Federal investigation into Lincoln Hills closed, finds no staff violations

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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) -- The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday the federal criminal investigation of alleged civil rights violations at Lincoln Hills School has concluded, after finding insufficient evidence to prove federal criminal civil rights charges against LHS staff members.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division, together with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, conducted a comprehensive investigation into allegations that LHS staff members used unreasonable force against incarcerated youths on multiple occasions.

Civil rights prosecutors and federal agents conducted interviews of civilians and law enforcement witnesses, and reviewed materials and evidence generated during the course of the prior State investigations, including video footage, physical evidence, medical reports, and youth, employee, and law enforcement statements. Federal authorities also reviewed the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and Lincoln Hills School policies and procedures in place at the time, and Lincoln Hills School staff training and employment records.

According to a news release, to prove a violation of federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must be able to prove that the involved staff members willfully used more force than was reasonably necessary.

Federal prosecutors must not only prove that the force used was excessive, but must also prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the staff member acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids.

The Legislature last year unanimously approved a bill shuttering the troubled prison by 2021 and replacing it with smaller state- and county-run facilities. The state is currently planning to build two new juvenile detention facilities in Milwaukee and Outagamie counties.

The Associated Press contributed to this report