Published: May 9, 2016 The Wisconsin Crime Victims Rights Board has made a rare decision, ordering Waupaca County’s district attorney to be disciplined for a years-long delay filing charges in a homicide case.
It stems from a case Target 2 Investigates uncovered in February. Two families waited more than two years for charges to be filed in two separate fatal crashes in Waupaca County.
Lisa Schultz, daughter of crash victim Fred Lick, has grown frustrated waiting for answers about her father’s death.
“When we met with the DA, there was a lot of excuses,” Schultz said.
Her wait started on July 2, 2013. That’s the day her father, Fred, was hit by a vehicle and killed while he was crossing the road in front of his rural Waupaca County home.
Lick made a trip to the mailbox and was returning with his mail when investigators say he was struck by Kristin Carlson’s vehicle. Waupaca County Sheriff’s investigators later determined Carlson had been speeding, and she may have been distracted by her cell phone.
Lisa Schultz and the rest of Fred Lick’s family were told to be patient and wait for charges.
Two years later–in July of 2015–Lisa had enough. She filed a formal complaint with Wisconsin’s Crime Victims Rights Board, saying Waupaca County District Attorney John Snider violated her rights waiting so long for a decision on charging the case.
“I kind of was doing it because I felt like I needed to do something,” Schultz said. “This was about the only thing that I could do. I thought my dad deserves something to be done. We’ve been waiting too long.”
About two weeks after she made the complaint, charges of Negligent Homicide were filed against Kristin Carlson in the death of Fred Lick.
The charges, however, were not filed by Waupaca County DA John Snider, but by a special prosecutor with the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office who Snider says he asked to step in and take the case.
Carlson’s case is still going through the criminal court system, but Lisa Schultz’s complaint immediately grabbed the attention of the Victims Rights Board.
“Then they did their own investigation,” Schultz said. “And then they sent me the paperwork and said yes, they felt this was something that should be looked into.”
The board discovered major gaps in time. Its final report shows the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office sent its report and referred charges for Kristin Carlson to the DA’s office on June 10, 2014–more than 11 months after Fred Lick’s death.
The case, however, is not assigned to a prosecutor, according to the Board’s report.
304 days go by.
On April 10, 2015, DA Snider sends an email to the sheriff’s office investigators saying he “just reviewed what we have.”
On April 24, 2015, DA Snider sends an email to the coroner asking for the autopsy report on Lick, the same day Schultz and her brothers meet with him to go over the case.
Fifty-one more days go by before DA Snider asks the sheriff’s office for more evidence.
When the Crime Victims Rights Board asked the DA to explain the delay, its investigators received the same response as Target 2 received a few months ago: The DA’s office was overloaded with cases.
However, the Crime Victims Rights Board said the “workload is not a reasonable justification,” pointing out charges had been filed by the DA’s office in three other homicides during the time Fred Lick’s family waited.
The report also shows Snider claimed he had to wait for reports and evidence, but the board disagreed. The autopsy report was emailed to Snider just 34 minutes after he requested it.
“They did such a thorough investigation that it made me feel good to know that somebody is backing us up,” Schultz said.
The board concluded there was “clear and convincing evidence” Snider violated a crime victim’s right to a speedy disposition in the case. The board called Snider’s actions “not reasonable” and said it is Snider’s duty as the district attorney to “prioritize case work”, especially when it involves a death.
The board issued a private reprimand to Snider, but it did not release any details.
“It just feels good to know that somebody is doing something about it,” says Lisa Schultz.
Target 2 discovered it is incredibly rare for a reprimand to be issued. The board has only received 55 complaints since it became operational in 1999. This is only the 12th reprimand ever handed down.
A majority of complaints–69 percent–involve prosecutors, though little more information about them is made public.
DA John Snider finally returned our repeated requests for comment Monday afternoon, saying this has been “embarrassing and humbling” for him, and he’s “learned an important lesson.”
He apologizes to the family for the delay, saying the entire situation has made an impression on him, and he hopes nothing like this ever happens again.
Lisa Schultz hopes her persistence over the eight months it took to reach a conclusion shows other frustrated families that there is a way to get justice.
“There’s people you can talk to to make it work and to fix something that is broken and the only way we can do that is to report it,” said Lisa Schultz. “Let them know what’s really happening.”
The process for filing complaints starts with the Victim Resource Center in Madison. It reviews a case for possible referral to the Victims Rights Board.