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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Mostly Cloudy and Breezy
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A shootout for Dane County sheriff between Dave Mahoney and Shawn Haney
Challenger comes to race loaded with accusations
Dave Mahoney (left) and Shawn Haney.
Dave Mahoney (left) and Shawn Haney.

Dave Mahoney, 51
Dane County Sheriff's employee since 1980; held various union leadership posts between 1994 and 2007; elected sheriff in 2006.

Shawn Haney, 47
Employed at Dane County Sheriff's Office from 1986 until 2007, when he was a lieutenant. Served on Poynette Village Board, 1985-86.

Shawn Haney insists he's not holding a grudge. But it's hard to see the Nov. 2 race for Dane County sheriff outside the context of what happened back in 2007, when he was a lieutenant at the Sheriff's Office.

Haney, a Republican, is running against his former boss, one-term incumbent Democratic Sheriff Dave Mahoney. Mahoney, who was first elected in 2006, after Sheriff Gary Hamblin retired, fired Haney for allegedly lying about the records released regarding Waunakee High School football players who attended a drinking party.

The incident came under scrutiny because Haney's son played for rival DeForest High School, and Haney released the records to the media shortly before the teams met on the field. During the investigation, Mahoney says Haney was caught lying about his contact with scholastic sports officials.

At first Haney - who dedicates a page on his website detailing the course of events - appealed the dismissal. Later he agreed to a $75,000 settlement and signed a letter in which he admitted making untrue statements and agreed not to seek further compensation. He now says the firing was politically motivated, because Mahoney knew Haney was contemplating a run for sheriff. "He saw the opportunity and thought, 'I'll take care of that problem.'"

Mahoney denies there was any political motivation in the dismissal. "He lied. Had he told the truth, the conflict of interest would have been addressed internally," Mahoney says. "He was fired because I can't trust him, and we can't trust him to have a high level of integrity."

Haney says what happened three years ago has "nothing to do with" his decision to challenge Mahoney. In the summer of 2007, before this went down, "I already had people asking me if I'd take him on." Now a car salesman at Bell Ford in Arlington, Haney is "concerned about the direction of public safety in Dane County. [Mahoney] has aligned himself so much with the county executive's office that the Sheriff Office morale is at an all-time low."

In the campaign, Haney has largely gone on the attack, accusing Mahoney of being unethical, mismanaging the office, damaging morale and lowering hiring standards. Mahoney has defended his record and policies, saying he's lowered costs and improved efficiency.

Haney claims Mahoney has relaxed the standards for who is eligible for the county's home-incarceration program. This lets inmates wear an electronic monitoring bracelet but live at home, allowed out only to work, attend classes, or go to drug and alcohol treatment. Haney says inmates once had to stay in the county jail for three months and were allowed on the program only after demonstrating good behavior. "Right now, you come in one door and you're out the other."

Mahoney says that there's been no change in the rules, and that judges make decisions about who can participate. He boasts that the program has had a 97% success rate, saving taxpayers millions.

"We have not had a crime committed while someone was on the program," says Mahoney, explaining that the 3% failure rate owes to people breaking rules - such as drinking in the home or failing a drug test - not committing crimes.

In addition, the program has greatly reduced jail overcrowding. "Since 2008, we have not shipped one inmate outside of Dane County," says Mahoney, noting that the county is now renting out jail space at $52 a day per inmate to other counties and the state. "We're generating a significant amount of revenue that can be used for different programs."

Haney says the office could save money in other areas, such as privatizing food service at the jail. Haney also accuses Mahoney of lowering the standards for deputies, in an attempt to make the office more diverse, so that "you've got people who shouldn't be working there working there."

Mahoney agrees he's boosted the office's minority representation, from 3.2% to 6.5%, but he denies it's damaged professionalism. He says diversity is important not because of political correctness, but because the community should see itself reflected in law enforcement.

Haney also attacks the car that Mahoney drives. When he ran for election in 2006, Mahoney promised to drive the oldest car in the fleet. And then, charges Haney, "He took office and ordered a brand-new Ford Explorer."

Mahoney replies: "I did say I was going to drive the car I had, with 100,000 miles on it, which I did, until it was replaced. I drive an Explorer because that's what my predecessor drove." He dismisses the matter as insubstantial: "Let's debate the issues."

Haney says he'd like to do that, but Mahoney has refused to debate him. "They have said they're too busy."

Again, Mahoney's camp disagrees, noting the two candidates have appeared together at a number of forums and events. Adds Mahoney spokeswoman Melissa Mulliken, "There aren't any more scheduled."

Curiously, the two candidates do agree on one thing: Mahoney's policy of reporting undocumented individuals charged with crimes to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Local activists and immigrant rights groups have complained about the policy, saying it leads to profiling and makes immigrants afraid to call the police, especially in cases of domestic abuse. But Haney says that, if elected, "I still plan on doing that."

Mahoney defends the policy, saying ICE is contacted only when an inmate doesn't have any other identification. ICE is the only law agency that keeps track of gang affiliation, he says.

"It's important when you come into my jail that I know who you are," he says. "If you're a member of a gang, I don't want to house you with a rival gang."

He adds that his cooperation with ICE has been exaggerated. When the agency has asked the Sheriff's Office for help in immigration raids, he says he's declined.

"I'm not going to deploy my deputies for the purpose of enforcing immigration law," explains Mahoney. "The federal immigration law is broken."

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