Arguments heard in Wilkinson appeal case

Judge’s decision expected to come in next 2 weeks

 


Sidney Police Chief B.J. Wilkinson appeared in court on Monday morning to appeal his conviction and 30-day jail sentence on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing government operations.

Wilkinson’s attorney, Thomas Sonntag, and special prosecutor Doug Warner made oral arguments in Cheyenne County District Court to supplement written briefs already submitted.

Judge Travis O’Gorman, who was appointed to hear the case, said he would likely make a decision on the appeal within two weeks.

Wilkinson pleaded no contest in July to the single charge stemming from an incident that occurred more than 1 1/2 years ago.

According to county court testimony and documents, in January 2014, Wilkinson blocked a citation that had been issued to a high-ranking city employee who has since been fired. A subsequent Nebraska State Patrol investigation turned up an email Wilkinson had written in 2014 in which he admitted to pulling the paperwork and not sending the file to the county attorney’s office.


Criminal charges were subsequently brought against both the city employee and Wilkinson

On Monday, Sonntag told the court Wilkinson didn’t think he was breaking the law be blocking the citation and nor did he receive any personal gains.

If the county attorney had decided not to pursue charges in the case against the city employee, he would not face the same scrutiny, Sonntag said.

“[Wilkinson’s] sole motivation was what’s best for the city,” he added.

Sonntag also said the police chief must have discretion as the head of the police department. If all he does is rubber stamp reports written by his officers, he is just a clerk, the attorney argued.

Additionally, Wilkinson’s 30-day jail sentence is excessive, Sonntag said.

In April, after the city employee involved in the case pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace, he only received a $300 fine, Sonntag said. And the former city manager, who Sonntag said appeared to be the one who proposed the idea of blocking the initial citation, was not charged, the attorney said.

There is no proportionality, he argued.

“This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense to a lot of people,” Sonntag said.

Warner said Wilkinson blocked the citation to keep the whole matter quiet and protect the city employee.

“The chief of police has a duty to run the police department,” Warner said.

Wilkinson took direct action to pull the citation to prevent prosecution after it had already been issued, he added.

The chief had a responsibility to send the citation on, Warner argued, and any decision not to prosecute the city employee was the county attorney’s, not Wilkinson’s.

Warner said Wilkinson’s actions set a terrible example for the community and police department.

Following the hearing, O’Gorman said he would again review the written briefs and issue an order “this week or next week.”

 

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