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Top Senate Republicans are raising concerns about Gov. Tony Evers’ pick for Secretary of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, who was charged in 2005 with felony child abuse for jabbing her 5-year-old son’s hand with a pen, causing it to bleed.

The case against Dawn Crim, a former assistant coach for the UW women’s basketball team, resulted in a deferred prosecution and the record being removed from the state’s online circuit court record system.

Pen marks

Photo evidence included in the court record showing Crim's son's hand.

The more than decade-old allegation against Crim has prompted Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and the chairman of the Senate committee overseeing her confirmation to question her fitness for the role of secretary, putting her future at the helm of DSPS in jeopardy.

“These new revelations are deeply unsettling and will almost assuredly raise questions from members of my caucus surrounding the secretary’s ability to serve in that role,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “The governor should immediately make clear whether or not he was aware of this information when he sent the Senate this nomination.”

Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, chairman of the Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations, which is set for a hearing on Crim’s confirmation March 13, said in a statement the alleged incident raises concerns about both Crim and Evers. If endorsed by the committee, Crim would need to be confirmed by the state Senate, where Republicans have a 19-14 majority.

“Secretary-designee Crim will have the opportunity to address the committee next week and explain this deeply troubling incident,” Kapenga said. “Moving forward, the committee will have to evaluate whether her actions are disqualifying to her ability to lead the agency. This incident certainly raises questions of Governor Evers’ ability to properly vet his executive appointments.”

Crim in a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal described herself as a “proud, loving parent” and said the incident represented “the most difficult and trying experience of my life.”

“No mother wants to be accused of hurting her child,” Crim said. “Despite this unfortunate event from 14 years ago, I have a strong, caring relationship with my son. That relationship — and my long record of involvement in the community — define who I am. I am confident that I will be able to provide strong, effective leadership to the agency.”

Evers praised Crim in a statement.

“I have always known Dawn to be a thoughtful, caring person, both in her personal and professional life,” Evers said. “She was a valued member of the team at the Department of Public Instruction and has already provided excellent leadership at DSPS.”

Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, the ranking Democrat on the Public Benefits Committee, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.

Crim previously served under Evers as assistant state superintendent for the Division of Student and School Success.

The child abuse case from 14 years ago, when Crim worked for UW-Madison, was eventually dismissed under a deferred prosecution agreement after Crim had successfully completed the terms of the arrangement. Deferred prosecutions typically occur when a defendant admits wrongdoing in a case. The charges against Crim were never proven in court.

The criminal complaint alleged Crim had poked her son’s hand several times, making it bleed, upon learning from a teacher’s note that he had poked a fellow student’s hand with a pencil.

Her son said after his mother saw the teacher’s note, Crim “picked up a pen that was lying on a desk in his room, grabbed his hand and poked his hand with the pen four times.” The child said it had hurt him, his hand bled and he had cried.

Dispute over abuse

Crim was charged by prosecutors with recklessly causing bodily harm to a child, a Class I felony, which carries a penalty of up to a year and a half years in prison and two years of extended supervision. Crim’s lawyer argued there wasn’t enough evidence to support the charge of recklessly causing harm, but a judge later decided to move forward with the case before it was eventually dismissed.

“One of the reasonable inferences, along with the facts in this case, is that you intentionally caused bodily harm — that means pain or cuts or bruises — to a child,” Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser said.

Lester Pines, a prominent Madison attorney who represented Crim, told the State Journal on Monday the Dane County Department of Human Services had found the allegation of child abuse to be unsubstantiated — “a very significant finding.”

Pines added that Crim, as part of the deferred prosecution agreement, admitted fault for what had happened to her son but not to the child abuse charge.

At the time of the reported incident, Crim worked as an assistant to LaMarr Billups, special assistant to former UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley. Crim during that time was also a Wisconsin Badgers women’s basketball analyst for Wisconsin Public Television.

According to the court record, the Dane County district attorney handed the case to a special prosecutor in Milwaukee County because Crim had discussed at length the details of her case with now-retired Assistant District Attorney John Norsetter, whom she knew through his wife.

Crim told Norsetter she was calling on behalf of a friend. It wasn’t until reading a newspaper report that Norsetter realized Crim was in fact discussing her own case. Crim reportedly told Norsetter potentially incriminating information about the case, introducing the possibility he’d be called as a witness.

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