MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin demanded Thursday that National Guard investigators review the Wisconsin National Guard’s protocols for reporting and investigating sexual assault after Guard members have come forward with claims of harassment, assault and retaliation for reporting incidents.
The U.S. Air Force is already investigating allegations of sexual assault and harassment within a Wisconsin Air National Guard security unit dating back to 2002 at Baldwin’s request. The Associated Press first reported that investigation in January.
Evers and Baldwin wrote Thursday to Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. They both asked the Guard’s Office of Complex Investigations to review the Wisconsin Guard’s sexual assault and harassment reporting procedures, investigative process and accountability measures. Baldwin asked for a “top to bottom look” at all open and closed sexual assault and harassment investigations.
They both asked for OCI to perform on-site interviews at all major Wisconsin Guard locations; review all sexual assault, harassment and retaliation allegations; review all investigations led by unit commanders; and review the Wisconsin Guard’s adherence to the military’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.
“I understand the magnitude and gravity of this request; however, I do not make this request lightly in light of allegations of sexual assault and harassment made by constituents and service members of Wisconsin’s National Guard,” Evers wrote. “I believe an impartial review is critically important in light of these reports.”
The request comes after state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald asked the Guard’s leader, Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, for a review of sexual assault and harassment protocols and recommendations for improvement in February. Dunbar responded March 7 with a four-page letter saying the Guard has “zero-tolerance” for sexual assault and harassment, detailing how victims can file complaints and how the Guard began sending sexual assault complaints to the state Department of Justice in 2018.
He didn’t offer any recommendations for improvement. Fitzgerald said Thursday he wasn’t happy with the response and questioned whether the Guard follows its own policies in light of the allegations.
Baldwin asked the Air Force to investigate claims involving members of the 115th Fighter Wing’s Security Forces Squadron in November. She made the request after Jay Ellis, a master sergeant in the squadron, wrote her to say he had learned of six incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault against female squadron members between 2002 and 2016 and that high-ranking officers did little to address them.
Fitzgerald made his demand for a review after meeting with 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 later hired back as a contractor.
Dunbar said in his letter to Fitzgerald that the Guard offers victims two ways victims can report sexual assault or harassment.
They can make a so-called “restricted” report that won’t result in an investigation, notification of the alleged perpetrator’s commander or law enforcement notification. The identities of all involved remain secret at all levels. Dunbar said he’s briefed when such reports are made but he doesn’t get details.
Victims also can file what Dunbar called “unrestricted reports” in which they receive no confidentiality. All such reports are referred to police. Since 2018, all cases have been referred to the state Department of Justice, Dunbar wrote. Substantiated reports go back to Dunbar, who can initiate a court-martial. If the report isn’t substantiated the Guard can launch its own investigation.
Dunbar didn’t say how many reports had been referred. A Wisconsin Guard spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email asking how many have been referred and DOJ spokeswoman Gillian Drummond didn’t have an immediate answer.
Dunbar wrote that sexual harassment isn’t a criminal offense and those allegations are handled by commanders handing down punishment that ranges from reprimand to discharge from the Guard.
He concluded by saying that he has taken disciplinary action in sexual assault cases throughout his tenure as the Guard’s top commander, including court martials. He didn’t say how many.