Eau Claire’s District Attorney is under state investigation following allegations of sexual harassment and being intoxicated on the job. In the meantime, the county’s administrator has restricted the DA’s courthouse access.
According to an investigatory report written by an outside attorney hired by Eau Claire County, an employee in the county’s District Attorney’s office told human resources staff on Feb. 10 that she had been sexually harassed by District Attorney Gary King.
At the time, the employee didn’t want to file a formal complaint but was seeking assistance from the HR department to address her concerns with King. On Feb. 16, King appeared in court “in an altered state, then went to the Victim Witness office. He was running into things, yelling, sobbing, swearing, etc.,” the report states.
That day, the employee and county HR staff moved forward with a formal complaint.
The investigatory report conducted by the outside attorney summarized interviews with the complainant and other members of the DA’s office who cited examples of King commenting on the woman’s appearance, about how he loved her and how the two of them would end up together.
The complainant also told the attorney that King had walked behind her desk and rubbed her foot when she had taken a shoe off on one occasion, pulled her onto his lap and asked her if she would participate in a threesome with him and a resident living nearby the county courthouse in other instances.
On Feb. 24, King was notified of the preliminary investigation and was told “not to have any direct one-to-one contact” with employees until further notice.
On March 3, investigators interviewed King, according to the report, and noted he was very cooperative, offering to send copies of emails he thought showed a good working relationship with his staff and that he considered the complainant a friend he could confide in.
The report notes that while King may have considered the woman a friend and a coworker, it didn’t give him license to “cross the line” and engage in inappropriate statements, bantering or acts of harassment.
King denied or said he couldn’t recall saying inappropriate statements. As to his behavior in court on Feb. 16, King told investigators he was dealing with stress at work and family issues at home.
According to local media reports, a county judge delayed a hearing after King was seen nodding off during a Zoom meeting. The judge then ordered King to take a breath test for intoxicants before proceeding with the hearing. King took the breath test, according to Sheriff Cramer, and had a blood alcohol level of .047.
Because King is an elected official, he can only be removed from office by the governor “for cause” following a complaint from a county taxpayer and a public hearing.
Britt Cudaback, communications director for Gov. Tony Evers, told WPR on Thursday a commissioner will be appointed by the Department of Administration to investigate further.
“Having received a verified, written complaint from a county taxpayer, the governor will be exercising the option provided for under Wisconsin law to appoint a commissioner to conduct a hearing on the charges, any necessary investigation and to report the testimony,” said Cudaback.
Eau Claire County Administrator Kathryn Schauf told WPR the county sent another letter to King on Thursday, restricting his access to areas of the courthouse not part of the DA’s office.
“When you enter the Eau Claire County Courthouse, you will need to access the courthouse in the manner the public does, by going through a public entrance during the courthouse open hours and going through the security checkpoint if you choose to access the second-floor area,” said the letter.
Nick Smiar, the chair of the Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors, said there are few options moving forward. He said King could continue working while the investigation plays out, take a leave of absence or resign from office. Smiar said he’s unaware of any prior issues with King’s behavior since King started working in the DA’s office in 2011.
“So, I don’t want people jumping to the conclusion that the answer is get rid of the district attorney. That’s not what we’re saying. Let’s be sensitive to what’s going on,” Smiar said. “Let’s figure out what’s happening and what the options are and then proceed.”
No timeframe for the state investigation or hearing was provided by the governor’s office.