Officials at the state Department of Corrections did not investigate when an employee reported she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker at a staff golf outing and asked the department to address it.
Instead, DOC officials told the Oakhill Correctional Institution employee to contact police on her own, recently released state records show. And when she filed a complaint with the state alleging she was the target of discrimination and harassment because of the 2016 incident, DOC denied responsibility — in part because she waited more than a month to report the alleged assault to her supervisors.
The records were released to the Wisconsin State Journal in response to a request by the newspaper in November under the state’s open records law amid increased scrutiny on how government institutions address complaints of sexual harassment and assault.
The former employee stopped working at Oakhill, in part, because of what she described as a hostile work environment after the alleged assault. Her husband, who also worked at the prison, resigned because prison administrators did not look into his wife’s allegations.
“This event has completely exhausted my trust in the attending coworkers and Supervisors at Oakhill Correctional Institution,” the former employee’s husband wrote in his resignation letter. “I have witnessed my wife’s mental health deteriorate rapidly due to the overload of stress that work has brought about.”
The department’s handling of the allegation prompted the couple to file a federal lawsuit against the state earlier this year. Meanwhile, nearly two years later, the Oakhill sergeant who is accused of assaulting the employee has never been interviewed by DOC officials about the woman’s allegations.
The sergeant, whom the State Journal is not naming because he is not charged with a crime, said Tuesday — when he was contacted by the newspaper — this was the first time he learned the allegations were part of an official complaint. He described the physical contact with the former employee at the golf outing as consensual.
“I can honestly assure you that I in no way sexually assaulted the person in question,” the sergeant told the State Journal. “These allegations are 100 percent untrue.”
The former employee, through her attorney, declined to comment.
Corrections officials say law enforcement were not notified because the woman asked her supervisors to handle the matter “in house,” according to records related to a discrimination complaint the woman filed with the Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division.
The state records indicate supervisors “strongly” urged the woman and her husband to contact law enforcement on their own.
DOC did not conduct an internal investigation, in part, because law enforcement was not notified resulting in charges, and because two phone calls made in August 2016 to seek additional information about the allegation from the woman and her husband were not returned, according to a letter from Oakhill warden Douglas Percy to the employee’s husband.
The woman and her husband dispute this, and say they were never contacted, according to a lawsuit they filed in January.
The two alleged phone calls were made after the employee’s husband gave to his supervisors a detailed account of what he believes took place, which included the name of an eyewitness.
When asked why DOC has not interviewed the sergeant now that a complaint and lawsuit have been filed with a detailed allegation, DOC spokesman Tristan Cook said “the department was very proactive in attempting to gather additional information to conduct an investigation” and did not find information to prompt one.
Records show Percy reviewed the former employee’s allegations and consulted with DOC administrators, and they ultimately decided a further investigation on the issues was “not appropriate.”
Attorney General Brad Schimel said Wednesday he did not know enough about the case to comment directly on whether DOC should have investigated the complaint, but said he understands why sexual assault victims do not want to contact law enforcement about assaults.
“We’re at a point where any employer — if you’re government or private sector — you have to take these things seriously,” Schimel said. “We represent our state agencies ... and sometimes — I’m not saying this about this case — sometimes the behavior is hard to defend. We still have that job so I can’t comment directly.”
DOJ is defending DOC in the lawsuit from the couple.
‘Sorry to hear it’
On May 26, 2016, Oakhill employees, including the prison’s warden, and other DOC employees met at the Coachmen’s Golf Resort in Edgerton for an outing organized by a prison staff committee that holds fundraisers on behalf of the prison and events for employees.
What transpired next is in dispute.
The female employee, who doesn’t remember anything after noon that day, suspects she was drugged while drinking three or four beers and a couple shots. Then, she alleges she was sexually assaulted behind the golf club’s dumpsters by a prison sergeant based on accounts that other co-workers relayed to her husband, according to the state records. Her husband, who did not attend the outing, picked her up at about 8 p.m. that night after she called to say she was unable to drive home.
