The state’s Law Enforcement Standards and Training Commission, which certifies law enforcement officers, has dismissed complaints by a legislator of sexual misconduct against Madison Police Officer Matthew Wollmann who resigned from the legislature in 2017. The Commission also dismissed sex harassment complaints by the same lawmaker against Brown County Sheriff Mark Milbrandt and his deputy David Lunzman alleging sexual harassment of a state police agent. The complaints were filed this spring by state Senator Stace Nelson who also filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment by Brown County Deputy Ross Erickson, who subsequently resigned.
In a news release Friday, Nov. 15, David Natvig, director of the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation and chairman of the Standards and Training Commission, said investigators' reports into the complaints were submitted to Natvig himself.
“Following a review of the initial complaint and the subsequent findings of the investigation, it was determined that the evidence in the cases of Milbrandt, Lunzman, and Wollmann was not sufficient to support a certification revocation hearing, and those complaints have been dismissed,” Natvig said in the release.
Regarding a fourth related complaint from Sen. Nelson about another Brown County deputy, Ross Erickson, Natvig said Erickson “voluntarily surrendered his law enforcement certification, rendering the investigation moot.”
The three Brown County lawmen in 2017 were found to have sexually harassed, discriminated against, and retaliated against a DCI agent, Laura Kaiser. Nelson, in filing the complaints in March 2019 with the law enforcement training/standards commission, said a federal judge awarded Kaiser $1.5 million in state funds as damages for what Milbrandt, Lunzman and Erickson did to Kaiser.
In the separate complaint against Wollmann, Nelson had led the effort in the legislature against then-Representative Wollmann citing reports from legislative interns and others that Wollmann had been “preying” on interns, pressuring them to have sex with him.
Wollmann at first denied the reports, but when confronted with accounts of interns, admitted the conduct and resigned from the legislature in 2017, Nelson said.
Last year, Wollmann was hired as an officer by the Madison Police Department, where his father had been a police officer for many years. Nelson said he filed the law enforcement standards complaint in March 2019 because Wollmann’s “numerous acts of moral turpitude,” violate “minimum standards” for a law enforcement officer in the state, according to the complaint Nelson filed.
Nelson is a retired Marine military policeman and investigator and worked for years as a federal law officer with the Naval Investigative Service and is a member of the state Senate Judiciary Committee.
A conservative Republican, he is known for having sharp elbows, getting into controversial disputes with fellow Republican lawmakers.
The DCI is part of the attorney general’s office, so Kaiser’s lawsuit became part of the 2018 campaign between then-U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem who defeated then-Attorney General Marty Jackley.
In his news release in March about filing his complaints, Nelson said Noem won Republican primary largely over the Kaiser case.
But once she became governor early this year, Noem has done nothing, through the Law Enforcement Standards and Training Commission, to address the misconduct of the law officers, Nelson said.
“There is nothing worse in law enforcement than bad cops,” Nelson said in his March 2019 complaint to the state Commission. “Allowing people who have been proven to be dishonest and unethical, to remain in authority over the public as law enforcement officers, defeats the whole purpose of the (law enforcement training/standards) Commission and is a massive failure to protect South Dakotans.”
On Saturday, Nov. 16, Nelson told the Capital Journal he doesn’t understand why the 2017 federal court finding against the three Brown County lawmen didn’t provide enough evidence for the DCI-led standards and training Commission of wrongdoing by them to former DCI agent Kaiser to disqualify them as law officers. Erickson’s resignation appears to be evidence in the case, he said.
“I am disappointed that they were not able to find the evidence of sexual harassment and retaliation that a federal judge had ruled that was worth $1.5 million against the state, which will be paid by taxpayers in the case of former DCI Special Agent Laura Kaiser,” Nelson said. “And I’m disappointed that Gov. Noem, who used Laura Kaiser’s case in her campaign against Attorney General Marty Jackley, hasn’t followed through with it after she was elected.”
In his news release in March 2019 about his filing of the complaints, Nelson compared the standards and training Commission’s revoking of longtime Marshall County Sheriff Dale Elsen’s certification in December 2018 to his complaints.
Elsen was accused of workplace sexual harassment for making comments with sexual themes to female employees. After the Commission revoked Elsen’s certification, a state circuit judge heard Elsen’s appeal and sent his case back to the Commission, ordering it to find alternate disciplines.
But in September 2019, the standards and training Commission upheld its revocation of Elsen’s law officer credentials.
Natvig in his news release on Friday touted the Commission’s decision to dismiss Nelson’s complaints on Wollmann, Lunzman and Milbrandt; and, effectively on Erickson, who resigned. “I cannot stress the quality and outstanding work of our executive secretary and investigators enough. Their dedication to professionalism and ethics for the law enforcement professionals in South Dakota makes our state a better, safer place for all of us to live, work, and raise our families.”
Requests on Saturday from the Capital Journal to Noem's spokeswoman for a comment from the governor were not returned.
Asked by the Capital Journal on Saturday, Nov. 16, for a comment, former DCI agent Laura Zylstra Kaiser, now working as a private investigator, wrote:
“In October 2019, I was contacted by a DCI agent in regards to Senator Nelson’s complaints against Sheriff Milbrandt and Chief Deputy Lunzman. The DCI agent said he had a binder of information regarding my case (Laura Zylstra Kaiser v. Bryan Gortmaker) in his official capacity as SD Director of the DCI, and he expressed that he was sorry for everything I had gone through leading up to the lawsuit.”
“I told the agent at the time of his call. I was unable to do an interview due to my son being hospitalized in his battle against cancer.”
“I understand the investigation has since been completed and found there was insufficient evidence to conduct so much as a hearing regarding the complaints.”
“In December of 2017, a federal jury was presented with evidence at trial in my case and the jury found I had been discriminated and retaliated against. As a result, they found in my favor and awarded me a monetary judgment.”
“I have also read DCI Director Natvig’s statement commending the investigators for their outstanding work and dedication to professionalism and ethics. I am discouraged that to this day not one person involved in my case has been held responsible for their actions, which were neither professional nor ethical, no less legal. Unfortunately, the tax payers were the only ones punished. What you allow, you encourage.“
(An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Wollmann's father had been police chief in Madison, South Dakota.)