REDGRANITE, Wis. (WBAY) - A Green Lake County man says he took early retirement from the Department of Corrections because of death threats placed on him -- and inmates and their families -- over the leaking of confidential information during an investigation at a state prison.
It involves an employee at Redgranite Correctional Institution releasing the identities of prison informants in two high-profile cases out of Milwaukee involving a homicide and death threats to a former assistant district attorney.
The former gang investigator who was in charge of the operation came to Target 2 Investigates, telling us he's waited months for state officials to investigate and take action.
Sarah Thomsen has been trying to sort this out over the last several weeks, and, after starting to ask questions and push officials, changes are happening.
Jason Wilke retired from the Department of Corrections three weeks ago after a 20-year career with DOC, 15 as a gang investigator within the state's prisons. He's a state trainer and travels the country teaching others about gang trends and intervention.
But it was a difficult, year-long investigation he was conducting at Redgranite Correctional he says changed his life.
"It's utterly disgusting. There are members of the community, to include myself, who now have active threats on their lives due to his intentional misconduct," Wilke said, the frustration in his voice unmistakable.
"In 20 years in Corrections, I've seen some bad things but I've never seen anything like the emoji incident."
In January of last year, Wilke was assigned to work a gang investigation inside Redgranite Correctional.
"We had some informants come forward that indicated he wanted to harm or kill the prosecutor that had tried and convicted him and sentenced him to prison, so that's not something you take lightly."
Wilke says recording devices were placed inside cells of inmates working as informants who knew they were being recorded. He says staff assigned to the area knew it, too. But a few days before the devices were set to activate, Wilke says informants' identities were suddenly revealed.
"Took a rat emoji and placed it next to each informant's name," Wilke said. "He actually put a rat emoji, equal sign, and 5."
These were his five informants, he told us, for what he said was a "very high-profile investigation."
Wilke says inmates saw that piece of paper, known as a range board, containing the names and cell location of each inmate in the housing unit, sitting on an officer's desk.
"At that point and time, every single informant was known to the inmate population, and it doesn't take rocket science to understand what a rat means inside of a correctional facility," Wilke said.
Target 2 obtained DOC records of the investigation that show inmates "made a copy in the library and were attempting to mail it out of the institution."
Wilke's concern turned to the inmates and their families.
"If you look at it from a threat group level, informants are killed, and that is extremely upsetting to me because these people worked with us to save the life of a prosecutor."
Wilke says he went to the warden and security director and tells Target 2 they told him they would investigate.
Less than a week later, DOC records show an employee provided a signed statement admitting to placing the rat emojis next to inmate names. Out of what the DOC calls legitimate safety and security concerns, we are choosing not to name that staff member at this point.
In his statement, that Corrections employee wrote, "There was no malice ... and no intent to cause unrest, but to simply make aware and share information for staff's use only," adding he thought that housing area was "turning into an unstable environment, and by having these inmates ... on the same wing ... would eventually cause chaos."
He ended by writing, "I am sorry and ... sincerely apologize for my mistake."
Three months later, Warden Michael Meisner handed down a one-day suspension to that employee, determining he violated a work rule.
In that entire emoji rat investigation, Wilke says he was never interviewed and he feels the entire incident wasn't taken seriously.
"They did nothing," he says.
Wilke thinks this is criminal misconduct -- but no criminal charges have been filed. Wilke says the case was never referred to law enforcement and showed Target 2 an email from the prison's human resources department confirming that.
DOC policy says the "warden or designee may refer to law enforcement ... where there are threats to a person within or outside the facility."
In October, Wilke says staff at another prison told him some inmates involved have placed death threats against him and his family. He now has law enforcement protection.
Wilke tells us he's not confirmed about identifying himself publicly because he says those threatening him already know who he is.
"But to me, that is very concerning, that I lose sleep over at nighttime, is actually the informants' family members, who are completely innocent members of the Wisconsin community."
Wilke has contacted officials in Madison. He tells us he's concerned all of this was swept under the rug and worries more people are in danger, so he contacted Target 2.
"I believe there were a lot of people, leadership in Madison, who really did not know this took place, and by the time they became aware of it, in their opinion, it was just too late."
Wilke arranged a meeting with two state lawmakers last Friday.
"Not the following Tuesday after we met, things started happening," he says.
Target 2 filed open records requests Monday. Tuesday, Wilke says he met with the newly-appointed DOC Secretary, Kevin Carr. The Department of Corrections provided Target 2 with this statement:
Secretary Carr was briefed on this situation and has directed Department of Corrections (DOC) staff to review all processes related to this complaint.
When the DOC was notified of threats made against Mr. Wilke, we contacted local law enforcement per procedure.
The DOC is committed to fair and transparent processes for all our staff and those in our care while keeping our first priority of public safety.
"I believe it's criminal misconduct, and on Friday I will be meeting with law enforcement investigators to actually pursue that," Wilke says.
When asked why he's coming forward now, Wilke says he's trying to ensure similar behavior doesn't happen again.
"I have actually informed them of every single step I am going to take in an effort to make this wrong a right."