Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rich Chiapete's Very Bad Weekend

The Siren will never understand Wisconsin's strange relationship with drinking and driving.

It is the only state where your first DUI is a municipal offense and not a crime - one of the most lax in the entire country - which rates at the highest of alcohol related deaths among industrialized nations.

Getting your first DUI in Wisconsin is considered a "mistake." A few miles south, it is a class "A" misdemeanor.

The Siren thinks a "mistake" is wearing a black belt with brown shoes. Driving your car after having a few drinks is a crime. A selfish, dangerous crime.

Racine County District Attorney, Rich Chiapete, found himself in some serious hot water this weekend when he crashed his car into a stoplight and a tree on Main Street after attending a birthday party and consuming a few drinks.

Thank God he didn't hurt anyone. No one knows this better than perhaps Chiapete himself, who has prosecuted many drunk driving offenses in the District Attorney's office, many which included injuries and/or fatalities.

Worse for Chiapete, after he crashed his car he ran home - which is also known as a "hit & run" offense. Police found him there after they identified his car when the tree's owner called 911.

Ugh. A really dumb move.

Chiapete admitted to his crime - but only after he got caught. It doesn't appear he tried to contact police before they showed up at his house - which would have been a much better plan of action and not quite so embarrassing.

Now, the battle royale begins between people who believe he must resign and those who think he deserves a break for making a mistake - and the discussion is not cordial.

Chiapete was promoted to District Attorney through a special appointment by Scott Walker in 2012 when previous DA, Mike Nieskes, ran and lost a bid as a candidate for circuit court judge. Chiapete got his old job. A few months later he ran unopposed as a Republican. The Walker/GOP connection is leading some to wonder if there will be pressure from Madison for him to step down since the mugshots are really beginning to add up.

Chiapete's evening interlude with said stoplight and tree was his first offense in an up-to-that-moment crime free life. Folks think that deserves credit.

What is also true, the vast majority of people are never charged with a crime ever in their whole lives. It is not that hard to live a crime free life - shouldn't that be true of the District Attorney too?

Interestingly, Chiapete (like his predecessor) in the DA's office has been notoriously ambivalent about Racine County's Drug & Alcohol Court - with Racine coming in last with referrals for alternatives to prison for non-violent substance abusers (programs which are cheaper and more effective). The referrals to drug court instead of prison are begun in the District Attorney's office.

While other municipalities in Wisconsin have grown their drug courts, Racine actually had so few referrals at times, they have failed to use up the grant money already allocated to the program.

Chiapete has never issued one single U-Visa for victims of crimes or sexual trafficking - which are lawful status waivers for non-citizen victims of crime who assist law enforcement in investigating crimes - a bigger issue than you might imagine.

Ten thousand U-Visas are awarded each year in the United States. Law enforcement in La Crosse, WI have been on the forefront in advocating for them because they understand effective community policing can be accomplished only when people cooperate and help the police and prosecutors.

Getting undocumented residents to report and testify in crimes is very difficult - especially if it means getting deported. Women who are victims of domestic violence risk losing their family and therefore often fail to report crimes against themselves and their children.

Kenosha and Milwaukee among many Wisconsin communities award them - but not Chiapete - not in Racine.

On top of that, Wisconsin remains number one in African American men incarcerated in the entire nation - a statistic Chiapete has helped to inflate with a prison cost to taxpayers twice that our neighbor, Minnesota.

So, while one can debate the circumstances and potential forgiveness of Rich Chiapete's lapse in judgement that permitted him to drive his car while intoxicated, destroy public and private property and then flee the scene of his crime - we find Chiapete's own professional lack of circumstantial forgiveness somewhat lacking.

Were Wisconsin's DUI laws even relatively on par with other states and Mr. Chiapete to face prison time for his crime, he would be the perfect candidate for drug court instead of incarceration - if only there were not a District Attorney Chiapete who wouldn't bother referring him to it in the first place.