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Digging Deeper: Eau Claire DA King accused of sexual harassment, being intoxicated in the workplace

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EAU CLAIRE (WQOW) - Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King is facing sexual harassment and workplace intoxication allegations and two former assistant district attorneys have written letters to the governor calling for him to lose his job.

The allegations include that King was impaired while in court for a hearing on a murder case.

Sheriff Ron Cramer confirmed for News 18 on June 3, that a different hearing was canceled earlier this week after King tested positive for alcohol during a breathalyzer test.

Another allegation against King is sexual harassment, which News 18 can confirm has been investigated and according to public record partially substantiated. 

King remains in his position, although public records indicate he was instructed not to work alone with some county employees.

News 18 contacted King for his response to the allegations and developments, and on June 3, 2021, he responded saying he cooperated fully with the investigation and has documentation in support of his position on the matter.

First, we look into the allegations that King worked in court multiple times while impaired; one just this week and the other during the prosecution of a recent murder case.

The first incident allegedly happened Feb. 16, 2021 and was detailed in a report to human resources from Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer the next day.

The second incident, Cramer confirmed to News 18 happened on June 1. Cramer told News 18 that Judge Sarah Harless canceled a court hearing after she ordered King to take a breathalyzer test, for which he tested positive. Cramer would not confirm what King's blood alcohol content was.

A report was written by Captain Dave Riewestahl and given to Sheriff Cramer and County Administrator Kathryn Schauf.

In the report, the sheriff's office was called to do a welfare check on King after he was seen being non-alert during a 7:30 a.m. Zoom meeting. The report says King's eyes were closed and he appeared to be nodding off.

The report goes on to say law enforcement spoke with King in his office at 10:30 a.m. and he said he had trouble sleeping the night before and hadn't had coffee yet.

A second report was written by the bailiff working on Tuesday. He said two judges Sarah Harless and Michael Schumacher both approached him separately that afternoon to keep an eye on King because of what had happened earlier in the day.

In the incident report, the bailiff details speaking with King before his 2:30 hearing and reported he smelled intoxicants on his breath. After sharing the information with Harless she ordered a PBT test from King before she would proceed with the hearing.

At 2:45 p.m. King submitted to the test blowing a 0.047.

Harless was shown the results in her chambers and then in the courtroom noted on the record that the court proceeding was being adjourned for another date.

As for the first incident, according to the report from Cramer on Feb. 17, 2021 to Eau Claire County Human Resources, Cramer expressed concern about what happened in court the prior day.

Cramer said a bailiff notified him that King was acting very odd while in court. Cramer's report to HR detailed that King wasn't wearing a mask and hugged the defense attorney. 

Cramer's letter recounted how Cramer spoke with King about his behavior and raised questions whether King had been drinking and was appearing in court under the influence. Cramer recounted that King started to cry and went on a rant about different things. Cramer said he and the undersheriff confronted King to take a breathalyzer test, which Cramer said King refused to do.

This trial incident came to News 18's attention following an open records request we made upon receiving an anonymous tip that the county was looking into workplace sexual harassment allegations involving King.

Documents sent to News 18 from the Wisconsin Department of Administration show a female employee notified the Eau Claire County Human Resources Department about harassment concerns in February 2021. The woman said she was fearful of returning to work and interacting with King.

A report compiled by the county outlines allegations that over the past seven months, King harassed the employee numerous times. The report showed that employees were asked to interrupt if King went into the woman's office and closed the door.

A week later on Feb. 24, 2021, County Administrator Kathryn Schauf emailed King about the allegations. Her email, which the county included with the information disclosed to News 18 in response to our public records request, directed King not to have any one-on-one contact with any employees of the DA's office, the Victim Witness Coordinator's Office or the Office of the Criminal Justice Collaborating Council.

The following week on March 3, 2021, public records indicate a lawyer with an outside law firm hired by the county to investigate the allegations questioned King.

