Federal investigators plan to brief the Wisconsin National Guard’s top commander this weekend on their seven-month review of the Guard’s sexual assault reporting and investigation protocols, Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday in a letter to legislative leaders.
The governor said officials from the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations plan to meet with Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar on Saturday. Evers said he was briefed on Nov. 25 and will release the findings publicly after investigators meet with Dunbar.
Evers also invited the lawmakers to attend their own OCI briefing on Monday, saying he believes it’s important for them to understand the review “due to the gravity of the situation and the report’s findings.” He did not elaborate.
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald asked Dunbar in February for a top-to-bottom review of the Guard’s protocols for reporting, investigating and prosecuting sexual assault after Guard members alleged harassment, assault and retaliation for reporting incidents. The Guard received 52 reports of sexual assault between 2013 and 2017.
Fitzgerald, a Republican, made the request after he met a female soldier who said she told her brigade leaders twice in 2014 that a master sergeant had been sexually harassing and inappropriately touching her and her colleagues for months. She said he was allowed to retire with no punishment and was later hired back as a contractor.
Dunbar responded in March with a letter saying the Guard has “zero tolerance” for sexual assault and harassment. He detailed how victims can file complaints but didn’t offer any recommendations for improvement. Fitzgerald said he wasn’t happy with Dunbar’s response and questioned whether the Guard follows its own policies.
Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, of Madison, both Democrats, stepped in and demanded that the National Guard Bureau conduct the review.
Fitzgerald is running for Congress in a heavily conservative southeastern Wisconsin district next year. He had no comment Thursday.
The Wisconsin National Guard has been rocked by allegations of sexual assaults since Master Sgt. Jay Ellis notified Baldwin in November 2018 that he was aware of a half-dozen incidents within his 115th Fighter Wing security squadron dating back to 2002. Those complaints triggered a U.S. Air Force review that it still ongoing.
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The Capital Times newspaper obtained an excerpt from the report in which an investigator told an accuser that the Wisconsin Guard’s response to her case was “an absolute train wreck.”
According to the newspaper, the case involved a 2015 incident in which a male soldier sexually assaulted a female soldier after their unit was required to sleep in their armory following a night of Guard-sanctioned drinking.
The male soldier was charged with four sexual assault violations of the Wisconsin Code of Military Justice. But the military prosecutor missed several administrative deadlines and eventually failed to advance the case. The state tried to reopen the court-martial and eventually offered the man a deal in which he pleaded guilty in August to one count of indecent conduct for having consensual sex with the woman rather than assaulting her.
The investigator said in the report that the bungled court-martial was a result of Guard officials’ incompetence.
Wisconsin National Guard spokesman Joe Trovato didn’t respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Ellis alleged in May that his superiors were working to discharge him on trumped-up medical issues to deny him retirement benefits in retaliation for sparking the federal investigations. He said Thursday that he has won an appeal and will return to regular duty.
Evers on Thursday also released a 2018 agreement that the Wisconsin National Guard reached with the state Department of Justice under then-Attorney General Brad Schimel that allows the Guard to ask the department to investigate sexual assault complaints against Guard members. Along with the agreement he released an email from Schimel’s chief-of-staff, Delanie Breuer, saying the agreement was designed to get “the federal National Guard Bureau off the back of (Dunbar).” She wrote that the bureau was stepping into all investigations without a neutral third party.
“I’m hoping if I keep doing him favors, I’ll get a ride on an F-35 fighter plane,” Breuer wrote.
Breuer left the agency after Schimel, a Republican, lost re-election to Democrat Josh Kaul in November 2018.
Johnny Koremenos, who served as Schimel’s spokesman during Schimel’s tenure as attorney general, said Thursday that the Justice Department had been handling cases at the Guard’s request before the agreement was signed, but the National Guard Bureau wanted the arrangement spelled out in writing. He said Breuer’s remark about getting the bureau off Dunbar’s back was made in jest, and the agency wasn’t trying to shield Dunbar from federal scrutiny. The F-35 comment was also meant as a joke, he said.
Gillian Drummond, a spokeswoman for Kaul’s office, said the Guard hasn’t asked the agency to investigate any sexual assaults under the agreement.