Aaron Nielsen booking photo, courtesy of the Marathon County Sheriff's Department

By Shereen Siewert

A 51-year-old Wausau man is being charged with a hate crime after allegedly hurling racial slurs toward a person of color at a west side gas station, an act that resulted in a physical fight.

Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven said the suspect,Aaron G. Nielsen, is now in custody.

Officers responded June 1 to a report of a fight in progress at the gas station. An initial investigation suggests Nielsen used a racial slur and a fight ensued, Bliven said.

While at the scene, officers Nielsen a summons for battery charges, a misdemeanor. Due to protocols surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, most misdemeanor offenses are resulting in a summons to court – not a custodial arrest.

But after a case review with Marathon County District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon, police determined the incident qualifies as a hate crime under Wisconsin law, Bliven said. That meant the case rose to the felony level.

Nielsen was subsequently arrested, taken to the Marathon County Jail and is awaiting an initial appearance in Marathon County Circuit Court.

“Racism exists here,” Bliven said, in a video posted to Facebook. “It flourishes when it goes unaddressed. Please join us in speaking out against racism. Please join us in listening and learning from our neighbors who are persons of color. Seek to understand their perspective which is formed from unique experiences.”

Bliven said local police will continue to strive for better quality of life for everyone who lives here.

Nielsen is expected to make an initial appearance Wednesday.