Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Police and Fire Commission on Friday dismissed complaints against police officers over their investigation into the death of a 7-year-old girl following an outside agency review.

The PFC made the decisions following a presentation by Neenah Police Chief Aaron Olson, who was asked by Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven to conduct the review into the Wausau Police Department’s handling of the 2020 death of Eliana Froom, Alyssa Froom’s daughter and Julie Leist’s step granddaughter. The PFC found the complaints against the police officers “unsubstantiated.”

The commission also denied appeals by Froom and Leist to reconsider its decision to dismiss their complaints against Bliven.

Froom and Leist told Wausau Pilot & Review that they plan take the matter to court. Previously, they accused the Commission of violating their civil rights and due process. After repeated attempts to get updates from the commission failed, the women also accused the PFC of “apathy.”

Olson said his review found no ill intent, conflict of interest or bias by Wausau officers, and termed the investigation “great.” In regard to a difference in time stamps on body cameras that was part of the investigation, Olson concluded the discrepancy happened because the cameras are set to Zulu time, not local time.

The only problem he found, he said, was compliance with open records requests by the complainants but he said that happened due to a processing error and not ill intent. He also recommended issuing a body worn camera to every officer.

In February, the statutory body that has oversight over the police department dismissed complaints against the police chief but ordered two investigations of the other officers named – one investigation to be completed by Bliven himself. Both Froom and Leist challenged that ruling and filed appeals.

Prior to Olson’s presentation, the PFC heard from the two women and the police chief during a restricted hearing on Friday.

Eliana Froom died Oct. 7, 2020, roughly two weeks after she collapsed at a Wausau home where she was staying with her father. Though a medical examiner’s report shows Eliana died of natural causes, her mother and Leist dispute that finding and allege the girl was a victim of neglect.

Froom challenged that finding again on Friday. While addressing the commission, she said her daughter died because of the “negligence by so many people, including her father.” She said the commission and Olson have the ethical duty to refer this matter for further investigation.

On Thursday, Froom had asked that the matter be referred to the state’s attorney general.

After the hearing, Froom told Wausau Pilot & Review that she was “beyond disappointed” in the PFC and Olson and the outcome of the meeting.

“To have Chief Arron (sic) Olson stand there and say the doctor stated that it didn’t matter how much fluids she had, she was going to die anyways, is a complete lie. Where is the evidence backing up this statement?,” she said, adding the “evidence is black and white” and the commission failed to hold the officers accountable, terming it injustice. “They failed my daughter and are contributing to the broken justice system.” 

Leist said her complaint was not investigated and accused Bliven of violating her “civil rights by not turning over my complaint to the outside law enforcement agency – squashing my right to be heard.” She shared a photo of the three binders that Olson referred to while addressing the PFC. Leist’s name is missing.

Leist accused the investigating officers of conflict of interest and bias. She also accused the police department of amending its policy manual after she filed her 107-page-long complaint.

But Bliven said the department makes changes to the policy manual regularly, as the law changes. He also denied that the police officers involved in the case had any conflict of interest or demonstrated bias. “We don’t take sides,” he said.

Bliven acknowledged the case was a difficult one, but not from an investigation perspective. Both the department and the District Attorney’s Office agreed no crime was committed in the girl’s death, he added.

“It was a natural death, but it has had a profound impact on a grieving mother and step grandmother,” the police chief said. “They have been unable to accept it.”

In his remarks before the complaints were dismissed, PFC Chair William Harris said the Commission was not the only group to come to the conclusion that no crime was committed in the girl’s death. Doctors also agreed.

“All have concluded the same thing: that this is not the fault of anyone, not the fault of either parent,” he said.

If he had any doubt that the investigation was not conducted properly, he said, he would not put his reputation and career on the line.

Harris said the commission’s task was to deal with policy and facts and to determine whether the police department took the right actions and investigated case matter properly. He said the commission took the “unprecedented step” of using an outside investigative agency.

He also referred to Eliana’s medical history, saying the December 2020 incident that led to her death was not an isolated one. Records showed that Eliana had a major health issue, somewhat similar to this incident, back in 2018 with another viral infection, and had been to the clinic 25 times between March 2013 and November 2019.

Harris suggested that Froom was looking for someone to blame for the tragic loss of her daughter at such a young age, when Froom will miss all the beautiful moments she should have had with her daughter.

“And so when that does not happen, you have to find a cause, (there) has to be a reason, there has to be someone or something to blame,” he said. “There has to be a good reason that this happened, and sometime in life, there just isn’t.”

But Froom took exception to Harris’ and Bliven’s remarks about her grief.

“It was disrespectful for them to sit there and belittle me and question my mental state,” she said. “For them to continue to try to use my daughter’s death against me and say my grief is interfering with my judgement and reasoning is their way to deflect responsibility and obligations in hold those accountable.”