MADISON — There’s a lot of confusion about the armed agents who were at Eau Claire’s Memorial High School last week as the local health czar with a court order unnecessarily forced a 14-year-old girl into COVID lockdown.
There’s confusion because Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Elizabeth “Lieske” Giese has been slow to answer questions and county officials have been cagy with their responses.
As Empower Wisconsin reported this week, Mikaila “Pixie” Spiess, a Memorial freshman, respectfully declined to follow Giese’s mandate that she quarantine at home after alleged close contact with a COVID positive student. Mikaila’s mother, Kita Busse, stood by her daughter’s decision. Mikaila previously had COVID and has natural immunity. She was not showing any symptoms. Mikaila also was following all the masking requirements in school, Busse said.
Mikaila showed up for school and was quickly segregated from the rest of her classmates, spending much of the day in empty rooms with her principal. The health director, sources say, fumed and tried to get school administration to suspend Mikaila and remove her from the school grounds.
Near the end of the day, Giese got a court order.
Busse said the health czar wanted four armed police officers to escort her daughter out of the building, forcibly if necessary. Busse, seeing the officers present, decided to take Mikaila home to prevent any more trauma. The principal, she said, encouraged that course of action.
Busse and other sources described the armed officers as wearing brown shirts, different from the Eau Claire Police Department uniforms.
Eau Claire County’s lead attorney Tim Sullivan would only refer Empower Wisconsin to a local TV news story on the incident. Asked earlier in the week about the health department’s heavy-handed quarantine actions, Sullivan — again, the county’s lead attorney — said he didn’t know much about the high-profile case.
Eau Claire Police Department public information officer Josh Miller said the armed officers were the “supervisors” of the school resource officer, employed by the PD. He said they were in plain clothes and were there to answer any questions those involved may have had. He said they had nothing to do with enforcement of the court order.
Busse said that doesn’t match the description of the armed agents she encountered.
“These wore different uniforms than the police department’s. They were brown,” the mother said. “We made eye contact and the way they looked at me they were intimidating. They didn’t look like they were there to take any questions, standing there with their guns. If they were there to answer questions, they sure didn’t let us know that.”
Interestingly, Eau County Administrator Kathryn Schauf told Empower Wisconsin that “Ms. Giese was unaccompanied during her visit to Memorial High School last week.”
Schauf also said the Health Department does not employ quarantine officers, or any related position. Giese, finally responding to Empower Wisconsin’s multiple requests Thursday evening, said the same.
“As I have previously described to you in an earlier communication, the health department works with schools related to school-connected individuals that have COVID or have been identified as close contacts to ensure that they have correct information about isolation and quarantine,” Giese wrote in an email. Busse said Giese has not responded to her requests for information regarding the officers.
A FAQ sheet on the county’s communicable disease ordinances notes, “Quarantine guards are not related to the ordinances in question, but the health officer has this present authority under state law pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes Section 252.06.”
The guards have been used elsewhere.
As Wisconsin Spotlight reported in the first months of the pandemic, the La Crosse County Health Department developed a plan to employ Isolation/Quarantine Enforcement Officers with the power to round up individuals who fail to follow lockdown orders. They were even posting the positions on job sites.
The plan called for establishing a liaison with the local police department; “obtain restraints (e.g. handcuffs).” Handcuffs would be provided by the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department or the La Crosse Police Department, according to documents obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight.
Quarantine officers would be provided with La Crosse County Health Department emergency radios and a marked “enforcement vest.” Under “Enforcement”, the proposal notes that non-compliant individuals will receive a fine for not more than $500 or up to 30 days imprisonment.
State communicable disease laws come with stiff fines and jail time for COVID quarantine violators. Any unauthorized person who “enters a quarantine or isolation premises” would be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and as many as nine months in jail.
And government officials may “employ as many persons as are necessary to execute his or her orders and properly guard any place if quarantine or other restrictions on communicable disease are violated or intent to violate is manifested.”
Giese said her health department does not employ “persons .. to execute … orders and properly guard any place if quarantine or other restrictions on communicable disease are violated or intent to violate is manifested.”
The process proved punishing to a 14-year-old girl who peacefully (truly peacefully) protested a questionable order to keep her locked out of school. Mikaila tested negative on Sunday and the judge dismissed the order. But Giese wouldn’t let her go back to school until a day later.
“They were definitely trying to intimidate her,” Busse said.