Sheboygan police recruit accused of sex assault had potential red flag

Members of a civilian oversight board that approved hiring later said senior officers had withheld key information from the Sheboygan Police and Fire Commission.

Wisconsin Watch

November 27, 2023 • Northeast Region

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A sign reading Sheboygan Police Department and Municipal Court with an address stands in a parking lot in front of two-story building with multiple wings and flagpoles flying the U.S. and Wisconsin flags, with another building in the background and landscape plants in the foreground.

A Sheboygan Police Department recruit was accused of sexually assaulting a law enforcement academy classmate. The agency's civilian oversight commission that approved his hire wasn't aware of issues in his past. The department building is photographed on Nov. 8, 2022, in Sheboygan. (Credit: Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

Wisconsin Watch

By Jacob Resneck, Wisconsin Watch

This article was first published by Wisconsin Watch.

A Sheboygan police recruit involved in an alleged sexual assault had been flagged as a suspected gang member in high school, but that information was not provided to an oversight board before he was hired.

The male recruit resigned from his job on March 15, 2022, less than two weeks after being accused of sexual assault by a female Grand Chute police recruit who also attended Fox Valley Technical College’s police academy.

The Sheboygan recruit was not charged with a crime. The female recruit lost her job within five days of alleging the assault as part of an unrelated Grand Chute disciplinary investigation. Wisconsin Watch is not naming either recruit because no charges were filed.

In February Wisconsin Watch reported on a previously undisclosed culture of sexual harassment against women within the Sheboygan Police Department that had resulted in 12 officers out of the 62-officer patrol force being disciplined or verbally admonished.

Wisconsin Watch learned about the alleged Grand Chute sexual assault case during that investigation, but Grand Chute police resisted releasing any details of the investigation for months, citing a constitutional protection for crime victims, known as Marsy’s Law.

Public records obtained by Wisconsin Watch revealed the Sheboygan recruit had been flagged as a suspected “Latin Kings” gang member when he was in high school. But a month after the commission approved his hire, the flag was removed from a department database by one of his superior officers.

Members of the Sheboygan Police and Fire Commission — the civilian oversight body that approves new hires — said they learned of his past only after approving him as a probationary officer on the recommendation of senior officers.

Gang affiliation flags have come under scrutiny over whether they are effective and potential racial biases. Court records list him as Hispanic.

Former commission president Bob Lettre said the fact he had been flagged by police as a suspected gang member by Sheboygan police should have been disclosed.

“I certainly expected the police department to give us the total background,” Lettre said. “For some reason with him, they didn’t do that.”

Lettre said patrol-level police officers raised concerns privately about the Sheboygan recruit only after the hire was approved. Records show Capt. Steve Cobb removed the gang flag from the database a month after the recruit’s hire was approved.

Former commissioner Andy Hopp, who supported the hiring motion, said commissioners are routinely given all information available about potential hires so they can ask them about their past. But he could recall no disclosure of the suspected gang ties.

“If somebody had a speeding ticket or somebody had an arrest for drunk driving, we would typically be aware of that information,” Hopp said.

Cobb — who retired from the police department in early 2022 — declined to comment on “confidential employee information.” He has since been hired part-time by the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office to run background checks.

Sheboygan Police Chief Christopher Domagalski declined an interview but answered questions via email. He said the gang flags were not disclosed to the commission “because it would have been improper and wrong to do so.”

“The alert flag was removed when it was brought to our attention, as it should have been removed years earlier,” he wrote, adding that gang flags are meant to be purged from the system after five years if there is no new information.

The male recruit addressed his resignation letter to Domagalski and Cobb.

“I am grateful for the support and belief you all had in me,” he wrote. “It brings me sadness and disappointment to have to submit this letter, but I am honored to have had the time spent with this department.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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