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Who would Jesus evict?
Church-affiliated home seeks to boot 103-year-old resident
Nehrenz, with attorney Tierney: 'If they'd let me alone, I'd be happy.'
Nehrenz, with attorney Tierney: 'If they'd let me alone, I'd be happy.'
Credit:Linda Falkenstein

Last Dec. 9, Lucy Nehrenz had a birthday. Not just any birthday, mind you, but her 103rd. There was a story in The Capital Times. The people at Meadow Grove Apartments, where she's lived since 1989, threw her a party.

Shortly afterwards, Meadow Grove notified Nehrenz by letter that her lease would not be renewed, past the end of February.

"This came out of the clear blue sky," says Nehrenz, a native of Prairie du Chien who worked for 33 years at Research Products Corp. in Madison. "I'm just surprised I didn't get a heart attack."

Meadow Grove wants Nehrenz to relocate to an assisted living center. "I'm 103," she says. "They figured that's too old for me to live here."

Carla Fears, executive director of Ecumenical Housing Corp., a church-affiliated nonprofit group that runs Meadow Grove and two other area homes for the elderly and disabled, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Tim Tierney, an attorney representing Nehrenz, says Fears and others have expressed concern about Nehrenz's ability to take care of herself. For the past several months, she's needed a wheelchair to get around.

On Feb. 25, Tierney filed a complaint with the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, charging that Nehrenz is being discriminated against due to her disability. The complaint says the Ecumenical Housing Authority refused a request to install grab bars in her bathroom.

A week later, the group filed an eviction notice against Nehrenz. Tierney is aghast: "Here's a Christian operation that's trying to throw a 103-year-old woman onto the street."

Ruby Peterson, a friend and fellow resident, thinks Nehrenz should be allowed to finish out her life in peace. "She's still able to take care of herself. She goes downstairs and plays euchre and 500. Her mind is fine." It's true she occasionally spills on herself while cooking and eating, "but we all do that."

Nehrenz says others at the home face difficulties too. The other day, seven of the eight people playing cards "had some kind of implement," like a walker or cane. She still cooks meals for herself, works on her scrapbooks and enjoys the company of other residents. That's part of why she doesn't want to move to an assisted living center.

"I've got things to do," she says, stressing that she doesn't think she should be treated differently from anyone else, just equally. "If they'd let me alone, I'd be happy."

On Tuesday, Nehrenz made an initial appearance on the eviction proceeding. Jay Koritzinsky, the attorney for the Ecumenical Housing Corp., said the home was worried about liability, and might be willing to work something out if Nehrenz signed a waiver. Tierney hopes a deal can be struck before the next scheduled court appearance, on April 4.

So does Nehrenz: "I would love to be [at Meadow Grove] till my dying day."

Rape victim jailed again

Lorraine Cook, the 52-year-old Madison woman jailed after being brutally raped, was freed the day after Isthmus' reported on her case ("Raped, Then Thrown in Jail," 3/7/08). But within a week, she was back in jail, thanks to a prosecutor and judge eager to help the state Department of Corrections finesse a PR problem.

On Jan. 9, hours after she reported being raped by an acquaintance, Cook was jailed on a probation warrant (for having walked away from a halfway house). The DOC tried to revoke her probation, and planned to appeal an administrative law judge's ruling against this.

Then, on March 7, Cook was set free. Her public defender, Diana Van Rybroek, says DOC supervisor Leann Moberly agreed to let Cook remain conditionally free and even relax probation conditions.

Early the following week, the DOC did another 180. Cook's probation officer stated in a note attached to a court filing that Cook had been freed "due to media coverage of the case." But now the DOC, apparently realizing the PR downside to abandoning its effort to paint Cook as a menace to society, went back on its word.

Last Thursday, March 13, Dane County Assistant District Attorney Lyn Opelt backed the DOC's call to jail Cook for the remainder of her six-month sentence, plus another six months. Van Rybroek argued that Cook needed treatment, not further punishment, especially given the horrific two months she spent in jail with a broken arm after being raped.

Judge James Martin ordered Cook's return to jail for at least 35 days, although he agreed to stay the sentence if she's admitted to an inpatient treatment program. The public defender's office is trying to arrange this.

Meanwhile, Madison police won't comment on reports that the man Cook accused of raping her has left town, other than to say he had no last known address. According to Capt. Carl Gloede, the man was let go pending charges because "the jail can only hold so many people."

At least there's still room for the truly dangerous - like Lorraine Cook.

Cop case goes criminal

A Madison police officer is under criminal investigation for alleging sexually assaulting another officer's female partner at a wedding in Illinois in 2006. In the meantime, the MPD is keeping information on the matter under wraps.

The alleged assault was called to the MPD's attention last year (see Watchdog, 9/20/07 and 12/28/07) and investigated internally. Police in Schaumburg, Ill., where the assault reportedly occurred, were apparently never notified.

This MPD probe was completed in late February, after more than six months. "We determined that the allegation was not sustained," writes Lt. Kristen Roman, head of the department's internal affairs unit. This means it was "not supported by a preponderance of evidence."

The department could have reached a finding of "exonerated," but didn't.

Around this same time, relates Roman, "the complainant contacted the jurisdiction where the criminal act allegedly took place." In response, "That jurisdiction has recently initiated a criminal investigation."

Roman says the MPD is giving this jurisdiction materials from its investigation. And so she's denying Isthmus' request for these records, saying their release "would jeopardize the integrity of the criminal investigation." Roman's letter (available here as a PDF) cites other reasons, including the alleged victim's "fears of embarrassment."

The alleged victim, however, seems more disappointed than embarrassed. She's written a letter raising concerns about the officer to the chief of police, with copies to the Madison Police and Fire Commission and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, none of whom are likely to get involved.

"Three MPD staff have directly told me that they believe me," she says, on condition of anonymity. "He was not exonerated. And yet nothing has been done to address his criminal behavior."

Do you want to know a secret?

Lou Host-Jablonski, a member of the city committee weighing two competing proposals for the Garver Feed Mill property, is looking forward to the group's next meeting, on March 25 - especially the portion that will be closed to the public.

He says "a certain faction" of Olbrich Botanical Society, which retains a deed restriction on the mill, "would be delighted if the property fell to ruin." Thus members of his committee "need to speak frankly with each other about the prospects of bringing on another partner" - the sponsor of one of the other proposals. (The committee, at its last meeting, was deadlocked.)

The state's open meetings law does not let bodies meet in secret simply because it's easier to have frank discussions. So the committee plans to use an exemption for negotiating the conveyance of public property, which the deal entails.

"We're at our wit's end," says Host-Jablonski. "We've got to try something, anything, to get a decision here."


The fallout continues over the Cap Times' plan to cease daily publication next month. Besides the 16 staffers who took a buyout (see Media, 2/28/08), the paper has cut loose several others, including veteran arts writer Kevin Lynch, copy editor/writer Bill Dunn and recent hire Mary Yeater Rathbun; others are purportedly being asked to take salary cuts.

Though offered the chance to stay on in his current job, longtime political reporter David Callender is bidding the paper adieu. And Isthmus alum Judy Davidoff has been named assistant city editor.

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