Five Nebraska state employees plead the fifth on prison sentencing screw-up

Deena Winter
Aug 29, 2014 1:27 PM
Five Nebraska state employees plead the fifth on prison sentencing screw-up

Updated 12:46 p.m. Friday

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — Eight past and present state employees have been subpoenaed to testify before a special investigatory legislative committee next week, and five of them plan to plead the Fifth Amendment, invoking their right to remain silent.

Photo by Shutterstock

PLEAD: Five of eight state employees called to testify before a legislative committee are invoking their right to remain silent. A district judge will hold a hearing today on whether they should be compelled to testify.

However, state law allows the committee to go to a district judge to compel them to testify in exchange for immunity, and so a hearing on the matter will be held Friday afternoon before Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy.

The employees are being called before the committee, headed up by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, which is investigating the release of a man who went on to kill four Omahans and the recent revelation that the prison system has been erroneously calculating prison sentences for some of the state’s most dangerous criminals since 1995. Despite two Nebraska Supreme Court rulings clarifying how the sentences should be calculated, the practice continued, leading to premature releases for hundreds of prisoners.

Internal documents obtained by Nebraska Watchdog show a handful of state employees knew they were calculating sentences incorrectly, but continued anyway, citing prison overcrowding and the difficulty of setting things right.

Lathrop’s committee, the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee, has subpoenaed the following employees to appear during a hearing Thursday:

• records administrator Kyle Poppert

• prison attorneys George Green and Sharon Lindgren (who recently resigned rather than face termination proceedings)

• associate prison attorney Kathleen Blum, who was suspended for one day in connection with the screw-up

• now-retired records clerk Jeannene Douglass

• former records administrator Ron Riethmuller

• assistant attorney general Linda Willard

• assistant attorney general John Freudenberg

Poppert, Green, Lindgren, Blum and Douglass have all asserted their right to remain silent. This may be the first time a special investigatory committee has gone to court to compel someone to testify.

The state highway patrol is investigating the matter.

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