MADISON, Wis. — The National Guard’s headquarters opened an investigation this fall into allegations that the Wisconsin National Guard’s top commander improperly initiated an internal investigation in a sexual assault case even as he was under scrutiny for allegedly mishandling sexual assault complaints, Gov. Tony Evers’ office said Tuesday.
Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin asked the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations in March to conduct a comprehensive review of how Adjutant General Donald Dunbar’s command handled sexual assault complaints. They requested the review after Master Sgt. Jay Ellis complained to Baldwin in 2018 that commanders in his 115th Fighter Wing security squadron had brushed off at least six sexual misconduct complaints.
That review began in April. The NGB released a report last month that found multiple shortcomings within Dunbar’s command, most notably repeated internal investigations into complaints. Federal law and Department of Defense regulations require commanders to forward sexual assault complaints to their respective branches’ criminal investigators and prohibit commander-initiated internal investigations. Dunbar resigned hours before the report went public.
The Wisconsin National Guard has been shaken by recent allegations of officers brushing off sexual assault complaints and retaliating against victims for reporting incidents.
Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldaulff, said OCI officials notified the governor’s office in October that they had discovered Dunbar had launched another internal sexual assault investigation in the midst of the review, even though he knew OCI investigators had already flagged such moves as an issue. OCI told Evers’ office that they had referred Dunbar to NGB’s inspector general to launch a separate probe of his actions, Baldauff said.
Evers’ attorney, Ryan Nilsestuen, didn’t mention the referral when he briefed reporters on the comprehensive report’s findings in early December. Baladauff said OCI officials had asked to keep the matter quiet. She said she didn’t know why.
The governor’s office learned in late December after the comprehensive report had gone out that the inspector general had indeed opened an investigation. The OCI informed the office over the holidays that his administration could now speak freely about the probe, Baldauff said. She didn’t know why OCI had changed its stance.
NGB spokeswoman April Cunningham had no immediate comment. Wisconsin National Guard spokesman Joe Trovato referred questions to the NGB. He said Dunbar has retired and he couldn’t contact him with an interview request.