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Wisconsin bishop takes rare step of removing defiant priest

Wisconsin bishop takes rare step of removing defiant priest

A Wisconsin bishop has taken the unusual step of removing a defiant priest from the ministry after he made a series of divisive remarks about politics and the pandemicBy TODD RICHMOND Associated PressJuly 9, 2021, 5:24 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin bishop has taken the unusual step of removing a priest from the ministry after he made a series of divisive remarks about politics and the pandemic.The Diocese of La Crosse said in a statement Friday that Bishop William Patrick Callahan has issued a decree immediately removing the Rev. James Altman as pastor of St. James the Less, a parish in the city of La Crosse on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of Minneapolis. The decree will remain in effect for an undetermined length of time, the statement said.“(The bishop) and his diocesan representatives have spent over a year, prayerfully and fraternally, working toward a resolution related to ongoing public and ecclesial concerns of the ministry of Fr. James Altman,” the statement said. “The obligation of a Bishop is to ensure that all who serve the faithful are able to do so while unifying and building the Body of Christ.”Diocese officials didn’t release the decree and didn’t immediately respond to a request for a copy.Altman told conservative news outlet LifeSiteNews.com that he’s not surprised the Catholic hierarchy is trying to silence him.“Unfortunately for the corrupt hierarchy, I will not be silenced by any arbitrary Decree, nor will I be cowed by any action against my priestly faculties,” he said.Altman didn’t elaborate. He didn’t respond to an Associated Press email seeking comment Friday morning. His parish’s voicemail wouldn’t accept messages for Altman or the parish secretary.Altman rose to prominence ahead of the 2020 presidential election with a fiery YouTube video in which he said Catholics can’t be Democrats and that anyone who supports Democrats will burn in hell.He also has sharply criticized COVID-19 vaccination efforts and pandemic-related restrictions on church gatherings as “Nazi-esque controls.” His orthodox approach to Mass and sermons has driven some parish members to leave St. James but has galvanized others.Callahan asked him to resign in May. Altman announced Callahan’s request to his parishioners during Mass, drawing audible “Nos” from the crowd, a YouTube video of the ceremony shows.Altman refused to step down, saying the Catholic hierarchy wants him gone because he speaks the truth and calling U.S. bishops “cowards” and a “brood of vipers” in online videos. Supporters across the United States responded swiftly, raising more than $700,000 through Christian crowdfunding sites for his defense in June.Altman can appeal Callahan’s decree to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, which can uphold or change Callahan’s decision. A further Vatican review is possible if the priest disagrees with the Congregation’s decision.Requests that a priest resign aren’t uncommon but they rarely lead to such a high-profile refusal, Catholic observers say.One of the few such cases in the U.S. came in 2002, when a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston refused to step down over an accusation that he sexually abused a child three decades earlier. The Rev. D. George Spagnolia took his case to the Vatican but was unable to overturn his suspension. He died in 2008.More recently, the Rev. Frank Pavone, an anti-abortion activist who heads Priests for Life, appealed to the Vatican over restrictions placed on his ministry in 2011 by his bishop in Amarillo, Texas. Pavone succeeded in getting the restrictions eased, relocated away from Texas and remains active with Priests for Life.———Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

Judge orders release of Wisconsin woman in Slender Man case

Judge orders release of Wisconsin woman in Slender Man case

A Wisconsin judge says a woman convicted of stabbing her classmate to please the Slender Man character in 2014 can be released from a mental health facilityBy TODD RICHMOND Associated PressJuly 1, 2021, 9:59 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin judge on Thursday ordered the release of a woman who has spent 3 1/2 years in a state mental health facility after being convicted of stabbing her classmate to please the Slender Man character.Anissa Weier, 19, was sentenced to 25 years at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in December 2017. She argued in a petition for conditional release that she’s no longer a threat to anyone.She won’t be allowed to go free immediately, however. Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren gave state officials 60 days to draw up a conditional release plan and sent Weier back to the mental hospital pending another hearing on Sept. 10.In addition to the conditions of release, Weier will be assigned state Department of Health Services case managers to track her progress until she’s 37 years old, the length of her commitment.The May 2014 stabbing happened after Weier and friend Morgan Geyser lured classmate Payton Leutner into the woods at a Waukesha park following a sleepover. Geyser stabbed Leutner multiple times as Weier encouraged Geyser to inflict the injuries. All three girls were 12 years old at the time.Weier and Geyser left Leutner for dead, but she crawled out of the woods and was found by a passing bicyclist. She suffered 19 stab wounds and barely survived.Weier and Geyser told investigators they stabbed Leutner because they thought Slender Man was real. They said they thought attacking her would make them his servants and keep him from killing their families.When Weier petitioned Bohren for conditional release in March, she said she had exhausted all her treatment options at Winnebago and she needed to rejoin society. She vowed she’d never let herself “become a weapon again” and promised to comply with whatever conditions Bohren imposed.Prosecutors countered in court filings that Weier is still immature and susceptible to dangerous influences. They said she attracts people with “myriad psychological issues of their own” and there’s no guarantee she won’t attack someone again.But Bohren found prosecutors failed to prove Weier remains a threat and that nothing suggests she’ll hurt people again, according to online court records documenting Thursday’s hearing.Asked via email for comment on Weier’s reaction to the judge’s decision, her attorney, Maura McMahon, said only that Weier was led out of the courtroom “pretty quickly.”Bohren sentenced Geyser in February 2018 to 40 years in a mental health facility. She has argued that her case should have been heard in juvenile court but has gotten no traction. An appellate court ruled last year that the case was properly heard in adult court. The state Supreme Court in January refused to review that decision.———Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

