Controversy brews over peace march

Hundreds of marchers from across the state and beyond gathered on The 400 Block May 31 in response to what some see as racial injustice in Dylan Yang’s conviction for murder in adult court, but at least one county official might be in hot water because of his involvement.

The Marathon County Executive Committee hired an outside attorney in June to gather facts about allegations made against Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger’s involvement in the rally. And while officials won’t talk about the reason for the investigation, it’s likely stemming from a spat with Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel.

In an email exchange between Hardel and Karger, obtained by City Pages through an open records request, Hardel said he took exception to Karger “leading the protestors in various cheers” and participating in the rally where police, the courts and the community were construed as racist. Marchers said police, the judge, the district attorney and the community failed both Dylan Yang and victim Isaiah Powell, Hardel wrote, and he didn’t think it was appropriate for Karger to be involved. Hardel did not respond to a request to be interviewed.

Karger says he never led any cheers, and says he thanked police and community service officers as he passed them for helping keep the marching route safe. In retrospect, Karger says, he should probably have left after his speech. But he defended many of his comments, suggesting that a 16-year-old boy is unlikely to be safe or get the kind of rehabilitation he needs in an adult prison system, which he faces after being convicted of killing 13-year-old Powell after Powell and a group of friends showed up for a fight at Yang’s residence. Yang deserves to be punished for his crime, Karger says, but in a juvenile facility equipped to handle someone Yang’s age.

No further action was taken at the committee meeting Friday, officials say. Karger said he didn’t know for a fact that Hardel’s email prompted the fact-finding but it was the only email he’d received about his involvement in the rally, and the county board chair was one of those copied in the emails. County officials will only say that an attorney was hired to gather facts as part of an investigation into allegations against an employee or employees.