Gov. Scott Walker’s former Department of Corrections secretary on Friday released a tell-all book accusing the governor and state attorney general of deception and inaction in addressing abuse allegations at Wisconsin’s youth prison — just months before they both stand for re-election.
Ed Wall’s book, titled “Unethical: Life in Scott Walker’s Cabinet and the Dirty $ide of Politics,” bills itself as a “look behind the curtain” of Walker’s administration and the events leading up to Wall’s departure from Corrections and firing by Attorney General Brad Schimel in April 2016.
In the book, Wall says he nearly committed suicide after Schimel fired him and word got out to the press. He said he wanted Walker and Schimel “to know how badly they had hurt me and my family. I wanted their dishonesty, their deceit, their injustice, their unethical actions, to burn in their souls for the rest of their lives.”
“They needed to know that their actions had consequences, and this was the way to drive that point home,” Wall writes before describing how he put a gun in his mouth and started to squeeze the trigger before thinking about his wife and children finding him.
In a phone interview with the Wisconsin State Journal from his office in New Hampshire, where he is now president of a cybersecurity hardware and software company, Wall said he started working on the book a year ago, but acknowledged the timing of its release has political implications.
“Would it serve a purpose about informing people about candidates in the election? Yeah. I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” said Wall, who earlier this year appeared in a video endorsing one of Walker’s Democratic challengers, State Superintendent Tony Evers.
Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg said in a statement “these are false attacks being made by someone who was fired from the Department of Justice for asking a state employee to break the law.”
Wall calls Walker’s handling of the Lincoln Hills abuse scandal “shameful.” Wall also writes that his repeated requests for funding and action were rebuffed. In the book he details an episode in which he says Walker’s then chief of staff Rich Zipperer told him there would be no money forthcoming to fix the problems at Lincoln Hills unless a lawsuit were filed against the state.
Last year, the state settled a nearly $19 million lawsuit with a former female inmate who tried to hang herself in November 2015, just weeks before dozens of Justice Department agents descended on the prison to conduct interviews. It was the largest civil settlement in state history.
Lawmakers also voted to close the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile facilities and set up smaller regional facilities around the state, a proposal Wall said he put forward in 2015 and that Walker didn’t embrace until after Wall announced last year that he was writing a book. A four-year DOJ and FBI investigation into the abuse allegations remains open.
Describes a culture
Wall, a 32-year law enforcement officer who was named Corrections secretary in 2012 after serving as DOJ’s administrator of the Division of Criminal Investigations under Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and serving as Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s director of emergency management, describes a culture in Walker’s office that discouraged the creation of public records, was focused more on politics than problem-solving, and avoided drawing any public attention to state prisons.
Wall wrote that he and his staff were called to the Capitol countless times to deliver messages in person, were instructed to fax information to the governor’s office to avoid creating a traceable record, were provided personal cellphones of other Cabinet secretaries and the governor’s staff to avoid using state phones and were chastised for using state email to communicate with high-level officials or the governor’s office.
“Did I believe it was a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars to avoid public transparency? Yes,” Wall wrote.
In response to the book, Walker’s office provided a 2015 statement from Wall’s spokeswoman quoting him saying he had “never been instructed not to use my government phone or email for correspondence.” Wall said his spokeswoman wrote the statement while on the phone with Walker’s communication staff.
In his book, Wall writes that Zipperer had him come to his office at the Capitol and draft a letter, rather than exchange emails, about how the governor wanted Wall to take control of the situation at Lincoln Hills, which was being reported in the press. The point of the letter, Wall writes, was to show that “the governor’s office was galloping in to take control of the situation that they went out of their way to avoid.”
“I asked what it would take to get someone to take the problems seriously and he simply said, ‘A lawsuit,’ “ Wall wrote. “My response was, ‘So, we have to pay millions of dollars in lawsuit costs before we can expect anything to happen?’ And he just looked at me nodding.”
Wall writes that he first learned about problems at Lincoln Hills in January 2015 and that Walker’s office never mentioned to him a February 2011 letter from a Racine County judge raising concerns about problems at the youth prison. The letter to the governor was reviewed by Alex Ignatowski, one of Walker’s policy aides and husband of Walker’s current chief legal counsel.
Wall also criticizes Schimel in the book, saying he spoke to Schimel “on at least a dozen occasions about Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, and the need for additional resources.”
“We shared everything possible with him and his staff, and yet they still seemed to consider the case to be more of an inconvenience rather than the critical case it was,” Wall wrote.
Wall wrote that DOJ officials told his office repeatedly in early 2015 that DOJ was conducting an investigation. But at a Nov. 19, 2015 meeting DOJ agents admitted they hadn’t yet obtained medical records or incident reports related to injured youth.
“This was a monumental failure of leadership that placed youth at continued risk while DOJ management repeatedly put the case on the back burner and stonewalled our efforts,” Wall wrote.
Wall resigned from his job as Corrections secretary in February 2016 just as the FBI was taking over the Lincoln Hills investigation. He returned to a previous job as administrator of the Division of Criminal Investigation in the Department of Justice for a single day before being demoted.
Schimel disputes account
Schimel fired Wall in April 2016 after Wall sent a letter to Zipperer trying to get his previous job back that suggested Zipperer could destroy the letter, which would have been a violation of the state’s public records law. Wall called the letter “the biggest mistake of my life.”
In a statement, Schimel said Wall’s description of events related to the Lincoln Hills investigation are not accurate and his “efforts to circumvent public records law was egregious.” He said his agency conducted 734 interviews, authored 686 reports, and identified 465 pieces of property/evidence before the FBI took over the case.
“We fired Ed Wall for dishonesty, and his termination was upheld by every agency and court that reviewed it,” Schimel said. “As I have said before, the person in the best position and with direct responsibility to ensure the ongoing safety at Lincoln Hills was Ed Wall.”
Wall said he has never been interviewed by DOJ or FBI agents about what happened at Lincoln Hills.
“The reality is that the picture these two unethical politicians tried to paint is more reflective of who they are: immoral, deceitful, dishonest, and manipulative,” Wall wrote. “Their only concern is staying in power and placating big-money donors who work their strings like puppeteers.”
At one point Wall describes an interaction with Walker after Walker dropped out of the presidential election when the governor said he feared Donald Trump would destroy the Republican Party. Wall said he respected Walker’s comment, but was disappointed when Walker later allied himself with Trump.
In another passage, Wall describes meeting with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who was conducting a secret criminal investigation into Walker’s Milwaukee County Executive’s office. Chisholm wanted state agents to assist with a raid on Walker’s county office on the eve of the 2010 election. Wall warned that the move could be seen as overtly political, but ultimately agreed to post some agents on security detail.
“The warrants were executed, computers and documents seized, and the press ate it up,” Wall writes. “Despite all the publicity surrounding the John Doe investigation, Scott Walker was elected governor, and both houses went to the Republicans.”
Chisholm’s investigation had been reported on prior to the election, but the election eve raid on Walker’s office wasn’t known until years later.
“We fired Ed Wall for dishonesty, and his termination was upheld by every agency and court that reviewed it. As I have said before, the person in the best position and with direct responsibility to ensure the ongoing safety at Lincoln Hills was Ed Wall.” Brad Schimel, state attorney general