9 charged, including warden, in connection with 2 Wisconsin inmate deaths

9 charged, including warden, in connection with 2 Wisconsin inmate deaths

Nine Wisconsin correctional officials, including the warden of a maximum-security prison, have been arrested on charges connected with the deaths of two inmates that the sheriff said showed a “blatant disregard for the safety of human beings.”

Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said that one of the two inmates at the Waupun Correctional Institution was dead in his cell for 12 hours before his death was discovered — and before that, even after he had collapsed, staff skipped rounds to check on his health and a nurse decided without visiting him that no medical entry was needed.

Another inmate died of dehydration and malnutrition, and an investigation showed that officers at his restricted unit failed to feed him nine out of 12 meals over the course of four days, Schmidt said.

Image: inmate deaths Waupun Correctional Institution (Morry Gash / AP)
Image: inmate deaths Waupun Correctional Institution (Morry Gash / AP)

“These investigations have shown a blatant disregard for the safety of human beings, and arrests must be made and have been made,” Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said at a news conference.

Two other inmates also died, one by suicide and one by fentanyl toxicity, the sheriff said, but the conduct did not rise to the level of criminal activity.

The nine charged include Randall Hepp, warden at the Waupun Correctional Institution, located in the city of the same name around 55 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

Hepp and three other correctional officers — Jamall Russel, Sarah Ransbottom and Jeramie Chalker — were arrested on a count of misconduct in public office, the sheriff’s office said.

Russell, as well as registered nurses Gwendolyn Peachey and Jessica Hosfelt, and correctional Lt. Brandon Fisher, correctional Sgt. Tanner Leopold, and correctional Sgt. Alexander Hollfelder, were also arrested on abuse of residents of penal facilities. Most of them face one count, but Fisher faces two.

The two people whose deaths resulted in criminal charges were Cameron Williams, the inmate who was found 12 hours after his death, who died on Oct. 30 when he was in restricted housing, the sheriff’s office said. His death was ruled to have been a stroke and the manner natural, the office said.

The other was Donald Maier, who died of malnutrition on Feb. 22. His death was ruled a homicide, mostly due to malnutrition and dehydration, Schmidt said.

“As the sheriff I am angered by how these men were treated, and how they died,” Schmidt said.

There were no criminal charges in the deaths of Tyshun Lemons, who died on Oct. 2 of fentanyl toxicity, and Dean Hoffman, who died by suicide on Jan. 29, 2023. Schmidt said that there were policy violations surrounding Hoffman's death but they did not rise to the level of a crime.

Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Jared Hoy said in a statement that neither the department nor state would be providing legal representation to any of the nine people charged.

"At this time, all nine of these individuals against whom criminal charges have now been filed are either no longer employed at the department or are on unpaid administrative leave," the statement said.

The Department of Corrections also had been investigating, Hoy said, and everyone accused except for the warden "were either under ongoing DOC internal investigation or had been placed on administrative leave or terminated based upon DOC’s internal investigations."

An attorney listed in court records for Hepp did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment Wednesday evening. Court records show a $1,000 bond was set and Hepp has a review hearing scheduled for July 3.

Hosfelt’s attorney, Dan Kaminsky, said that the allegations against the nurse "are legally inadequate, and fail to explain even a common sense approach to why she has been charged," and that he has filed a motion to dismiss the charge against her.

Kaminsky said any death, especially a preventable one, is tragic but that "it is a great disservice to our community, the public at large, as well as the family, to wrongly blame individuals who had very little, if anything, to do with the circumstances that may have led to such a situation."

Emails and voicemails left to attorneys in most of the other cases for which counsel appeared in records were also not immediately returned.

Waupun Correctional Institution had around 1,001 inmates at the time of the most recent prison fact sheet done by the state for fiscal year 2023. The number of staff in that year was 432.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com