Civil lawsuit accuses former Marshfield police chief of sexual assault, stalking

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MARSHFIELD – A Marshfield woman has filed a federal lawsuit accusing former Police Chief Richard Gramza of repeated sexual harassment, sexual assault and stalking her over a period of more than eight years.

The woman, who the Marshfield News-Herald is not identifying because she is an alleged victim of sexual assault, is seeking monetary damages from Gramza, former Marshfield Police Chief Gary Jepsen and the city of Marshfield.

She claims she experienced a pattern of alcohol abuse, depression and multiple suicide attempts and hospitalizations as a result of Gramza’s actions, according to the lawsuit filed Friday by her attorneys, Jeff Scott Olson and Emma Ferguson of the Jeff Scott Olson Law Firm, S.C., of Madison.

Attempts by the Marshfield News-Herald to reach Gramza, Jepsen and City Attorney Harold Wolfgram for interviews were unsuccessful.

Gramza resigned as Marshfield police chief in March, after he was charged in November 2020 with three felony counts of misconduct in office and misdemeanor counts of fourth-degree sexual assault and disorderly conduct. The criminal charges involve a different woman from the person who filed the lawsuit.

The misconduct in office charges have since been dismissed, but Gramza's criminal case on the other charges is ongoing.

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According to the civil lawsuit, the plaintiff’s first encounter with Gramza followed a March 21, 2011, domestic dispute involving her son’s father. Gramza was a detective at the time.

She reported the incident to the Marshfield Police Department and Gramza was assigned to the case. The lawsuit claims Gramza began talking with the woman more and more frequently and would call, text and email her to see how she was doing. He also would stop by her house with little or no warning, according to the lawsuit.

The woman, who was convicted of a felony for embezzling from her employer in 2005, claims she was in a vulnerable position because she was facing three years in prison and five years of extended supervision if her probation were to be revoked.

The lawsuit states Gramza made it clear to the plaintiff that he knew she was on probation and that if she violated her probation, she could be subject to prison time and extended supervision.

On one occasion Gramza came to the woman’s house, sat next to her on the couch in her living room and asked, “What would you do if I kissed you right now?” and then kissed her, according to her lawsuit. The document claims the kiss was not consensual and the woman tried to pull away, but the more she resisted the harder he held her. Gramza then forced the woman to have sex with him, the lawsuit alleges.

The woman says in her lawsuit that she was afraid of making Gramza upset or to get into a physical struggle with a law enforcement officer in a situation where it would come down to her word against his.

The lawsuit alleges that Gramza’s conduct escalated through 2011 and 2012 and almost all of the sexual encounters with the plaintiff happened while Gramza was on duty as a police officer. He called, texted and emailed the plaintiff with sexually explicit messages, and repeatedly asked the plaintiff to send him sexual pictures and videos, according to her lawsuit. The plaintiff said she felt she had no choice but to comply.

The lawsuit claims Gramza harassed the plaintiff at her home, at work, in his office and in his police vehicle, and would attempt to manipulate her into performing sexual favors for him and would persist until she caved in. During these encounters, the lawsuit alleges, Gramza made it clear he had power over her.

Gramza would pick up the woman in his police car and on several occasions took her along on police calls where she learned confidential police information, according to the lawsuit.

In 2013, the lawsuit claims, the woman’s husband learned of Gramza’s behavior and confronted him at the Marshfield Police Department. Jepsen, who was police chief at that time, tried to de-escalate the confrontation and told the plaintiff’s husband he would “handle” the situation, according to the lawsuit.

Gramza then called the woman and told her that her husband knew of their encounters and told her to delete all evidence from her phone and email, the lawsuit alleges. She did as she was instructed, fearing retaliation by Gramza if she did not, she claims.

Jepsen never contacted the plaintiff nor her husband after the confrontation at the department, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims Jepsen protected Gramza and his interests, knowing that the relationship with the plaintiff was illegal. Had Jepsen acted to protect the plaintiff, he could have saved her from years of battery, stalking, sexual harassment, and mental and emotional anguish that were caused by those actions, according to her lawsuit.

After the confrontation between Gramza and the woman’s husband, Gramza stopped contacting her for a short time but he then started pursuing her again, including encounters at Gramza’s house, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit also accuses Gramza of numerous instances of stalking the plaintiff, including using his access to probation and parole records to find her after she relocated multiple times and changed her phone number.

Gramza, who was promoted to police chief in May 2014, continued to contact the woman until at least late 2019, each time requesting she send him sexually explicit pictures and videos, according to the lawsuit.

Twice in 2020, Gramza was placed on paid administration leave while allegations against him were investigated. It is unclear if the woman who filed the civil lawsuit was involved in those investigations.

Gramza took a voluntary paid administrative leave in July 2020 while the state investigated allegations that centered on his behavior when he was a school resource officer in the middle and high schools from 2004 to 2007, according to an investigation conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation. The Marshfield News-Herald obtained the document from the DOJ through a public records request.

Two special agents found Gramza had a reputation for making women and girls uneasy, but they cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing. He returned to work on July 23, 2020.

Gramza took another voluntary paid administrative leave in August 2020 after the state report was filed. At that time, the city asked the Eau Claire Police Department to complete a second investigation after the state declined. The Eau Claire police investigation led to the criminal charges.

According to the criminal complaint in that case, a Marshfield Police Department employee reported Gramza sexually assaulted her in his office. She told an Eau Claire police investigator the assaults happened repeatedly over five years but she was afraid to report them. Gramza told the investigator he had a relationship with the woman but it was consensual, according to the complaint.

Portage County Circuit Judge Thomas Eagon, acting as a substitute judge in the Wood County case, determined in February the state did not meet its burden to prove the misconduct in office charges. Gramza pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges of fourth-degree sexual assault and disorderly conduct.

A phone conference in the criminal case is scheduled for Jan. 3.

RELATED: Marshfield police chief will not face felony charges, pleads not guilty to misdemeanor sexual assault

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Reporter Karen Madden contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Marshfield News-Herald: Lawsuit accuses former Marshfield police chief of sexual assault, stalking

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