Riewestahl, Otto face off in Eau Claire Co. Sheriff Dem. primary

Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 7:13 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Eau Claire County Democrats have a decision to make when they cast their ballot for the Aug. 9 primary election, who do they want to be the party’s nominee for sheriff.

The race to replace retiring GOP incumbent Ron Cramer has three candidates, two Democrats and one Republican. Eau Claire County Jail Captain Dave Riewestahl and jail Sgt. Kevin Otto will face each other in the Democratic primary. The winner will face Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office Det. Don Henning who’s running unopposed for the GOP nomination.

“I’m looking to be sheriff to bring my knowledge, skills and abilities to all of Eau Claire County and to serve the people,” Riewestahl said.

As jail captain, Riewestahl runs the jail.

As a jail sergeant, Otto’s also had an inside view of the sheriff’s office. He thinks it’s time for change.

“We’ve had the same Sheriff for 25 years and we’ve been working with the same mentality for those years,” Otto said. “Eau Claire County has a lot of challenges ahead of it, a lot of issues, and we’ve got to bring some new ideas to the table to work those out.”

Working in the jail, both candidates see the community’s problems. The both agree, the sheriff’s office has to do more to help people avoid going back behind bars.

“Simply incarcerating people over and over again doesn’t solve the problem,” Riewestahl said. “So that involves community support, and as sheriff, to advocate for that community support so people understand the needs of those that are in the jail because the people that are in the jail are part of the community.”

He said he wants to bring more social services into the jail so people are connected with help before leaving.

Otto wants to take those services out to the community. He said right now the sheriff’s office is too reactive once someone lands in jail.

“I want to bring proactive stuff to the front where we have long-term plans in place to address those issues so if they get arrested, come to jail, get out, we know right where to do them and to get them the help they need,” Otto said.

He said that means working closely with other agencies to set up more drug treatment and other mental health services.

While both candidates agree on several topics, including the need to connect with the entire community and the need to hire more deputies and corrections officers, there is one major issues they don’t see eye-to-eye on, the proposed jail expansion. The project would use federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to finish the incomplete fourth pod.

Riewestahl supports the idea. Otto is against the proposal.

“The problem is it does not solve the reasons why people are coming to jail,” Otto said. “Again, it’s reactive. And also, the biggest sidenote is we don’t have the staff to run our current jail at full capacity let alone if we expand and remodel for more cells.”

“I don’t want a jail expansion. I don’t want to build a jail,” Riewestahl said. “But ultimately the sheriff is responsible for the operation of the jail and we, in the community, haven’t figured out a way to slow the amount of people coming into the jail.”

He said right now the sheriff’s office has to send inmates to other counties’ jails in western Wisconsin when the Eau Claire County Jail gets too crowded.

Though Henning does not have competition in the upcoming GOP primary, he will face Tuesday’s Democratic primary winner.

In a statement to WEAU about his priorities as if elected sheriff, he said:

“If elected Sheriff, Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office would be involved in community engagement through face to face interactions with community leaders and organizations; like Township boards, Village Councils, County Board, City Councils, Community Organizations and interest groups. I would also promote mental health wellness for staff and community members; working with partners to address this. I would promote efforts to combat drug abuse and related crimes; explore emerging technology to prevent crime and enhance investigations; continue working relationships with regional agencies to benefit the community and identify any new possibilities; and continue to facilitate child protection in the community and ensure that all reported crimes against children are investigated.”

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