News Column

Assassination Added to Workplace Dangers

Apr 1 2013 10:00PM

Christena T. O'Brien, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.

The impact of the shooting deaths of a Texas district attorney and his wife is being felt among law enforcement authorities in west-central Wisconsin.

Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death Saturday in their rural home just outside Forney, Texas, about 20 miles from Dallas.

"It's reality, and you can't ignore reality," Gary King, who was sworn in as Eau Claire County district attorney Jan. 7, said of the possible violence law enforcement authorities face for doing their jobs.

The killings of the McLellands came two months after Kaufman County assistant district attorney Mark Hasse was shot and killed in a parking lot near the courthouse and less than two weeks after Colorado's prison chief, Tom Clements, was shot to death March 19 when he opened the door at his home outside Colorado Springs.

Evan S. Ebel, a white supremacist and former Colorado inmate, is suspected of shooting Clements, according to the Associated Press. He died in a shootout with Texas deputies two days later about 100 miles from Kaufman. Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said Sunday there was nothing to indicate whether the McLellands' deaths were connected to Hasse. No arrests have been made in either shooting.

"Being DA, being on the frontline of prosecution can be a dangerous job," said Barron County Judge James Babler, who has been following news of the shootings of the McLellands.

Before he was appointed to the bench in 2003, Babler spent 23 years in the Barron County's district attorney's office -- three as an assistant prosecutor and 20 as district attorney.

"From a court system perspective ... family court and restraining order cases are the most volatile and the most dangerous if you look at it statistically," he said. "That's where the emotions are really high."

Helping to give Babler peace of mind is the Barron County Justice Center's separate entrance and parking lot for employees, which Babler calls a "real blessing."

Security at the Chippewa County Courthouse also helps ease the mind of that county's district attorney, Steve Gibbs, as does the fact he is allowed to carry a concealed firearm.

"Since I've taken over as DA, I'm keenly aware of my position and the fact that I don't make a lot of criminals happy," said Gibbs, an attorney for 25 years.

Since he was sworn in as district attorney a year ago today, Gibbs and his wife, Pam, have upgraded security at their home.

"The police are not always there to protect us, so we've taken steps to protect ourselves," he said.

"I think any attorney would tell you they've been in situations where concerns arise, where (someone's) emotions are running high," said King, who has been in the Eau Claire County district's attorneys office since December 2011 and a practicing attorney for almost 15 years.

Following Hasse's death, McLelland said he carried a gun everywhere and was extra careful when answering the door at home, according to the Associated Press.

"Unfortunately, that didn't prevent what happened to him," King said.

During his nearly 38 years in law enforcement, Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer has seen threats made against public officials, including district attorneys, judges and himself.

"We live in Eau Claire, a very secure community, but we do have unusual events pop up from time to time," Cramer said.

A number of years ago, Cramer, then part of the West Central Drug Task Force, was contacted by the FBI, alerting him to a threat related to his work. Until authorities could determine where the threat was coming from, he had his wife stay elsewhere as a precautionary measure.

"We (in law enforcement) can protect ourselves, but (whether we) can we protect the extended family is always the concern," Cramer said.

O'Brien can be reached at 715-830-5838, 800-236-7077 or christena.obrien@ecpc.com.

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Visit the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) at www.leadertelegram.com







Source: (c)2013 Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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