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As couple ends festive lights display, local sheriff refutes their claims it mishandled trespassing complaints

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald addressed complaints from over the summer on Facebook Saturday.
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The Barron County Sheriff’s Department in western Wisconsin is pushing back against claims it mishandled trespassing complaints last summer.

In a Saturday Facebook post, Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald addressed claims from Cameron residents Mike and Jennifer Lenbom that his department failed to issue citations to a repeat trespasser, and that local prosecutors also failed to take action.

Mike Lenbom last week re-shared a Facebook post detailing a public comment made by Jennifer at a Barron County Board of Supervisors meeting this past June, in which she detailed the lack of action they have seen in response to multiple trespassing incidents over the summer at their home.

The couple have run a festive lights display every holiday season since 2008, which they call Lenbom Lights, but announced last month that this year would be their last, saying that they are "feeling deflated and have lost faith in humanity."

The trespassing incidents and what they believe to be a lack of action from local authorities is behind the shutdown.

In her complaint in June, Jennifer Lenbom stated that their property experienced numerous incidents including when the trespasser cut down trees and bushes.

The Lenboms say they brought the incident to the county administrator and Fitzgerald, who declined to issue a citation.

"A single trespassing ticket likely would have fixed the problem," they said. "Since they didn't do anything, the trespasser now has a greater sense of 'empowerment.' We have gotten several death threats in the last year."

When asked about why the citation was not issued, Lenbom claims Fitzgerald responded by saying: "If that is what you want, I could probably get him to give you about $300."

The comment goes on to say that the Lenboms met with Fitzgerald and the Barron County District Attorney.

“We were told that a [fourth] trespassing incident would likely bring charges, although we are not confident. Furthermore, the DA said confronting the trespasser on our property could warrant harassment claims from the trespasser,” the comment reads.

But in a lengthy response posted Saturday, Fitzgerald clarified the offer of money to address their trespassing claims, stating that it was to exemplify the fine the trespasser would likely receive.

“They ... reference some comment about money exchanging hands to make them happy. Again false. I was trying to point out the max penalty the person could get. Just the facts,” Fitzgerald’s post reads.

He did offer an apology to the couple, saying: "...I am sorry the people feel they were mistreated by the Sheriff’s Department. I have apologized, even though we have done all we could, and feel we have went above and beyond to help them understand why the decision was made."

But he then concluded: "I feel we have been wrongfully attacked. It appears that they are using something they do for the community to create joy to many people, as a platform to make something happen when this took place over 7-8 months ago. I understand that their opinion is that they feel wronged, but I stand by my dept. and how we handled it.

Fitzgerald also defended actions by the district attorney.

“The District Attorney did provide them with a detailed written response on why he was not charging the cases and gave them information on how they could handle this in Civil Court, and went above and beyond to answer their questions,” the post reads.

“They have not followed through with what could be a resolution for them.” 

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In response to Fitzgerald's post, the Lenboms posted on Sunday: "First of all, we admire and respect every single member of law enforcement and appreciate what these people do on a daily basis. Our previous post was not an attack on the Barron County Sheriff’s Department. We had frequent messages from people wondering why we are giving this all up, so we gave the public more information. This will be our final year, and that is our choice.

"Our feelings are based on the experiences we have had with the justice system. We have audio recordings and evidence to support all of the comments that we made. Again, this is not an attack on one entity, it is the whole system.

"We don’t expect an elected official to understand our feelings, but dismissing our experiences and concerns shows a lack of empathy. We would like to thank everyone for your care and concerns for our family."

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