather shifted the blame to Warden Hepp and the culture at WCI.”

And only three days after that conversation with Kevin Carr, Carr resigned from his position, giving only one week notice. It came to light soon after that similar incidents were also occurring at Green Bay Correctional Institution, which were also being brought to the attention of the DOC.

Schmidt went on to explain the long list of missteps that the DOC and WCI have made over the last year. This included failure to properly staff, failure to update facilities and equipment, failure to hold staff accountable, and failure to keep inmates safe. He went on to give a list of recommendations to fix these issues, both specific solutions and general direction.

Schmidt noted that DOC Secretary Jared Hoy has been “moving in the right direction,” and has so far filled the position well.

Following this, he explained the two different charges leveled against the nine total WCI employees.

The charges filed are as follows:

Abuse of Residents of Penal Facilities – Wisconsin Statute 940.29 – Class I Felony
Gwendolyn Peachey (Vick) – Age 50 of Burnett – Registered Nurse
Brandon Fisher – Age 29 of Fox Lake – Correctional Lieutenant – 2 Counts
Tanner Leopold – Age 27 of Waupun – Correctional Sergeant
Jamall Russel – Age 39 of Beaver Dam – Correctional Officer
Alexander Hollfelder – Age 31 of Waupun – Correctional Sergeant
Jessica Hosfelt – Age 47 of Oshkosh – Registered Nurse

Misconduct in Public Office – Wisconsin Statute 946.12(1) – Class I Felony
Jamall Russel – Age 39 of Beaver Dam – Correctional Officer
Sarah Ransbottom – Age 35 of Oshkosh – Correctional Officer
Jeramie Chalker – Age 41 of Brandon – Correctional Sergeant
Randall Hepp – Waupun Correctional Institution Warden

Each of the listed employees turned themselves in on Wednesday morning on the Department’s request.

Before moving on to questions, he briefly explained the investigative and judicial process, and why certain information cannot be shared with the public.

“We have to make sure information is released at the proper time,” Schmidt said. He went on to assure the public that the First Amendment will be respected if people express their opinions or disagreements on the charges.

He further requested that the community remain calm during these investigations, and to let justice take its course.

“As a reminder, all persons are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,” he emphasized.

Schmidt then opened up the conference for questions, but stated that he would not take further questions on the incidents and requested privacy for families of the deceased. 

Several questions were asked about the smuggling ring, but Schmidt could not comment on an ongoing investigation as it is currently being conducted by the FBI.

One reporter asked about whether the lockdowns impacted the deaths. Sheriff Schmidt said that the suggestion that the lockdowns are linked to the deaths are “bogus,” and that the lockdowns keep both inmates and employees safe.

Another question was asked about why no particular employees were charged with homicide related to the deaths. According to Sheriff Schmidt, the medical examiner stated that there is a difference between the medical declaration of death compared to the legal definition. Particularly, the legal definition requires an element of intent.

After all questions were answered, Sheriff Schmidt ended the conference.

The full news conference video can be found on the official Dodge County Sheriff’s Department Youtube here: 

Nearly a dozen employees have also been charged for the transportation of illicit substances over the last year after the discovery of a smuggling ring within the prison. The investigation into the smuggling ring is separate from the charges publicized at the press conference.

Waupun Correctional Institution has been in lockdown for nearly two years due to low staffing conditions.