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Authorities: Sheriff Ron Cramer's death ruled a suicide

Leader-Telegram - 11/30/2022

Nov. 30—EAU CLAIRE — Authorities have released the results of an investigation into the September death of Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer.

In revealing Cramer died as a result of suicide, local law enforcement leaders sought to put a spotlight on the toll being in law enforcement takes and said the physical and mental well being of officers and other first responders is a top priority.

A peer support team is in place within the Sheriff's Office, Acting Sheriff Cory Schalinske said Wednesday during a press conference. He was joined by Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus, whose department led the investigation, and Cramer's wife, Cheryl.

"We are no longer accepting stressors as just being part of the job," Schalinske said.

Staff is being asked to meet with a mental health professional for mandatory wellness visits to receive self-care techniques and tips, Schalinske said.

"Things to do to take care of themselves," he said.

Law enforcement officers see bad things on nearly a daily basis. After a tragic event, Sheriff's Office staff who were on the scene are provided with debriefing and counseling. They then have an opportunity for one-on-one counseling with a mental health professional, Schalinske said.

A similar approach is being taken within the Eau Claire Police Department, Rokus said.

"We don't want to sensationalize this, but we don't want to ignore it," Rokus said of mental health for all first responders. "We want to build a culture where it's okay to talk about difficulties."

Mental health "is an issue," Rokus said. "It is recognized. Our work there is not done."

According to Bluehelp.Org, 1,138 law enforcement officers nationwide and 21 officers in Wisconsin died by suicide between 2017 and 2022.

Rokus said Cramer died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and his body was found along the Eau Claire River in the town of Seymour. Cramer went to work the morning of Sept. 13 and left alone in the early afternoon.

"Stress and anxiety played a major role" in Cramer's death. And based on interviews with friends, family and co-workers, Cramer's stress and anxiety were related to both health and work issues, Rokus said.

Rokus did not elaborate on Cramer's health issues.

Schalinske said dispatchers received a call at 1:56 p.m. on Sept. 13 about a deceased man who was found along a riverbank in the 8400 block of North Shore Drive.

Cramer was found and recognized by two county employees who were doing mapping work in the area. A firearm was also found at the scene.

Schalinske said he and jail Capt. Dave Riewestahl responded to the scene with the Eau Claire County medical examiner. Schalinske said the scene was then turned over to the Eau Claire Police Department for a full investigation.

Rokus said he was called just after 2 p.m. on Sept. 13 and informed of Cramer's death. He agreed to have his officers and detectives perform a death investigation.

Rokus said the police department gathered, preserved and analyzed evidence. A forensic autopsy was conducted by the Ramsey County, Minn., medical examiner's office.

Schalinske said the investigation into Cramer's death is complete and closed. "This continues to be a tragic and difficult time," he said.

Rokus said the timing of the news conference more than two months after Cramer's death was based on his department's investigation.

"There are certain investigatory steps that take time," he said.

Cheryl Cramer asked for time and privacy for her family to grieve in peace.

"Our family suffered a great loss with Ron's untimely passing," Cheryl Cramer said. "We are completely devastated by this terrible tragedy."

Schalinske said there is a photo at the Sheriff's Office showing Cramer reading to some children.

"He was driven to provide a positive impact each day," Schalinske said of Cramer. "We do not know the reasons for his decision (to take his life). But Sheriff Cramer and all that he was will not be forgotten."

Cramer announced in February he would not seek another four-year term in the November election. He was set to retire Jan. 7, 2023.

Cramer had been with the Sheriff's Office for 47 years. He started as a jailer at the age of 19 in 1975.

Cramer decided just six weeks before the election in 1996 to run for sheriff as a write-in Republican. He defeated Democratic incumbent Dick Hewitt and was sworn in in January 1997. He had been re-elected ever since.

Following Cramer's death, Schalinske, who was the undersheriff, was appointed acting sheriff until the newly-elected sheriff is sworn in. Dave Riewestahl was elected in November and will begin a four-year term in January as Eau Claire County's new sheriff.


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