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Outrage Grows After Wis. Officer Left Off Memorial

Officials of a national memorial for fallen law enforcement officers will wait until 2014 to make a final decision on whether to add Wauwatosa Police Officer Jennifer Sebena to its walls.

Read NLEOMF Statement (PDF)

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund made the decision Thursday after an outpouring of support to recognize Sebena.

Jennifer's husband, Benjamin Sebena, 30, has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to first-degree intentional homicide. He is accused of shooting her to death Christmas Eve outside the Wauwatosa Fire Department station.

On Thursday, WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reported that four corrections officers at the Milwaukee County Jail have been suspended and a fifth fired for allegedly providing Benjamin Sebena with preferential treatment. Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. is accusing the guards of insubordination, neglect of duty and fraternizing with Sebena.

WTMJ quoted unnamed sources who said Sebena's visitors would leave money on a second inmate's commissary, and that inmate would buy items for Sebena. The officers are accused of transferring the items to Sebena.

Lt. Cheri Schmitz, Officer Corrine Ehmke, Officer Michael Wilkinson and Officer Marlon Hannah were suspended, WTMJ reported. The fifth officer, Jeffrey Overholt, was fired immediately because he was still on probation. Clarke will seek the dismissal of the other four, WTMJ stated.

Word spread Wednesday that the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund had tentatively chosen not to include Jennifer Sebena on its memorial wall in Washington, D.C.

Jim Palmer, Wisconsin Professional Police Association executive director, said he was pleased that the memorial fund did not confirm its rejection, but added: "The national police memorial's action to further delay a final decision on the Jennifer Sebena controversy will do nothing to quell the anger that our state's officers feel about the disrespect the memorial has shown her."

The fund made its initial decision not to include Sebena because she was killed in an act of domestic violence, Palmer said.

Sebena was working an overtime shift when she did not respond to a call from dispatch at 4:24 a.m. Four minutes later, another officer located her squad car location using Global Positioning System information and found her body outside the back door of the fire station.

Gov. Scott Walker, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Wauwatosa police Chief Barry Weber, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association President Steven J. Riffel and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joined Palmer in sending letters to Craig W. Floyd, the memorial fund's chairman and chief executive, imploring that Sebena be included.

"I strongly disagree that Officer Sebena's death was not in the line of duty. I strongly disagree with any suggestion that a line of duty death cannot result from an incident of domestic violence . . . Officer Sebena died in uniform, during her shift, while in the line of duty," Riffel wrote.

Riffel said Thursday that he stands by the letter, which represents his views and the views of the association that counts 400 police chiefs in its membership.

"I strongly believe this could have been addressed now. I don't know what's going to change between now and then," Riffle said.

Walker said in his letter that Sebena's death was "very personal to me," as it took place in the governor's own community and near both the home of a pastor and the high school attended by his youngest son.

"Officer Sebena was protecting the citizens of Wauwatosa on Dec. 24, 2012, when she was ambushed," Walker wrote. "It should not matter who committed the murder as the act was taken against a police officer on duty."

An online petition gathered more than 6,000 signatures throughout Wednesday and passed 11,000 by Thursday evening.

The memorial fund generally requires that an officer must have been "killed in the line of duty," meaning "a law enforcement officer has died as a direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty."

Copyright 2013 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

McClatchy-Tribune News Service