A 29-year-old former deputy in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was charged with one count of felony burglary Tuesday, Dec. 17.
Janelle Gericke was employed at the sheriff’s office from February 2016 to July 3, 2019 when she was terminated, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. She faces a maximum sentence of 12 years six months imprisonment and a $25,000 fine if convicted.
Evidence showed Gericke attempted to gain access to multiple homes around the area without consent, including the home of Lake Mills Fire Capt. Christopher Truman during his funeral.
While people were mourning at Lake Mills High School at the funeral a sheriff’s deputy recognized Gericke on Truman’s front porch. The complaint says she claimed to be there to buy a baby item off of Facebook Marketplace, but the address she gave didn’t match any in the area. Later that night Gericke texted the deputy a picture of the item saying she had found the right house next door to the victim’s home. The neighbor told police she did not sell a baby swing in January 2019.
Gericke has only been charged with one count, but the criminal complaint describes seven instances in which she was seen in person or on surveillance video outside of people’s homes.
Once, she was caught on camera outside the home of another sheriff’s office employee who had sent an email to law enforcement countywide that they would be out-of-state for two days.
Another time, she was seen at a residence in Lake Mills as the homeowners were heading out to go trick-or-treating with their child. The husband and the wife’s father were in the same bowling league as Gericke, according to the complaint.
In more than one instance, Gericke was seen on surveillance footage while the homeowners were at the funeral of a family member, the complaint states. The deceased person’s online obituary would mention the surviving relatives along with the date and time of funeral services — giving Gericke her targets, the complaint said.
The Sheriff’s Office began a criminal investigation into the crimes Feb. 24, 2018, the complaint states. Deputy Jeremy Franke responded to a report of a Watertown burglary at the home of an 82-year-old man.
The man and his family returned from his long-term girlfriend’s funeral to find a note inside his front door, according to the complaint.
“I was here to pick up stuff through Facebook. I came in to the house and the items weren’t by the door. So I didn’t leave my money. I tried Facebook messaging you but you haven’t responded,” the note stated.”
The Facebook store excuse was Gericke’s go-to in the event she was seen at a person’s home, according to the complaint.
Surveillance footage showed a silver Chevrolet Cobalt arriving in the Watertown home’s driveway while the family was at the funeral, according to the complaint. Three minutes after the car arrives, a white woman with dark hair wearing a parka, yoga pants and Ugg style boots approached the front door with a piece of paper in her hand. She rings the doorbell, checks the handle, pulls something out of her pocket and uses it to open the door, the complaint states.
The homeowner said he found a cabinet in his bedroom with the door open and he was missing his checkbook.
More than a year later, state investigators found Gericke’s fingerprints on the note, according to the complaint.
Eight months after the Watertown incident — Halloween 2018 — Gericke arrived at the residence of her bowling league partner in Lake Mills, again using the Facebook excuse.
Again, Gericke mentioned she was using Facebook Marketplace, the complaint states. She also said “I didn’t know this was your house.”
Feb. 7, 2019, almost one year after the initial incident, a Fort Atkinson family came home from their son’s funeral to find a woman matching Gericke’s description in their kitchen.
The family later identified Gericke in a photo lineup, the complaint states.
When the family got home, she said she was responding to a Facebook posting to clean and that she worked for the Sheriff’s Office, according to the complaint.
The family said she left in a gray Chevrolet and there was a black Labrador in the back seat.
In April, one of Gericke’s co-workers sent an email to the entire Sheriff’s Office and personnel from surrounding law enforcement agencies that she would be out-of-state, the complaint states. While she was out of town, a woman was seen on surveillance video trying to enter the empty home through both the front door and rear sliding glass door.
A few days later, another sheriff’s office employee recognized Gericke in the surveillance footage. A deputy approached Gericke about this video footage, but she denied it was her.
It was at this time, the investigation into all the incidents was handed over to the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, according to the sheriff’s department release.
In early May, state investigators were conducting a stakeout of Gericke’s Jefferson home. While surveilling the residence, investigators saw a silver 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt and a black Labrador.
On June 14, agents found an online obituary for a person with relatives in Fort Atkinson that day and began a surveillance operation, according to the complaint.
Gericke was seen driving from her home to the home of one of the funeral attendees, the complaint states. An investigator saw Gericke walking around the house trying to find an open door before giving up and driving away.
Ten minutes later, Gericke was seen by investigators at another Fort Atkinson home. With her infant in the back seat of the car, Gericke tried to enter the home, failed and returned to her vehicle, according to the complaint.
The Sheriff’s Office said in the release Sheriff Paul Milbrath assures the public that the values, integrity and standards that the Sheriff’s Office has always represented will continue to be upheld.
“The Sheriff’s Office refuses to let events like this define itself and call into question the goodness of the people who work so hard every day to serve this community with honor and pride.”
He continued by saying, “The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office apologizes to the people they serve for the embarrassment and mistrust that this individual may have caused.”
The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment further at the request of the DOJ.
Gericke will appear in Jefferson County Circuit Court Dec. 30 at 1:15 p.m.