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Wisconsin Guard’s sexual assault response ‘train wreck’

A Wisconsin Air National Guard soldier whose complaints about sexual assault within his unit triggered two federal investigations says he won’t be discharged from the military after all

A federal investigator called the Wisconsin National Guard’s response to sexual assault case an “a train wreck,” according to a review that Gov. Tony Evers is preparing to release.

Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, both Democrats, asked the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations in Washington, D.C., in April to review the Wisconsin Guard’s sexual assault and harassment reporting procedures, investigative protocols and accountability measures.

They made the request after the U.S. Air Force launched an investigation into allegations of sexual assault and harassment within a Wisconsin Air National Guard security unit. Baldwin requested that probe in November 2018 after a master sergeant in the unit, Jay Ellis, told her office that he knew of six incidents between 2002 and 2016 and high-ranking officers had done little to address them. That probe is still ongoing.

Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said late Wednesday that the governor’s office received the OCI review late last month. Evers plans to release it after briefing the Wisconsin Guard’s top commander, Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, on its contents.

The Capital Times newspaper obtained excerpts from the report that indicate that a court-martial was botched in one sexual assault case. The newspaper reports that the case involves allegations that a male soldier sexually assaulted a female soldier in 2015 when their unit was required to spend the night in their armory after a night of Guard-authorized drinking. Other soldiers in the room during the assault said they heard the woman say “no”several times, according to sworn statements The Capital Times obtained.

Wisconsin National Guard spokesman Joe Trovato didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The alleged perpetrator was charged with four sexual assault violations of the Wisconsin Code of Military Justice. But the state’s military prosecutor missed several administrative deadlines and eventually failed to advance the case.

The state tried to reopen the court-martial and eventually settled by offering the alleged perpetrator a plea deal. The solider ultimately pleaded guilty in August to one count of indecent conduct, a charge involving having consensual sex with the woman rather than assaulting her.

The federal investigator told the woman during an interview as part of the OCI review that “The governor and Sen. Baldwin will know that your case was a train wreck … they will know that one or more members of the Wisconsin National Guard completely (expletive) up.”

The investigator said the bungled court-martial resulted largely from “incompetence”on the part of Wisconsin National Guard officials.

Ellis alleged in May that his superiors were working to discharge him from the military on trumped-up medical issues to deny him retirement benefits in retaliation for sparking the two federal investigations. He appealed and traveled to Randolph Air Force Base in Texas on Monday to appear before a medical review board.

He said Thursday that he has won his appeal and will be returned to regular duty. Trovato didn’t immediately respond to another email seeking confirmation of Ellis’ status.