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Document reveals reasons Marshfield removed its police chief

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 8:45 PM CDT
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MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WSAW) - The charging document the City of Marshfield served then-Marshfield Police Chief Rick Gramza in December asking for his removal reveals the reasons the city no longer wanted him to be the chief of police and shares details of another sexual relationship.

The document is what the city administrator, Steve Barg, filed with the fire and police commission on Dec. 29, 2020, to begin the city’s process of removing him from office; the document is not a criminal indictment. That was before the common council decided to settle with Gramza on March 4, which allowed him to resign with six additional months of his regular wage.

7 Investigates obtained this charging document through a public records request. It begins with Barg asking for his removal for “engaging in a disturbing and destructive pattern of unprofessional and unbecoming conduct while serving as a member and Chief of the City of Marshfield Police Department.”

A complaint submitted to the city’s human resources director Aug. 4, 2020, caused the city to begin an administrative investigation. The city also forwarded the complaint to a separate law enforcement agency to conduct a criminal investigation, as there was concern about possible criminal conduct.

Det. Sgt. Adam Taylor with the Eau Claire Police Department conducted the investigation, which resulted in Gramza being charged with three counts of misconduct in public office (a felony), one count of disorderly conduct, and one count of 4th-degree sexual assault (both misdemeanors). The criminal charges came after being accused of sexually assaulting a police department employee over several years, including incidents at the police department and on-duty time. The Portage County judge handling his case dropped the three felony counts of misconduct in office, ruling that the prosecutor did not provide enough evidence to meet her burden of probable cause for those charges to move forward. The judge said she can bring those charges forward if she provides more evidence.

In addition to the police department employee’s account of interactions with Gramza, the city’s charging document indicates the complaint also detailed a separate sexual relationship Gramza had with a civilian living in Marshfield. Taylor told 7 Investigates both accounts included in the city’s charging document were the individuals he interviewed and provided in the criminal police report. However, the civilian’s allegations have not been mentioned in the criminal proceedings and do not appear to be a basis for any of the currently pending criminal charges. 7 Investigates reached out to the prosecutor on the case to find out why, but she has not returned our calls.

In the civilian matter summarized in the city’s charging document, the woman, who we are not naming to protect her identity, told Taylor her relationship with Gramza began in 2011. Gramza was a detective at the time and was the investigator on a domestic incident she was involved in.

Following the domestic incident, she told Taylor, Gramza installed an alarm system in her home and would periodically stop by to personally check on the alarm. She said around Easter that year, Gramza sent her a text referencing “a nake Easter bunny in her yard.”

She told Taylor “during one visit to her house, Gramza kissed her.” She told 7 Investigates she responded by saying she can’t have a relationship with him because she was getting married. She told 7 Investigates he responded by continuing to make verbal advancements and that is when it turned into a sexual relationship.

She told 7 Investigates she felt like she had to be in the relationship because she was in a vulnerable position and he had power over her, with him being a detective and her being on probation at the time.

In the city’s charging document, it states she did not “contend that the relationship was non-consensual, but she did feel pressure to engage in sexual relations with him due to the fact that she was on probation and he was in a position of authority.” In 7 Investigates’ previous reporting about the legal definition of consent, the Marathon County district attorney said consent must be freely given, which she further explained is “not the same as being talked into it or coerced or persuaded or threatened.”

The woman referenced in the charging document told Taylor the relationship lasted about four years and that the majority of the sexual contacts happened while Gramza was working, including at least one sexual interaction in his office.

Towards the end of the relationship, she told the investigator the contact largely involved “sexting.” She said he would request her to send photos of herself and she told the investigator “Gramza advised her to delete the pictures from her phone, which she did.”

Though she stated the relationship lasted until 2016, she showed Taylor a text exchange with Gramza from 2018 where Gramza requested photos.

According to the city charging document, she believed the communication happened over Gramza’s department-issued phone and email. As part of the investigation, Taylor recovered several emails between the two in 2016 from Gramza’s department account, which included making plans of where and when to meet. According to the city’s charging document, one email chain involved Gramza having to move the location of their meeting in which the woman replied, “you’re the boss, you tell me when and where.”

The document states the woman’s fiance discovered the relationship after seeing some of the emails between the two of them, “that made it clear to him” that they were having a sexual relationship.

The now-ex-husband told 7 Investigates he set up a meeting with Gramza and confronted him about the relationship. He said Gramza denied the relationship was anything but professional.

The fiance later reported the relationship to the then-chief of police, Gary Jepsen. According to the city’s charging document, Jepsen said he confronted Gramza and Gramza initially denied the relationship. However, Jepsen said he warned Gramza he would fire him if he found out he was lying, and then Gramza admitted to the relationship, assuring him it would end.

In the city’s charging document, Jepsen stated he spoke with the husband again asking if he wanted to file a formal complaint against Gramza. The husband said no with the understanding that the relationship would end. He told 7 Investigates in addition, he did not want to make a report so he would not have a target on his back for reporting against a police officer.

When Taylor interviewed Gramza in November of 2020, Gramza admitted to having a sexual relationship with the woman and that he first met her while handling her domestic case. He acknowledged one incident happened while he was on duty and another happened in his department office.

He told Taylor “the romantic relationship started when they met at a Walmart, which resulted in flirtatious texting,” and he said the woman invited him over to her house, which started the sexual relationship.

According to the document, Gramza said the contacts were “sporadic” and only lasted “a year or so” and ended when she got married at the end of 2011. However, when Taylor shared the woman’s timeline of events, Gramza deferred to the woman about when the relationship ended.

In his interview with Taylor, “Gramza denied he used his position of authority to get her to engage in sexual relations with him and asserted the relationship was consensual.”

Gramza was promoted twice during the time of this relationship. He became the detective lieutenant leading the detective bureau in September of 2011 and became chief in May of 2014.

Gramza’s response to 7 Investigates’ request for comment was “no comment,” as directed by his attorney.

Barg declined an interview at this time but told 7 Investigates Gramza’s attorney attempted to block the city’s charging document from being released.

The woman told 7 Investigates she does not believe her situation has been handled well by the city. In a statement, she said “I just want (the) community to know how this could’ve and should’ve been stopped” when her fiance first reported the emails.

In regards to the common council’s decision to settle with Gramza, in part, to protect the alleged victims, she said she was not contacted by the city outside of the investigative interview as to whether she was comfortable testifying at his hearing. She said she had a meeting scheduled with Barg for March 19 but she had to cancel. However, the meeting would have happened after the decision to settle with Gramza was already made.

Barg confirmed the canceled meeting and clarified that an attorney retained by the city was present at the interview rather than a direct city employee. However, he could not address her other concerns.

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