I-Team follows up on allegations by Richland Village Clerk
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Thursday night, the I-Team took a close look at the Richland Police Department after we found taxpayers in that small village pay a very high premium for police service.
On Friday, the I-Team is now investigating a complaint filed by the Richland Village Clerk, alleging the officers in the police department are harrassing and intimidating her.
Wanda Holewa used words like intimidated, threatened, harrassed, and bullied to describe her experiences with the small village police department.
Holewa says she wanted somebody to take a full, impartial look at her issues, but that didn't happen.
Holewa's allegations come in a written complaint filed with the village's Board of Trustees, and are in large part directed right at Richland's Police Chief Jeff Mattioli.
"Wow, we're just trying to do the best job we can...and next thing you know, boom, out of left field and they are major allegations," he said.
Holewa alleges in this document the police department interfered with her duties as clerk as she raised concerns about possible fraudulent activities in the village.
She alleges the department's officers tarnished her character and reputation by identifying her as part of a group attempting to get rid of the village's government.
Finally, Holewa alleges somebody in the department authorized an investigation of her, and that a police officer in uniform went knocking on some doors in the village to find out information about her.
"I was very intimidated, and I felt like I was being harassed by the police department, especially when my friends and neighbors won't talk to me anymore, because they're afraid the police department's going to go to their house and question them," she said.
In a matter of eight days in July, we found the complaint was investigated and administratively dropped.
The I-Team found during those eight days trustees didn't hold any public hearings or meetings. There were no extensive interviews of the clerk, no independent arbitrator, no dispute resolution expert, just one village trustee investigating, who ultimately administratively dismissed Holewa's complaint--Richland Trustee Robert Brinkerhoff.
"I will tell you i talked with 3 out of the 4 people," Brinkerhoff said. "I can tell you this, that I investigated every single allegation in that letter."
"All I said was that I followed up with those that I could get in touch with, and they all said I had not heard anything like this. I said, OK," Brinkerhoff said.
The I-Team asked if he was qualified to do investigative work.
"Am I qualified? No, I am a college professor...retired professor," he said.
After our interview with Trustee Brinkerhoff, he changed his mind and told us he thought he did do a complete investigation and that he did feel he was qualified to do the investigation.
Virginia Mejeur disagrees there was a complete investigation.
After all, she says her family wasn't fully questioned about a Richland police officer coming to her house in full uniform to find out why Clerk Holewa didn't like the police anymore.
"Mister Brinkerhoff should have interviewed my husband. He should have done it separately and then together and he could have gotten a better view of our feelings about whether it was an investigation or an informative meeting and he did not," she said.
As we investigated whether Brinkerhoff was the right person to investigate this situation, internal e-mails obtained by the I-Team appear to show Brinkerhoff reporting back to the police chief on the clerk.
Brinkerhoff, weeks after he dismissed the clerk's complaint in internal e-mails, was actively looking to build a case against Clerk Holewa.
Brinkerhoff said in an e-mail to a village outsider, "I am begging you to please tell your story."
To boil it down, he wanted this man to share his negative opinion of the clerk.
When this guy didn't want anything to do with his request, Brinkerhoff reported back to Chief Mattioli in an e-mail, "I am sorry he will not help us, but I tried as you can see."
We also obtained documents written by Brinkerhoff to the clerk as a response to her complaint. He demanded her to stay silent about the police department in the future.
"In your case, we request that there should be no further instances of you making statements to friends, neighbors or others about alleged police misconduct or wrong intentions," the document read.
"I didn't appreciate that at all. People ask me questions all the time," Holewa said.
In August, the I-Team's questions prompted the village's attorney to ask the Michigan State Police to take a look at any criminal behavior.
The MSP responded to the village's attorney by e-mail, telling village leaders the MSP does not investigate administrative investigations.
The detective didn't think a criminal investigation was necessary in this case at this point.
Voters earlier this week, decided to make the clerk's position an appointed position rather than an elected one, giving the board of trustees an option to fire the clerk now.
Holewa says an independent observer is needed to come in to fully investigate what's really happening here.
"I don't think they have the respect they should with my office," she said.
Last month, Richland's Board of Trustees passed a resolution regarding the I-Team investigation.
All of the trustees unanimously called the investigation we undertook "biased, unfair, and based on certain unsubstantiated and false allegations."
That resolution was passed weeks before the story aired.
The same resolution showed support for Police Chief Jeff Mattioli, and directed Clerk Holewa for the second time to "cease and desist making any allegations to discredit the police."