The lawyer reported that King denied, or could not recall, specific examples of inappropriate statements he was accused of making. The document, however, indicated King admitted hugging the woman, kissing her cheek and pulling her onto his lap. The outside counsel wrote that King denied being drunk at work, saying he indicated he was suffering from stress and a lack of sleep.

On March 16, 2021, the investigating lawyer issued her report - concluding the sexual harassment occurred even though King denied engaging in any wrongful conduct.

Those incidents, and more, are what drove two former longtime assistant district attorneys to send letters to Gov. Tony Evers this week asking that King be removed from office.

Former ADAs Loralee Clark and Ellen Anderson shared their letters with News 18 expressing their view that officials should take action.

In the letters to Evers, Clark and Anderson accuse King of the incidents recounted in the report to the county from its outside lawyers.

Clark also claims in her letter that King habitually comes into the office under the influence of alcohol. Anderson said she, too, observed behaviors that raised concerns King was drunk and documented one incident in 2019.

Clark detailed many incidents she personally observed of King sleeping in his office, in other people's offices and during meetings with law enforcement.

Anderson claims King ordered that a child sexual assault charge be dismissed after the suspect's lawyer, who is King's friend, complained.

Clark ends her letting to the governor saying "I am utterly heart sick at the conditions under which my former colleagues are trying to work. This cannot be allowed to continue." She also said, "the integrity of the Eau Claire County District Attorney Office is being destroyed."

Clark retired last July after 33 years as a prosecutor.

Anderson worked in the office for nine years, resigned in February 2020 and is now an assistant DA in Clark County.

News 18 spoke to the governor's office on June 3, 2021, and were told it received Clark's letter and said officials plan to follow up with Clark directly and will review her concerns.

As of publishing, no formal response from the governor's office has come to News 18 or Clark.

News 18 reached out to King for comment. He could not be reached over the phone or in person for comment, but provided a written statement referring to the sexual harassment complaint filed in February.

“In February of this year, I was made aware of a complaint regarding my conduct as the District Attorney.  In response to the complaint, I have cooperated fully with the investigation into this matter.  In addition, I have also provided a significant amount of documentation in support of my position on this matter.  The District Attorney’s office consists of 27 employees.  In my nearly 3500 days in the office, I was never, prior to this complaint, made aware of any concerns regarding my conduct.  To the contrary, I have received hundreds of examples of feedback over the years from office staff, both written and verbal, regarding the office environment that I promote and my conduct in that environment.  As this is an ongoing matter, I will have no further comment at this time.”

Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King

So, what have public officials done about these complaints and allegations?

Public records show the answer is, not much.

Eau Claire County hired an independent law firm to handle the harassment investigation. In its report given to the county on March 16, 2021, four recommendations were given to the county on how it could proceed.

Firstly - forward the report and all the information the county has about the harassment complaint to the Wisconsin Department of Administration. Public records show the county did.

Secondly - send a letter to King admonishing his conduct.

Thirdly- contact the county's employee assistance program (EAP) to help set boundaries between King and the employee who made the harassment complaint to re-establish a working relationship.

Fourthly - advise King to take necessary actions to leave personal issues at home and to conduct himself professionally at work.

News 18 followed up with the county and learned no letter of admonishment was not sent and were told it does not exist. However, the county provided News 18 a copy of a letter County Administrator Kathryn Schauf sent to King on Feb. 24, 2021 to avoid one-on-one with certain employees; a directive we confirmed still stood as of May 20, 2021, nearly three months later.

As for the confirmation of any referral to EAP services, News 18 was told such matters are confidential.

The records we received from the county did not include documentation that it advised King about conducting future work in a professional manner.

One possible explanation for the absence of some of these follow-up items came from Tim Sullivan from the Office of Corporation Counsel. Sullivan told News 18 that since King is an elected official, and a state employee, "to my knowledge is not supervised by anyone other than himself and the public."

News 18 is continuing to review the matter and will report additional information as we learn it.


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