JEFFERSON COUNTY -- A charge of felony burglary was filed Tuesday, Dec. 17 against former Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Janelle Gericke who prosecutors say broke into or tried to break into homes of grieving families, including that of a beloved Lake Mills firefighter, and the home of a co-worker who was out of town.
According to a news release, sheriff's office personnel discovered evidence that led officials to suspect Gericke, 29, may have been involved in illegal conduct while off-duty. Specifically, "evidence showed she may have attempted to gain access to a house without consent."
The criminal complaint against Gericke said these attempts to gain access to homes "occurred while the homeowners were attending the funeral of a family member. In such instances, the deceased person's online obituary listed the homeowners as surviving relatives along with the date and time of funeral services. If confronted, Gericke would explain that she was there to complete a transaction arising from Facebook."
As people were mourning the loss of Lake Mills Firefighter Chris Truman in January, who was struck and killed while helping a stranded motorist on New Year's Eve, a deputy spotted a woman he recognized on Truman's front porch. Prosecutors said Gericke said she was trying to purchase a baby item from Facebook Marketplace, but the name or address she gave didn't match any locations in the area. She later texted the deputy, saying she found what she was looking for at the home next door.
There was a problem, because the next door neighbor didn't sell anyone anything.
That was one of seven homes in Jefferson County, in Fort Atkinson, Lake Mills, and Watertown, prosecutors said Gericke tried to break into or broke into. Four of the crimes happened while families were away for funerals, and some happened while under surveillance by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Prosecutors said she tried getting into a co-worker's home while that person was out of town, and was spotted in surveillance video. When confronted by the co-worker, prosecutors said Gericke denied it was her.
"It's sad," said Gage Cunningham of Jefferson. "Why would someone want to do that when the people are going through something like that? That would be difficult even dealing with that, and then having to come home and realize that your stuff is taken -- that's not good. That's awful."
That's the same question FOX6 News wanted to ask, and while the lights and TV were on and people were home, no one answered the door when we stopped by Gericke's home on Tuesday in Jefferson.
Gericke had been employed by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office since February 2016 and was a deputy assigned to the Jail Division. Her employment was terminated on July 3, 2019.
In the news release, the following statement was issued:
"Jefferson County Sheriff Paul Milbrath and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office apologize to the people that they serve for the embarrassment and mistrust that this individual may have caused."
An initial court appearance was scheduled for Monday, Dec. 30. If convicted on the burglary charge, she faces up to 12-and-a-half years in prison and $25,000 in fines.