Feds close Lincoln Hills probe with no charges

The federal investigation into alleged civil rights violations at Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison has been closed after insufficient evidence was found to support charges against staffers, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin announced this afternoon.

In a statement, the U.S. attorney’s office said prosecutors would have to be able to prove staff members “willfully” used unreasonable force in their treatment of the teens incarcerated at Lincoln Hills to support a civil rights violation. But that is a “heavy burden under federal law.”

What’s more, prosecutors would have to prove that staff “acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids.” But there was insufficient evidence to prove that.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division remain committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by those acting under color of law and will continue to devote the resources necessary to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are investigated fully and completely,” the statement said.

The federal investigation was opened following allegations guards used excessive force in violation of the constitutional rights of the teens incarcerated at the prison in Irma.

The allegations also prompted a separate federal lawsuit challenging conditions at the prison that led to a court order reducing the use of pepper spray, solitary confinement and restraints.

State officials also have moved to close Lincoln Hills and the neighboring Copper Lake, where girls are incarcerated. In their place, the state is moving to new state prisons to house the most serious offenders with county-run regional facilities for others.

This story will be updated.

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