JS Archive

Feb 2008: ‘Bad night’ doesn’t begin to explain it

Mike Nichols Mike Nichols

Forest County Sheriff Keith Van Cleve says one of his deputies had a “bad night.”

Tyler Peterson “had a bad night, and he snapped and lost control of himself,” the sheriff was quoted as saying in a news story this week.

A bad night?

Peterson killed six people up in Crandon, and tried to kill a seventh.

I’d hate to be in his way on a bad week.

“I have the utmost respect for Keith Van Cleve, and I can’t believe he said that,” Rose Gerow, the aunt of one of the victims, Bradley Schultz, told me Friday.

Can anyone?

A bad night is a traffic accident or a little argument with your girlfriend that you regret the next morning, or maybe too many beers.

This is about more than a night. What happened in Crandon is about a life that went so far off track that six other people lost theirs.

And it’s more than logical to wonder if somebody saw, or should have seen, that night coming.

Some of the families of some of the victims wonder just that.

They are now filing notices of claim – typically precursors to lawsuits – contending both the Sheriff’s Department and the Crandon Police Department knew Peterson was prone to violence.

The Police Department is named because Peterson, in addition to being a deputy, was also a police officer.

Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, the attorney for some of the families, said Friday that they deserve to see the investigative reports. The killings occurred Oct. 7 and her successor, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, still has not released them.

Early on, Van Hollen – who has played the case tight to his vest all along – seemed to see himself as a protector of the victims’ families.

Some of the families, though, are the ones who most want answers.

Answers, maybe, about how it is Deputy Tyler Peterson ever got hired in the first place.

About whether his fellow officers responded appropriately.

About how somebody could possibly – out of the blue, it is claimed – have such a “bad night.”

Both the Forest County Sheriff’s Department and the Crandon police have denied any wrongdoing or prior insight into Peterson’s violent nature – which suggests he just sort of went nuts.

Other things, though, suggest otherwise. We now know for sure that a girl complained Peterson assaulted her some four years ago, and that the local district attorney, Leon Stenz, declined to prosecute.

Stenz also talked to Peterson the day he died, and has been reviewing the investigative reports.

He defended himself Friday.

Any suggestion that the Peterson reports have been secret for four months because they reflect badly on him or might harm him politically (he is currently running for judge) is “ridiculous,” he told me.

There has been an ongoing investigation, the attorney general’s office has contended in the meantime, and answers will come soon enough. Late Friday afternoon, Van Hollen’s office issued a news release stating that the attorney general will, in fact, have a media briefing on Crandon next Thursday, Feb.7 – four months to the day of the killings.

“We’re hoping there will be some answers,” said Gerow.

Finally.

Because right now, after all these months, there is still just a question.

A bad night?