The week after the golf outing, an Oakhill employee who attended the event told the woman’s husband that he saw the sergeant and his wife doing “something sexual” at the golf club about 4 p.m. the day of the outing. The co-worker said he threw a cup of water at them and warned the sergeant he would tell her husband, according to the husband’s statement to DOC officials.
The sergeant rejected this characterization to the State Journal, saying the two flirted and “kissed and made out” a couple times but did not engage in sexual contact. He also emphatically denied drugging the woman.
Another co-worker told the employee’s husband he heard the sergeant had been bragging about taking advantage of his wife, who was described as “intoxicated, falling over, and puking all over herself,” according to the husband’s statement.
Her husband said a third co-worker said he noticed the sergeant following the employee around all day and that it looked like he was “grooming her.”
Attempts made by the State Journal to contact the co-workers were unsuccessful.
After telling his wife what he heard, the two went to a local hospital to get a blood test to check for so-called date rape drugs in her system. The doctor said such medication dissipated after 12 hours, and wouldn’t show up in a test, which came back negative. The woman had a bruise on her thigh and upper arm, according to her husband’s statement.
In her complaint against DOC, the woman said she told an Oakhill officer a few days after the outing that she had been given a so-called date rape drug and the officer told her he was “sorry to hear it.” Later, the woman went to another supervisor to report feeling harassed and discriminated against following the incident.
“It was very difficult for me to work after the golf outing. There were a lot of correctional officers at the golf outing and several had seen me and assumed I had gotten very drunk,” she wrote in her complaint. “I felt a change in my supervisors’ attitude toward me.”
DOC officials deny attitudes changed, and that her supervisors at the time were just trying to help her improve job performance.
Event not on
A key part of DOC’s case against the woman’s complaint and subsequent lawsuit is that the golf outing was not held on state property and employees were not mandated to go, nor were they paid for their time there.
A committee known as the Oakhill Correctional Institution Employee Enhancement Committee, which has eight to 10 members, organized the event on state time, however. The committee purchases food and employee recognition items for Correctional Employees Week and contributes to DOC employees who are facing family or medical emergencies, but without using state funds, according to DOC.
Colin Good, an employment issues attorney not involved in the case, said the committee’s ties to the prison are enough to require DOC to investigate.
“(The woman) claims that she continued to experience harassment at work after (the incident) at the golf course by a colleague, so the harassment was both connected to her employment and while she was performing duties related to her work,” Good said. “Even if she had not continued to experience harassment at work, however, I would argue that the unwelcome sexual conduct at the golf course was connected to work since it was organized by her colleagues at the DOC.”
Moreover, Good said he could “not think of a single legal reason why the DOC or any state agency would fail or refuse to investigate a complaint of sexual assault/harassment by one state employee against another state employee. It’s troubling and puzzling.”
Good said the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act obligates an employer to take steps to prevent or stop sexual harassment in the work place if it interferes with work or creates a hostile, intimidating environment.
Ian Henderson, director of Systems and Policy for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said DOC’s response puts the burden on the employee to contact law enforcement for the agency to conduct an investigation.
“You’re conditioning the institutional response on the victim going to law enforcement,” Henderson said.
He said victims of sexual assault may not want to seek the assistance of law enforcement because of the fear of publicity or because the criminal justice system has not always treated victims fairly.
“From our perspective, institutions have a responsibility to respond to and appropriately deal with (sexual assault allegations) and hold offenders accountable,” Henderson said.
But Cook said the department did everything it could with the information it had.
“The department has no tolerance for acts of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Cook said. “In an effort to investigate the allegations, the department tried to contact the employee on multiple occasions to get additional information, however the employee did not respond to the department’s inquiries.”
Meanwhile, two Oakhill security officers have been charged with sexual assault of inmates at the prison in the past year. On Friday, Cassandra Green, 49, of DeForest, was charged with second-degree sexual assault by correctional staff after she allegedly had sex with an inmate in a kitchen at the facility in late November. Green, the wife of DOC security director Michael Green, was a sergeant at Oakhill at the time and abruptly resigned Dec. 5, according to a criminal complaint.
Kaitlyn Schulz, 24, of Albany, was charged in October with three counts of second-degree sexual assault by correctional staff and is scheduled to go to trial in July.