The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Rob Langrell
Publisher of the Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

Sidney Police chief, Public Services director face misdemeanors

Charges stem from decision to handle off-duty incident administratively

 


When Sidney Police Chief Byron “BJ” Wilkinson decided to handle an allegation against another city employee administratively instead of with criminal charges, he was opting to use the discretion he and his officers exhibit everyday on the job.

Instead, 15 months later, Wilkinson is facing criminal charges himself. He has been charged with a class I misdemeanor of obstruction of government operations.

Meanwhile, Sidney Public Services Director John Hehnke – the city worker who was investigated back in January 2014 – faces misdemeanor charges of unlawful intrusion and disturbing the peace.

Charges were filed by Assistant Attorney General Doug Warner, who was named a special prosecutor in the case by Cheyenne County Attorney Paul Schaub. He did so because of the close working ties he has with both men.

At the time of the incident, the Sidney Police Department investigated an allegation that involved Hehnke and an ex-girlfriend. The event happened on the evening of Jan. 29 while Hehnke was off duty.

Wilkinson decided to handle the situation administratively through the proper channels rather than through the court system, according to Sidney City Manager Gary Person.

“For unknown reasons, 15 months after the call, concerns were brought to the attention of the attorney general regarding the failure of Chief Wilkinson to charge Mr. Hehnke,” Person said. “After being informed it would be handled administratively, I have not received one concern expressed to me regarding the alleged incident until these charges were filed.”

Wilkinson and Hehnke are scheduled to be arraigned on their respective charges on Monday, April 27.

Reached by telephone, Wilkinson said he could not comment on the matter and referred all questions to City Attorney J. Leef, who will be representing him. A call to Hehnke in his office was instead redirected to Person, who said Hehnke would not be speaking publicly on the matter at this time.

“There is a lot more to this story than just the charges though,” Person said.

Person said he was aware of who had contacted the attorney general’s office, but declined to reveal that person’s name at the time, saying only that it was a longtime Sidney resident.

When asked if the person had previously lodged any complaints against Wilkinson or the Sidney Police, Person responded that “the person has been involved in other situations with other police chiefs.”

Despite the charges, Person said he’s confident in a positive outcome of the case for both city workers.

“We feel confident that Chief Wilkinson did not obstruct government operations,” Person added. “He handled the situation to the satisfaction of the complaining party at the time. He spoke with the former girlfriend, who was satisfied with the administrative plan of action.

“It is an important part of the chief’s job to use his discretion to determine how to handle situations with the police department,” Person said. “John Hehnke was not on duty at the time of the allegations. He was acting as a private citizen.”

The state attorney general’s office declined to release any additional information about the case.

 

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