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Seeking more info about internal sexual harassment claims, The Badger Project sues Wausau PD

After an open records request, the police department released heavily-redacted documents from an internal investigation of a former lieutenant accused of misconduct.

Photo courtesy of Wausau Pilot & Review

By Howard Hardee for THE BADGER PROJECT

The Badger Project filed a lawsuit asking a judge to force the Wausau Police Department to release more complete records of an internal investigation of alleged sexual harassment by a former police lieutenant.

Attorney Tom Kamenick of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, a law firm dedicated to enforcement of the state’s Open Records and Open Meetings laws, filed the lawsuit on June 16 in Marathon County Court. The action is part of The Badger Project’s ongoing series of stories on the many Wisconsin police officers who were fired, forced out or resigned at one police department and were subsequently hired at another. The Wausau Pilot & Review news organization is contributing to the legal costs of the case.

The police lieutenant in question, Andrew Hartwig, was employed by the Wausau Police Department from 2007 to 2019, and was promoted to lieutenant in 2016, according to records from the Wisconsin Department of Justice. He resigned in 2019 following an internal investigation that alleged he had engaged in sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment.

The investigation records into Hartwig’s conduct were initially withheld by the department despite a written records request submitted last September by The Badger Project. After several months, The Badger Project received a heavily-redacted version of the report in January.

The report mentions “communication from Lt. Hartwig that was sexual in nature,” that he frequently puffed his chest out and asked coworkers to feel his muscles or punch him in the stomach, and that he made inappropriate comments.

But the specific accusations against Hartwig remain mostly a mystery, due to entirely redacted sections of the report. Names of accusers and witnesses are among the blacked-out sections. 

In an accompanying letter, Wausau City Attorney Anne Jacobson wrote a list of arguments for redacting parts of the investigation, including the importance for accusers and witnesses to be able to make statements in an investigation anonymously.

The Badger Project is not seeking the unredacted names of witnesses, accusers and victims, managing editor Peter Cameron said. It wants to know more about the police lieutenant’s alleged misconduct, he said.

“The redactions make it impossible to know what Hartwig actually did,” Kamenick argued in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

“Court after court has rejected redactions like this,” he said in the press release. “The public deserves to know when public servants engage in misconduct, especially when those servants are in positions of power like police officers.”

The report concluded that “Hartwig engaged in sexual harassment which included verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven did not respond to The Badger Project’s email requests for comment. 

Hartwig was hired by the Cadott Police Department after leaving the force in Wausau. Cadott Police Chief Louis Eslinger told The Badger Project earlier this year that Hartwig left the department in 2021 to work full-time in construction.

The Wausau Police Department must provide a written response to the lawsuit within 20 days of it being served, Kamenick said.

In October, Kamenick and The Badger Project successfully sued the La Crosse Police Department for records after the department denied a request. Per Wisconsin’s Open Records Law, the department then had to repay Kamenick’s and The Badger Project’s attorney fees.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

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