Ethics commission investigating Shawano Co. DA over Facebook post about domestic violence victim
Parker has been the DA in Shawano since he was elected in 2006 by a margin of 12 votes. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is investigating Shawano County District Attorney Greg Parker over a post he made last October to his campaign Facebook page in which he shared non-public information about a victim of domestic violence, according to documents obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner.
The complaint alleges that Parker’s post violates provisions in the Wisconsin constitution that protect victims’ rights as well as Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment passed last year that increased protections for crime victims.
“The post potentially violates a domestic violence victim’s right to dignity, respect, courtesy, and sensitivity,” the complaint states.
The complaint also alleges that Parker used government resources and staff in the district attorney’s office to benefit his re-election campaign — directing the staff in his victim/witness office to do the research that informed his Facebook post.
The Ethics Commission has the authority to investigate when public officials violate the state code of ethics, which includes provisions that “no state public official may intentionally use or disclose information gained in the course of or by reason of his or her official position or activities in any way that could result in the receipt of anything of value for himself or herself, for his or her immediate family, or for any other person, if the information has not been communicated to the public or is not public information.”
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If substantiated, the commission can bring a civil action against Parker or refer the case for criminal charges.
The complaint was filed in late October of last year by local defense attorney Aaron Damrau, who at the time was running to replace Parker as the county DA. Last year was only the second time Parker has faced a challenger since he was first elected in 2006 by a margin of one vote.
Ahead of the election, which got particularly heated, Parker threatened to charge Damrau with a felony. Parker, a Republican, was ultimately re-elected by a margin of more than 2,000 votes in the conservative county.
The since-deleted Facebook posts at issue in the ethics investigation came just weeks before Election Day. While responding to a comment on his campaign Facebook page that detailed why the writer wouldn’t be voting for him, Parker responded by sharing personal information about her and her ex-husband.
“I don’t like to assume things, but it ‘appears’ that you should call the Shawano County Clerk of courts to confirm whether there is a WARRANT out for your arrest for an open criminal case,” Parker wrote in one comment about her ex-husband.
In his next post, after she complains about how his office had handled cases she was involved in, Parker details what appears to be the woman’s entire court history — including when she was the victim of domestic abuse. He also questions her motivations for the post because she had previously been represented by Damrau and the treasurer of Damrau’s campaign.
“First, we have had four cases referred to my office where you were named the victim of domestic abuse with your ex-husband,” Parker wrote. “He was convicted in three cases filed against him.”
“Second, I question the credibility of your post for a couple of reasons, Mr. Damrau was your attorney in four of these cases, and my opponent, Damrau’s campaign treasure [sic.] Steve Menard was your attorney in one of the cases,” he continued. “I find it hard to believe that is a coincidence with respect to sending your post – I doubt that it is.”
The rest of his comment lists the cases in which the woman was charged and convicted of crimes, as well as information about her divorce.
The complaint alleges that it is a violation of the victim’s rights to privacy and that some of the information he shared isn’t public. It also states that Parker wasn’t the prosecuting attorney in any of the cases so he’d have to use office resources to do the research and that he isn’t technologically capable of doing the research himself so a staff member would have to do it.
“The Respondent has used government resources that aren’t publicly available information for the benefit of his political campaign,” the complaint states. “Based on my interactions with the Respondent and his character and reputation, I believe that he is not particularly technologically savvy and able to do this type of research without assistance from staff.”
Parker did not respond to a request for comment, but in October he told the local newspaper The Shawano Leader that all the information was public record. He also said Damrau’s complaint was filed for entirely “political” reasons.
By opening an investigation, the Ethics Commission is saying there is a “reasonable suspicion” that Parker has violated ethics rules, according to the state statutes that guide ethics enforcement. If the complaint hadn’t reached that level, it would have been dismissed.
It is also rare for the commission to open an investigation. Since its inception in 2016, the body has only authorized ten investigations of public officials for violations of state rules, according to the commission’s annual reports.
The Ethics Commission did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation.
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