Family seeks 2nd chance at charging officer in man's death

Family seeks 2nd chance at charging officer in man's death

MADISON, Wis. — A judge will decide this week whether to charge a Wisconsin police officer who killed a man sitting in a parked car, after the man’s family invoked a rarely used legal process in a bid to get around prosecutors who cleared the officer.Joseph Mensah shot Jay Anderson Jr. in 2016 after he discovered him sleeping in his car after hours in a park in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb. Mensah said Anderson was reaching for a gun.Anderson was the second of three people Mensah killed during a five-year stint with the Wauwatosa Police Department. Prosecutors cleared Mensah in each case. But an attorney for Anderson’s family stumbled onto an obscure legal option to force a grand jury-like proceeding against Mensah in which a judge rather than a jury hears evidence.A Milwaukee judge could implement the little-used procedure on Friday and charge Mensah directly. It’s a case being watched by at least one other family frustrated by a prosecutor’s decision not to charge a police officer who shot their loved one.“We kind of thought that was it,” Anderson’s father, Jay Anderson Sr, said of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s decision not to charge Mensah. “They let him get away with murder is what they did.” He called the hearing “a blessing to me and my family.”Mensah, who is Black, joined the Wauwatosa Police Department in 2015, the same year he shot and killed Antonio Gonzales, who identified as a Latino and American Indian. Prosecutors said Gonzales refused to drop a sword. The Anderson shooting came the following year.In 2020, Mensah shot and killed 17-year-old Alvin Cole as Cole fled from police following a disturbance in a mall. Cole was Black. Mensah said he shot Cole because Cole pointed a gun at him. That shooting sparked months of protests, and Chisholm’s decision not to charge Mensah set off several more nights of protests in Wauwatosa in October.Mensah resigned from the Wauwatosa Police Department the following month, collecting a $130,000 severance payment. He now works as a Waukesha County sheriff’s deputy.Kimberley Motley, an attorney representing the Gonzales, Anderson and Cole families, said she was researching the use of grand juries in Wisconsin in hopes of finding another avenue for charges and found what’s known as the John Doe option.Wisconsin law dating to the state’s territorial days set up such proceedings as a check on prosecutorial discretion. Similar to grand jury investigations, prosecutors can invoke the process to subpoena witnesses and question them under oath and in secret in hopes of gathering enough evidence to justify charges against someone. Prosecutors used the process in the early 2010s to investigate then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign operations. Walker was never charged.An even more obscure section of the John Doe law allows citizens to ask a judge to open a John Doe when a prosecutor has declined to file charges. The judge can choose to initiate the investigation and decide whether to run it publicly or in secret. The citizen or his or her attorney can question witnesses in front of the judge with no cross-examination. The judge can then decide whether to issue charges and appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case.At least six other states, including Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota, have similar provisions for citizen-initiated grand juries. A Kansas woman who alleges she was raped collected enough petition signatures last month to force a grand jury investigation after prosecutors declined to file charges.Citizen-initiated John Does are rarely used in Wisconsin. Marcus Berghahn, a criminal defense attorney and adjunct law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said they happen perhaps once or twice a decade in the state. Motley said she’s not aware of any John Does being used against police officers.Motley filed a petition seeking one in February. She argued in the filing that no Wauwatosa officer besides Mensah has shot and killed anyone in the line of duty in more than a decade. She also highlighted the 19 shots he fired in the three incidents, calling it “an extraordinary number.”“Most police officers never fire a single shot in the line of duty during their career and multiple homicides by a single officer is an even rarer occurrence,” she wrote.She alleged that Anderson never touched the gun on the passenger seat, and said Chisholm faces a conflict of interest whenever he reviews an officer-involved death. The risk Mensah poses to public safety is too great not to appoint a special prosecutor, she said.Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn Yamahiro agreed to open an investigation, and heard testimony at five public hearings.Motley has asked Yamahiro to charge Mensah with second-degree reckless homicide and homicide by negligent use of a weapon.Mensah’s attorney, Jon Ceremele, didn’t return a message. He said in February that Mensah has been cleared of any criminal liability, he clearly acted in self-defense and Motley didn’t have any new evidence to present.Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber testified in May that he considered Anderson armed, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.Motley subpoenaed Mensah, but Ceremele said he would simply invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and wouldn’t speak. He didn’t appear in court after Yamahiro accepted that contention, Motley said.Motley said Anderson’s case could point the way for other families who have lost loved ones to police and want to pursue the accountability they feel they didn’t get when a prosecutor decided not to charge an officer. She said she’s weighing whether to pursue the same process for the Cole and Gonzales families.Justin Blake, whose nephew Jacob was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by a Kenosha police officer in August, attended one of the Mensah hearings. He said the family is trying to familiarize itself with the John Doe process. A Kenosha County prosecutor cleared the officer in Jacob Blake’s case, saying Jacob Blake had been fighting with officers and was wielding a knife.“It would be just tremendous if we were able to indict this criminal cop,” Justin Blake said, referring to Mensah. “That would lay the groundwork for our family to get justice for Little Jake when we’ve had no justice. There’s just so much leeway for cops to get out when they do criminal stuff. This is a way to keep their feet to the fire.”———Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1