Jim Theyerl lives in rural Manitowoc County. He’s in his late 60s and he knows a lot of people. He’s kind of a local government gadfly. He even sued Manitowoc County around 2014 over violating his rights to free speech, a federal lawsuit in which he prevailed.
These days, he’s also dating Debi Hochstetler, mother of teenage hit-and-run homicide victim, Ricky Hochstetler. The Hochstetler case is a brutal and tragic crime that the sheriff’s agency of Manitowoc County has invested little time and effort over the past several years in trying to solve. It’s a terrible homicide that a good many Manitowoc sheriff’s employees have suspected was committed by one of their own – and covered up by at least one of their own, if not more, during the tenure of long-time crooked sheriff Tom Kocourek. The two sheriff’s officials whose names were later brought to the attention of the Wisconsin Department of Justice were brothers Todd and Rob Hermann.
Then last year, a conversation Theyerl had at a local restaurant in Manitowoc set off bells and whistles within the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department. It prompted a phone call to Theyerl’s house from decade-long Undersheriff Gregg Schetter – a lifelong close friend of Rob and Todd Hermann. In fact, Schetter and Rob Hermann both served as groomsmen in Todd Hermann’s wedding way back in 1993.
On Jan. 19, 2016 Assistant City Police Chief Robert Barbier dialed up Schetter that “a male subject with the last name of ‘Theyerl’ was speaking in a public forum about a fatal hit and run involving a victim identified with the last name of ‘Hochstetler’ which occurred 17 years ago,” Schetter reflected. “Officer Pete Dramm had concerns as Theyerl made claims that a cover-up occurred during the investigation.”
Although the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice typically probe police misconduct and corruption, there is no mention in Schetter’s report that the undersheriff alerted federal law enforcement to the long-standing allegations of police corruption involving his agency’s Ricky Hochstetler hit-and-run homicide investigation. Rather, Schetter requested the city’s deputy chief make its officer produce a written statement regarding “the content of the conversation and forward it to me so I could review it further.”
If you thought it might be a conflict of interest for Manitowoc County’s upper sheriff’s administration to investigate its own upper administration for allegations of a criminal cover-up in a hit-and-run homicide, guess again. Schetter did so, at least on his paper – his own reports show.
“Theyerl disclosed to Officer Dramm that he believes the lead investigating officer who was identified as Lt. Mike Bushman was involved in a cover-up and that Theyerl believes he knows who is actually responsible for that fatal hit and run accident. After reviewing the information provided by Officer Dramm, there is no specific new information or credible information that would assist in the current investigation,” Schetter wrote on Jan. 20, 2016.
Schetter called Theyerl at his home. “Why is the Undersheriff calling me today?” Theyerl asked. “I informed Theyerl that I received information from Officer Dramm, indicating Theyerl made an allegation that Mike Bushman was involved in a cover-up as it related to the Hochstetler investigation and I was wondering if he has any new information that would assist us in the investigation.”
Theyerl did not trust revealing his information to the same sheriff’s department that has been accused of operating under a culture of corruption for a good many years. Still, Schetter persisted.
“As we continued to talk, Theyerl volunteered that some of the information is coming from past detectives who are ‘talking’ and that I am probably aware of who they might be,” Schetter wrote down.
Schetter’s formal report dated Jan. 20, 2016 indicated “there was no direct or creditable (sic) information that was provided relating to Theyerl’s statements.” A paper trail now existed, reflecting that Schetter had properly investigated the cover-up suspicions involving Bushman, who was one of Schetter’s closest mentors. “If in fact Theyerl comes forward with any new information, we will assess it at that time,” Schetter wrote.