Investigation report into Wisconsin sheriff finds ‘unequivocal evidence of problematic conduct’
A third-party investigator hired to look into misconduct allegations against a Wisconsin sheriff found “substantial unequivocal evidence of problematic conduct and a lack of leadership,” according to a report released Tuesday.
Documents obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS show that the investigation into Chippewa County, Wisconsin Sheriff Travis Hakes was ordered by the County Board of Chippewa County on June 20 after the county received a complaint that Hakes had allegedly sent unwanted, inappropriate text messages and concerns arose over some of his actions.
The sheriff, who remains on the job, wrote in a Facebook post on Sept. 20 that the investigation was an effort by county officials to remove him from office and “thwart the decision of Chippewa County voters” because he wouldn’t “cater to their whims and caprices.” He also claimed that the actions were “without even the pretense of due process or fundamental fairness to me or the Office of Sheriff,” claiming he was denied the chance to participate in any meeting or be informed about the allegations against him.
The county’s Human Resources Director Toni Hohlfelder denied that, telling 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that Hakes was informed about the complaint surrounding his unwanted and inappropriate messages six times before the board authorized the investigation. Hohlfelder added that Hakes was given a chance to meet with county officials to respond before the board’s June 19 closed session meeting, which he accepted, but then rejected multiple later opportunities for interviews. He was also given more than five days to view and respond to the report that was released Tuesday, the county says.
“His attempt to add fuel to his matter weakens the public’s interest in confidentiality of the report,” Hohlfelder wrote in part in a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
The county hired the firm von Briesen & Roper to investigate the complaint. That report detailed “substantial evidence” suggesting Hakes “was attempting to entice (the complainant) into a personal relationship.” The report’s author also wrote, “In the course of conducting the investigation, substantial evidence suggested other violations of County and Department policies and Wisconsin state statutes in the area of conflict of interest,” saying evidence suggests Hakes:
“Conducted sales activities, advertised using his name and conducted transactions during work hours in which he has sold guns, knives mugs and real estate to Department employees and others.”
“Inappropriately disclosed medically privileged private health information of another citizen.”
Is viewed by “the majority of experienced Department members and leadership interviewed during this investigation” as “lacking in training, leadership, integrity and competence, and are concerned about the impact his failure to exercise appropriate leadership and competence continues to have on Department morale, continuity and safety.”
The report notes that 25 people, including the complainant, were interviewed by the investigator.
Hakes told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he wasn’t available for an on-camera interview Tuesday and will “reach out to you soon,” but pointed to his statement to the county. In that response, he doesn’t address all of the allegations made against him but raised concerns that the initial workplace complaint went in a different direction.
He wrote that it “transformed into a far broader effort apparently to seek out negative and derogatory information about my management style and operations of the sheriff’s office.”
As for the allegations about short-barreled rifle purchases for the department, Hakes disputed those claims.
“The report falsely states or implies some financial wrong-doing or conflict with acquiring needed equipment for my office,” Hakes wrote in his response.
The county board has now asked the district attorney to review the investigator’s findings and the board could take action at its meeting next week.
The full report and Hakes’ response can be read below. The sheriff also released a new statement disputing the facts presented in the report and saying it has “many inaccurate statements and innuendos that have been exploited by some politicians for their own agendas.” That is also available below.