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Judge drops complaint against woman who left gun in Brookfield church

June 23, 2014

A Waukesha County judge has dismissed charges against an Oconomowoc woman who left her handgun in a church restroom.

Susan Hitchler, 66, was charged in April with negligent handling of a weapon, a misdemeanor. The complaint indicated that on March 19 she had left her handgun in a stall of the women's restroom at Elmbrook Church. A church employee found the gun within a few minutes and turned it over to security.

At a hearing late last week, Circuit Judge Lloyd V. Carter ruled on a defense motion to dismiss the case based on a lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. The motion had been argued in May.

"The bottom line, in my view, was the state must show a crime was probably committed," said Hitchler's attorney, Tom Grieve of Brookfield. "An element of the charged crime is that the defendant's conduct must have directly endangered the safety of another."

Grieve said that while initial rumors suggested there were children around, the weapon was seen only by someone doing janitorial service at Elmbrook. At the time, the church was playing host to a women's Bible study group, and that same bathroom was accessible to girls in first through fifth grades who also were in the church. But the complaint does not indicate any girls entered the bathroom before the loaded Ruger .380-caliber pistol was discovered.

"This doesn't mean the charge presented doesn't contain a major lapse of judgment or mistake," Grieve said.

Hitchler told police she had removed the gun from where it had been clipped to her waist when she used the restroom and then forgot that she had it put it aside. She called the church about 30 minutes later when she realized she had left the gun in the restroom.

Grieve said he expects prosecutors will decide this week whether or how to amend and refile the charge or to let the matter go.

The assistant district attorney on the case could not be reached Monday.

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