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Criminal Law
Neglect of Duty
Indigent, Insane, etc.
Public Officers -

City officials whose duty it is to properly
relieve and take care of indigent persons
may be prosecuted under Section 348.29,
Stats., if they refuse or wilfully
neglect to perform such duty.

February 20, 1928.

O.A. STOLEN, Humane Agent.

You state that a city of the fourth class
in one of the counties of this state that
has no county home has contracted with a
private person for the care and maintenance
of two old poor and indigent persons; that
the city pays to such person the sum of
$12.50 per month for each such poor person;
that the humane officer of the county writes:

     I found two indigent persons both aged
     and feeble * * * it was dinner time, at
     first they were afraid to talk to me.

     They afterwards told me that they were
     not getting enough to eat and were
     afraid to complain of their treatment.

     I saw the meal as it was cooking.

     It was not fit to eat * * * and there
     was not enough of it * * * Their
     quarters and persons were very filthy
     * * their landlady is a very dirty
     housekeeper and they all live
     in filth and squalor * * *

     Mrs. I was told, obtained most of the
     food for herself and these people from
     the garbage cans of the city.

     Many of the residents of
     the home have complained.

     The situation is deplorable, and these
     people are compelled to live in
     squalor and filth, half fed.

You further state that the city authorities
refuse to act; that you have made a personal
investigation and found the reports of the
humane agent to be true, and the officers
charged with the care of the poor refuse
to sign a petition for sending these
people to a county home as provided
in Section 49.07, Stats.

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You ask, assuming that these poor people in
question are not being properly relieved and
taken care of as required by law, if the city
can be compelled to do so and who the proper
person is to make complaint and institute the
proceedings. I know of no civil action that
could be brought which would give a practical
solution of the question confronting you.

 Section 49.01 provides:

     Every town, village and city shall
     relieve and support all poor and
     indigent persons lawfully settled
     therein whenever they shall stand
     in need thereof, except as
     hereinafter provided.

     The town board, village trustees, or
     common council, respectively, in each
     town, village, or city shall have the
     oversight and care of all such poor
     persons and indigents so long as they
     remain public charges; and shall see
     that they are properly relieved and
     taken care of in the manner required
     in this chapter.

Here it is made the duty of the common
council to see that the poor persons in their
charge are properly relieved and taken care
of in the manner required in that chapter.

Assuming that the description of the
condition under which these people are
maintained is correct as reported by you,
then these officers are neglecting their duty
as they are not giving proper relief and
care to these indigent people.

Section 348.29 provides:

     Any person mentioned in section 348.28
     [this includes officers of a city] * *
     who shall refuse or wilfully neglect to
     perform any duty in his office required
     by law * * shall be punished by
     imprisonment in the county jail
     not more than one year or by
     fine not exceeding five
     hundred dollars.

It is unthinkable that any official in the
state charged with the solemn duty of giving
proper care to old, indigent people should
permit them to be kept in such squalor
and filth as you describe.

No jury, in my estimation, would be found
that would acquit such officers when the
evidence shows such facts to exist.

You are therefore advised that criminal
prosecution may be brought against the city
officials who are charged with the duty of
giving relief to the poor and that such
complaint may be made by any person
who is conversant with the facts.

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It may be made by the humane officer
of the county or by yourself, acting
as state humane agent.

JEM

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