A high-ranking unit leader in the Wisconsin Army National Guard allegedly sexually assaulted a soldier and was later rehired by the Guard as a private civilian contractor, according to emails between the soldier and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch’s office, which were obtained by the Cap Times.
The emails were exchanged from October 2017 through June 2018 and were released to the Cap Times through an open records request. The names of the solider and the alleged perpetrator are redacted. The original email chain between the soldier and Kleefisch's office included “10.28 MBs of substantiating documentation,” which was not included in the records provided to the Cap Times, according to the records.
In the emails, a soldier wrote to Kleefisch notifying her about a supervisor and leader in the soldier's unit who sexually assaulted her and other women there. The soldier referred to the alleged perpetrator as the “Harvey Weinstein of the WI National Guard.” The soldier asked Kleefisch to provide some oversight to Adjutant General Donald Dunbar, who oversees the Wisconsin National Guard. She also cited concerns about how the Wisconsin Army National Guard investigates sexual assaults and said it was violating federal protocols.
“I have been vacillating about contacting your (office) for approximately 3 years now, but the recent news regarding Harvey Weinstein has me at wits' end. More specifically, I keep hearing the phrase, "everyone knew,’’ the soldier wrote. The soldier said that in January 2014 she told her chain of command about the “Harvey Weinstein” of their unit, “someone who woefully outranked us, and used his rank to touch, demean, and intimidate us.”
The soldier said she filed a formal complaint and in March 2015 the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations investigated her claim, which it substantiated, according to a separate record of the investigation. That record was provided to the Cap Times by the soldier.
The National Guard Bureau found that the supervisor “inappropriately touched the victim's buttocks, thighs, shoulders and back and subjected the victim to sexually illicit language and that the touching was intentional and that it was done with the intent to abuse, humiliate or degrade the victim."
The soldier said that after she reported the assault, she faced retribution and reprisal and her job was threatened. The Wisconsin National Guard allowed the alleged perpetrator to retire honorably with benefits and then later rehired him as a civilian contractor, working as a case manager for soldiers who have been injured in the line of duty. The position had access to soldiers’ health records including his victims, the solider wrote.
“My perpetrator also has the gall to periodically email me directly — despite once having a Military Protective Order against him,” the soldier wrote. “I am a patriot, and a Soldier dedicated to the Army Values. I believe in the oath I swore to protect the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic. This man is a domestic cancer in the (Wisconsin Army National Guard); a cancer that was allowed to metastasize to a level which I believe threatens the core integrity of the Wisconsin National Guard.”
The emails follow an investigation by the Cap Times that showed how the Wisconsin Army National Guard responds to allegations of sexual assault. The series showed how four men who called themselves the “four horsemen” sexually “preyed” upon women in one unit for more than six years. The series also showed how the Guard investigates allegations of assault. One expert said the reports read as if they were “written by children" and showed bias against the victim.
State and federal lawmakers from both political parties have called for more accountability in how the Guard responds to sexual misconduct. The National Guard Bureau is now investigating the Wisconsin Army National Guard's practices, and is expected to produce a report in 2020.
In a statement to the Cap Times Wednesday, Gov. Tony Evers' spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said he remains committed to ensuring "a safe environment for our service members and expects a thorough, fair, and impartial review from the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations."
"Everyone deserves a workplace that is free from sexual assault or harassment, and free from the fear they may face retaliation for reporting assault or harassment," she said.
The Wisconsin Army National Guard has said that it welcomes an investigation, is committed to combating sexual assault and is committed to removing perpetrators from its ranks.
After the initial email sent to Kleefisch’s office in October 2017, Daniel Suhr, her chief of staff and legal counsel, responded to the solider and pledged to follow up with the “appropriate authorities” to ensure a prompt and independent review.
One month later, Suhr wrote to the soldier and said he sent her complaint to the Adjutant General’s office at the Department of Military Affairs who reviewed her concerns and said the alleged offender no longer worked there. Suhr said the Department of Military Affairs said it had changed its policies to safeguard future hiring decisions. Suhr added that the soldier was welcome to stay in touch with any concerns.
In a response email sent in December 2017, the soldier thanked Suhr but cautioned that the system of justice in the Wisconsin National Guard was not effective and asked Kleefisch to provide oversight of it. The soldier wrote that the Guard had and continues to violate sexual assault protocols and said she had filed a federal whistleblower complaint through the U.S. Department of Defense outlining the violations and the retribution she faced when she reported her assault.
“I am concerned that even if (the Department of Defense Inspector General) does initiate an investigation, their report will once again go right to (the Adjutant General) and no action will be taken,” she wrote. “I would like the (lieutenant governor's) office to provide some oversight of (the Adjutant General) regarding this matter. ... January (2018) will mark the four year anniversary of my initial complaint to my leadership. Four years with no justice is unacceptable. If this happened to me, it has happened to others, and it will continue to happen until someone steps in to enforce current policy by changing the standard operating procedure of (the Adjutant General) and his subordinates.
"I hope the Lieutenant Governor's office chooses to become that change.”
Later that month she followed up with another email again asking for help.
"The Office of the Lt. Governor is literally my last viable... option to affect positive change in our State's National Guard with regards to sexual assault response procedures," the soldier wrote.
Emails show Suhr continued to have discussions with officials at the National Guard Bureau throughout the spring of 2018. He kept in touch with the soldier and said Kleefisch's office was still working with its attorneys on the issue. The soldier asked to meet with Kleefisch, but a meeting never happened, according to the soldier.
Although Kleefisch did not spearhead any structural change or initiate new oversight mechanisms for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, she said in an email to the soldier in June 2018 that she had ongoing policy discussions with the Department of Military Affairs to better understand its policies.
Kleefisch said her office had been discussing protocols for investigating sexual assault allegations with Dunbar's office.
"Since you brought forward your further concerns about the larger policy issues around complex investigations, we have engaged in regular, ongoing discussions between the Governor's office and the Adjutant General's office to learn about policy, the policies in place in other states, and practical operation of these policies," Kleefisch wrote, according to a record of the email which the soldier provided to the Cap Times.
Kleefisch said that the Wisconsin National Guard sometimes investigates allegations in house because of a backlog at the National Guard Bureau that "prevents prompt resolution." She wrote that in early 2018, the National Guard Bureau revised its policies, giving states more flexibility to investigate sexual assault allegations through whatever channel they choose: in house or through the National Guard Bureau.