City’s internal investigation document reveals more details about what Marshfield found about its now-former chief of police

Published: May. 14, 2021 at 8:22 AM CDT|Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 8:23 AM CDT
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MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WSAW) -- The City of Marshfield’s internal investigation document into the now-former police chief, Rick Gramza, reveals new details about his and others’ actions during his time at the department.

7 Investigates obtained the internal investigation document through an open records request. The document was created by the legal team the city had hired for the internal investigation.

Investigators confirmed there was another sexual relationship Gramza had while at the department on-duty time, for a total of three known by the city. Investigators noted they found no evidence to other allegations of inappropriate relationships or sexual advances towards police department employees.

This woman was not a department employee. Two officers who made a complaint in August alluded to this relationship, which is why the city investigated it. Investigators reached out to the woman to do an interview, though she never called them back.

Gramza, however, acknowledged the relationship and according to the report he admitted “that the vast majority of sexual encounters between he and (the woman) took place during work hours and the encounters took place in his office, in her office, and occasionally they occurred in an MPD vehicle.”

The relationship was noted to have happened in 2007 or 2008 when Gramza was a detective. He said the relationship ended when his wife found out, around the time he became chief. However, investigators said Gramza’s emails show that the two of them were still in contact as late as 2019, with an email in 2017 suggesting that their sexual relationship was continuing at the time.

The document also states that the police chief before Gramza, Gary Jepsen, destroyed a document that talked about Gramza’s relationship with the woman 7 Investigates shared last month.

In that situation beginning in 2011, Gramza was a detective lieutenant handling a domestic abuse case that this woman was involved in. When Gramza made his first sexual advancement, the woman told 7 Investigates that she told him she cannot get into a relationship with him because she was about to get married. She told investigators she felt like she had to be in a sexual relationship with him because he had power over her due to his position and especially because of her probation status. Gramza said the relationship was consensual.

About two years later, the woman’s husband found out about the relationship and eventually went to the police department asking for the police chief. Jepsen was not there at the time, but was briefed on the gist of the complaint. Jepsen says he first spoke with Gramza before calling the husband back. Jepsen asked if the husband wanted to file a formal complaint against Gramza and the husband said he did not want to as long as the relationship would end. The husband told 7 Investigates he partially did not want to file a complaint because he did not want to go up against a police officer. Jepsen said the husband did not indicate that when they spoke, but if that had been said, he would have urged the husband to write a formal complaint and talk more about it.

Jepsen had Gramza write up a description of the relationship, which he said he kept for more than 60 days (which is what is required in policy) in case the husband would come back to make a formal complaint. Just before Jepsen retired in 2014, he destroyed the document. He said the document was never placed in Gramza’s personnel file.

When 7 Investigates asked if there was an obligation for Jepsen to follow up and investigate the accusation further despite it being an informal complaint, Jepsen replied, “The only obligation that I can think of is if I would have had reason to believe that police resources would have been squandered as a result of the events that had taken place. I didn’t have information that would suggest that. I was provided detailed information by Lt. Gramza and I trusted in what he was telling me. In hindsight, it appears as though I shouldn’t have trusted that.”

Officers there at the time of the incident told 7 Investigates that Jepsen had employees suppress the complaint and situation. Jepsen said it was a personnel matter and, therefore, confidential, so he would not be talking about it with other employees because it would violate employee rights.

Gramza, of course, became the next chief after Jepsen left.

“You tend to support the people within your own organization,” he said. “Rick Gramza had come up through the system and I thought that he had a lot to offer, but yet I think that we have to be careful about the manner in which we use the term ‘support.’”

Jepsen said there were three candidates at the time: one from Texas, one from Appleton, and Gramza. He said he spoke with the fire and police commissioner, Randy Gershman about his recommendation. He said he was impressed by the candidate from Appleton, but did not speak particularly advocate for Gramza, nor spoke negatively. Gershman corroborated the contents of this conversation.

Jepsen said he was not asked to be a character witness for Gramza’s removal hearing should it have taken place.

“As a result of what Rick Gramza has done, I think that the commission has felt betrayed. I have felt betrayed. I think his actions were some of the poorest decisions that a professional person could ever make during their tenure and there is no way shape or form that I would support Rick Gramza.”

The internal investigation document also revealed more interactions Gramza had with the police department employee who is at the center of the criminal case against Gramza.

