La Crosse community reacts as activist steps down following social media harassment

Members of the public along with a local judge, district attorney and fellow CJMC members weigh in

Just last week, we told you that a member of the La Crosse Criminal Justice Management Council abruptly resigned following harassment by police on social media.
Local officials and the public weighed in on what caused that member to step down.

Last Thursday Joella Striebel resigned from her position on the Criminal Justice Management Council saying she had been threatened and harassed following a local police union’s Facebook post about her.  In a very real way being scared into silence.

In reaction to the threats and harassment Striebel said in part, “I never anticipated that volunteering my time to improve our community would negatively impact my life, safety, and health, but it has. In recent weeks, I have been singled out by law enforcement leaders and publicly identified as an enemy of the police.”

Community member Benjamin Ames made this comment about the Facebook post by the  La Crosse Professional Police Supervisors and Officers Association, regarding member of Council, Joella Striebel. “They intended to cast her in a negative light. It feels like it was entirely inappropriate and potentially puts her in danger in the community with how widespread it was shared. The post stayed up until current Mayor commented on the impropriety of it. This is totally unprofessional and I would like to see an investigation and hold accountable the person(s) behind that post.”

Some community members who spoke at the March 17th virtual meeting did not want to be identified out of fear of retaliation by police. One woman just wanted to be identified as ‘Sarah’, ” I am not comfortable with my name or face being associated with how it impacted me. It’s more telling that it took a post from the Mayor to take it down. I’m hoping an apology was offered to the woman, but the community has not heard this apology. They behaved badly and can’t take that back. Once put out there the whole community will judge you for it. It’s just reckless! The damage done to this woman is real. She was not doing anything criminal and got hung out there.  I appreciate those that show up to these committees and put their lives and the lives of their families on the line to do this important work of holding people accountable for their words and actions.”

La Crosse District Attorney Tim Gruenke is also Chair of the CJMC and added, “I want the police union to know this is very intimidating to citizens and doesn’t think they realize just how intimidating it can be. This is not an example of ethical or professional behavior. The Criminal Justice Management Council is founded on the idea that we bring people together who have different viewpoints. We discuss issues professionally and politely, making our community better for everybody. We have prosecutors and defense attorneys who don’t always agree. We have judges and probation officers. Police and people who have been arrested by police. We’ve always tried to include the citizens of the community, who are not here to give us a pat on the back but to share their differences and share their criticisms, and to address any problems they have. So we can hear from them, listen to them, give them a voice and listen to people who normally have no voice, no
matter how uncomfortable that makes those of us in the system feel. What the police union
did was exactly the opposite. They were telling a citizen don’t talk if you’re critical of the
police, don’t speak up unless we want to hear from you, and if you have even a suggestion
that there’s going to be some criticism you’ll be singled out. I can’t imagine how that made
her feel, and it’s not something that we can condone. I’m glad to see that the post was
taken down relatively quickly. Hopefully people realize their errors and understood how
serious it was. The police union clearly has a problem with the committee that Joella was
investigating, and I just want to be clear to everybody that we are the ones that asked to
have that committee. We had a discussion and we’ve said this is something we have to explore. We had someone from Madison come and speak about it and it was to explore the
possibility that this committee would exist. She didn’t do anything wrong, and she certainly
didn’t deserve to be treated that way. If the police union wants to build trust with
communities, I think they have to first be willing to hear things that they don’t like without
defensiveness or using their power to defeat that criticism. If it did anything for me it was
to point out the fact that that’s exactly what we do need is something other than a Police
and Fire Commission because citizens have been intimidated at just the mere suggestion
that there might be something that might criticize or hold the police accountable. So, from
my perspective as a chair, I apologize to Joella for her speaking her mind to be treated this
way because this is not what we want. We want citizens to want to be in this floor, we want
them to feel it is a good experience, a positive experience. And the last thing that we
should have is for somebody to feel like they’re being singled out by any member of the
committee or organization.”

Police Chief Shawn Kudron did apologize to Striebel for the incident, but many who spoke out at the meeting said the damage had already been done.

And although some of the council members had hoped Striebel would reconsider her resignation.

News 8 Now reached out and Striebel did confirm she is not reconsidering her resignation and has no plans to rejoin the CJMC any time soon.