County holds Imperial police computers for week, denying access to city officials

Computer technicians find nothing inappropriate after allegations made

    At the Aug. 21 Imperial city council meeting, approval was given for purchasing four new laptop computers, software, printers and scanners for the city’s police department.
    While the city had budgeted money for 2017-18 to purchase some of the new software, the laptops, scanners and printers were not in the budget, said City Clerk/Administrator Jo Leyland.
    During open discussion on the purchases at last week’s council meeting, city officials indicated other reasons came into play for expending the funds for new laptops, scanners and printers.
    It started July 31 with a request from Chase County Emergency Manager Duane Dreiling for the four police laptops and an I-pad.
    Dreiling said he wanted to pick them up for Homeland Security “to be sure they were accounted for and being used,” Police Chief Wisnieski told council members at last week’s meeting. Dreiling also mentioned an audit, Wisnieski said.
    The police laptops had been purchased with federal grant money by the Nebraska Emergency Management Association (NEMA).  
    As requested, Wisnieski turned over three laptops and an I-pad to Dreiling that day.
    The next day Dreiling asked the police chief for passwords and codes to access the machines, which Wisnieski declined to provide,
    “That was appropriate” by Wisnieski, said City Attorney Josh Wendell.
    “Certainly there was information on those machines that is of law enforcement nature that the city has a right and obligation to remain as confidential,” he said.
    Wisnieski said he offered to open up the computers with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials present, but never was taken up on the offer.
    “So if DHS wanted to review them they were provided a mechanism” to do so, Wendell said.
    The city attorney later received a call from Dreiling.
    “He made the statement to me DHS wanted to review the operating system that was on the machines,” Wendell said.
    Wendell said during the conversations, County Attorney Arlan Wine told him there had been an allegation made of misuse involving the police computers.
Allegations came second hand to sheriff’s office
    The allegations were made on a voluntary statement form at the Chase County Sheriff’s Office. The name of the person signing the statement was blacked out, along with an alleged witness in the statement.
    County Attorney Wine said he had the names redacted because the two individuals are juveniles.
    The voluntary statement dated Aug. 1 was witnessed by Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Mueller, the day after the request for the police computers came from Dreiling.
    Acquired by The Imperial Republican, the statement reads in part, “(name withheld) told me in confidence that he saw on Ryan W’s laptop that was in his police vehicle that Ryan W had been watching porn.”
    The unnamed witness allegedly entered the police vehicle after the police chief left it and looked at the laptop.
    “That’s when he saw what was on his computer,” the statement alleges.
    As they continued to discuss getting the police machines back, County Attorney Wine claimed the county owned the laptops because they were listed on a county inventory, Wendell said.
    “That means nothing as far as I’m concerned,” the city attorney said.
    Several times, Wendell said he made requests to get the computers back to the city.
    After continuing phone calls, later that morning (Aug. 1), Wine changed his stance, saying the county didn’t own the machines after all and there was “no reason the county should continue to hold them,” Wendell said.
    The two attorneys eventually established the ownership was vested in the Emergency Management Agency.
    However, Wendell was then told by Wine the State Patrol was stopping by to take a look at them at the courthouse.
    “We got involved then with the State Patrol and asked them if they knew anything about the situation,” he said.
    After several calls between the city attorney and the State Patrol legal department, Wendell received an email from the Patrol’s legal counsel Wendy Wussow on Aug. 2 which reads, “Nebraska State Patrol does not have it, nor will we take custody of it until 1) the Attorney General says to open a case and 2) Chase County can provide they own it or had it come into their possession lawfully.”

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