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Richland Center police chief charged with sexual assault of female bartender
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Richland Center police chief charged with sexual assault of female bartender

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A police chief in Richland County was charged Tuesday with sexual assault and theft after allegedly groping a bartender and stealing her tip money.

Richland Center Police Chief Lucas Clements faces three counts of fourth-degree sexual assault and one count of theft in the incident, which happened June 16, according to a criminal complaint. Each misdemeanor count is punishable by up to nine months of jail time and extended supervision.

The state Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation investigated the incident.

Surveillance video reviewed by DCI showed Clements inappropriately touched the female bartender multiple times, according to the criminal complaint. The footage does not have audio.

Richland Center is a city of about 5,000 people. Mayor Mike Kaufman said Clements was put on paid leave within 24 hours of the city learning of the incident. Clements remains on paid leave.

Lt. Billy Jones has been appointed as acting chief.

City Council member Todd Coppernoll said the city has the feel of a small town, and many residents were shocked to find out about the allegations against Clements.

“It’s been quite an ordeal for a lot of people. It’s just a really sad turn of events,” Coppernoll said.

Kaufman called the incident “a very large surprise” and said it did not reflect the city’s entire police department.

“It is a shame that an incident like this happened to bring down the entire police department because I think we have one of the finest police departments and sheriff’s departments that you could possibly imagine,” Kaufman said. “These people put their lives on the line for us every single day.”

Whether Clements will be replaced is up to the Richland Center Police Commission, which has a meeting scheduled for Monday. A closed session is on the agenda.

Kaufman said he expects the commission will wait until the conclusion of Clements’ criminal case before making a decision about whether to fire him.

According to the criminal complaint:

Clements entered a bar and restaurant in Richland County around 9 p.m., shortly before its closing. Only a cook and the bartender were still working, and no customers were in the bar, which is not named.

Clements was not in uniform or acting in an official capacity.

The bartender told DCI that Clements appeared drunk when he arrived, but Clements told police he had only had one beer. She served him three drinks.

The woman said Clements started to touch her and make sexual comments to her while they were at the bar area. He then went into an office area, and the woman followed to tell him he was not allowed in there. He also went into the office bathroom.

Video reviewed by DCI showed Clements inappropriately touching the bartender in the office. She said she was also groped in the bathroom.

The woman went in and out of the office area and told the cook multiple times about the unwanted touching and comments, which the cook confirmed with DCI.

After the incident, the woman hid outside by a truck for 20 minutes because “she was scared (and) did not know what to do as the defendant was a cop.”

Clements told DCI that he was at the bar and restaurant, but claimed any contact with the woman was mutual. The woman told DCI that she never consented to any of the touching.

Video also showed Clements taking a beer from the bar, placing a $1 bill on the cooler and leaving the building with the beer in hand.

When Clements left and the woman went back into the bar, $340 of her tip money, which she had left on the counter, was gone. She told DCI she felt comfortable leaving it there because Clements was a police officer.

The surveillance footage shows Clements grabbing something from the bar where the woman’s tip money had been placed, but the money cannot be clearly seen in the video.

The woman told DCI she had known Clements for a long time and considered him a family friend.

Coppernoll said Tuesday many Richland Center residents know Clements personally.

“It’s a small town. People look out for each other, people know each other,” Coppernoll said. “Whatever the outcome, we’ll need some healing. The community will need some healing.”

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Emily Hamer is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the paper in April 2019 and was formerly an investigative reporting intern at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

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