Shawano County DA’s office threatens election challenger with felony charge

Shawano County Courthouse
The Branch 1 courtroom in the Shawano County Courthouse. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

The Shawano-Menominee County District Attorney’s office threatened a political opponent with felony charges in open court Tuesday morning, according to court records. 

Aaron Damrau, a 31-year-old criminal defense attorney, is running as an independent to unseat incumbent District Attorney Greg Parker, a Republican, in the November election. Damrau is being threatened with a charge of felony bail jumping as party to a crime because of a case involving one of his former clients.

District Attorney Greg Parker
Parker has been the DA in Shawano since he was elected in 2006 by a margin of one vote. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

Parker has been district attorney for 14 years and hasn’t faced a challenger since 2008. When he was elected in 2006 he won by one vote. 

Damrau is currently outraising Parker by a 7 to 1 margin, campaign finance records show. 

Damrau had withdrawn from the case — and all other cases tied to the office —  to avoid conflicts of interest relating to his campaign. Damrau’s former client, a 29-year-old doctorate student at UW-Madison, is charged with battery to a law enforcement officer, possession of THC, possession of drug paraphernalia and disorderly conduct from an incident in December. 

As part of his bond, the defendant — originally from Georgia — was not allowed to leave Wisconsin without permission from the court, records show. 

In February, an extradition waiver that would allow the defendant to leave the state was filed with the court. On June 26 the defendant changed his address on file with the court from a Madison residence to one in Georgia. 

Damrau withdrew from the case July 31. 

At a preliminary hearing Tuesday morning, Assistant District Attorney Lauren Nelson, who reports to Parker, said the defendant moving back to Georgia was a violation of his bond and that Damrau, by not requesting permission for his client to leave Wisconsin, was a party to that crime. 

Nelson said the defendant is facing felony bail jumping charges and Damrau — the electoral opponent of Nelson’s boss — is facing a felony bail jumping as party to a crime charge. 

Damrau’s charge is a class H felony with a maximum sentence of six years imprisonment. A felony conviction would also bar him from running for state or local office.

Damrau says he is still waiting to see the transcript from Tuesday’s hearing, but that he’s seen the minutes and called the move political intimidation.

“I wasn’t in court today, but I’ve read the court minutes and I’m troubled that it appears this District Attorney’s office feels empowered to accuse a political opponent of a serious felony,” Damrau said in a statement. “I believe the facts will show this is a baseless accusation and transparent attempt to intimidate political opposition. However, I’m going to do something Attorney Parker’s office usually fails to do for defendants, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. I look forward to seeing the facts the District Attorney’s Office has to support its accusations.”

Attorney Aaron Damrau
Damrau, a defense attorney in Shawano, is challenging incumbent Greg Parker. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

This is not the first time a candidate challenging a political incumbent has been accused of a crime in Shawano. In 2018, Bill Switalla, a candidate in the Democratic primary to challenge state Rep. Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel), was arrested and charged with a felony for stealing a grill from the yard of a home the county had recently been foreclosed on. 

Switalla, a county board member and village board president in Wittenberg, says he was just trying to clean the yard of a former meth house and the grill was returned before the cops arrived. The charges against him were dismissed as part of a deferred prosecution agreement. 

“The Office of Lawyer Regulation receives grievances relating to potential violations of lawyer ethics rules,” the State Bar of Wisconsin said in a statement. 

No one from the Shawano County District Attorney’s Office responded to a request for comment.