It stated she made a sexual harassment complaint against Gramza in 2012 after she applied for a promotion and she said Lt. Gramza made an inappropriate comment. The investigators noted the human resources director at the time did not note the complaint as a sexual harassment complaint.

“Rather, (the woman’s) reason for bringing the issue forward was that she was concerned that her past lapses in judgement would be ‘held against her’ and adversely affect her future promotional opportunities in the MPD,” the document stated. It goes on to say the human resources director appears to have worked with the woman about those concerns and the director discussed the incident and inappropriate comments with Lt. Gramza and Chief Jepsen.

After she made the complaint, the woman said “she felt Gramza was ‘grooming’ her to be his victim because he was aware that she had had challenges working in the police department and it would be unlikely that anyone would believe her if she made allegations against Gramza.” In the footnote of that document, the add on to that statement is that she said she has been the subject of 16 internal investigations and that when she has requested her personnel file that those investigations are not in her file. She believes there is a secret file kept with these investigation documents, but the investigators were unable to locate a file like that.

She also noted that she believed Gramza had a history of retaliatory behavior against officers he did not like, and she gave an example of when she had a doctor’s note that she could not wear her bullet proof vest. She said shortly after that note, there was a memo that stated officers had to wear their uniforms while working overtime at the high school football games. She said she could not work those games and felt like that was retaliatory action for submitting the doctor’s note.

She said “the touching started casually with Gramza touching her necklace or brushing up against her breasts and then it progressed to more direct touching.” Gramza has admitted to much of the sexual contact, but denies some of the more aggressive allegations. Another person said the woman confided in him a few years prior about Gramza’s actions and noted that Gramza often hugged her. He stated that one time after being asked to his office, “she said in a half-joking manner that ‘he was going to try and stick his hands down her pants again.’” He said she did not want to report or have anyone else report his behavior on her behalf because she was afraid she would get fired. He also said that Gramza supervised her very closely even though he was not her direct supervisor as chief.

The woman’s direct supervisor noted Gramza supervised the woman very closely both when Gramza was her direct supervisor as a lieutenant and as chief. This supervisor also noted that she seemed stressed when Gramza was involved in her cases and at one point referred to the woman “as acting like a trauma victim when she had to deal with Gramza,” even becoming physically ill one time when he called her to his office.

Conversely, Gramza gave investigators another employee as someone who would be able to speak to the number of times the woman would come to his office without him asking for her. He told investigators that he would have this employee call him if the woman stayed in his office for more than a few minutes. That employee did not say that Gramza asked her to run interference for her, but she did say that the woman came to his office an “unusual” amount of times. She also said the woman is known for stirring up trouble and getting in relationships with other members of the department.

Gramza has contended that the sexual contact was consensual and that she sometimes would initiate it. He believes that the woman “is making up or exaggerating their encounters” because she did not do well in the department’s fitness test and that he already fired one officer for failing the fitness test. He said after completing a run and not doing well that she told him “If I lose my job, I’ll tell them what you did and you’ll be screwed.”

Gramza said another department employee would be able to speak to the flirting he said the woman did with him while in the office, but the employee said he did not observe that, only that they had frequent contact with each other.

Gramza said that he was told by this employee that he overheard the woman say “she had Gramza wrapped around her finger.” The employee said that he had overheard the woman talking at a conference in 2017 saying that she did not think women were respected in the department and that “the chief is a very sick man” and that if she ever got in trouble that all she had to do was expose herself to him. He said he told Gramza because he was concerned about her conduct at the conference with other law enforcement, but he said Gramza just seemed to shrug it off.

The document also states that another employee had concerns about the closeness of the two’s relationship in how Gramza treated her over other employees, including approving city pay for her to go to conferences that he said other offices would have to seek outside funding. He also stated that the woman told him that Gramza promised her the promotion she received and that she wrote the job description, which an email exchange between the woman and Gramza reflects.

7 Investigates reached out to Gramza for comment and interview, but he declined both opportunities.

clarification: This document and a previous document linked to this report note that the man who came to the police department to report Gramza was one of the victim's fiance, but individuals 7 Investigates has spoken to, including the woman, her now-ex-husband, and Jepsen say they misspoke and that the two were married at the time of the complaint. The documents also note that the two got married in 2011 and the complaint happened in late 2013 or early 2014.

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