MADISON, Wis. — A Department of Natural Resources employee disciplined for harassing female co-workers at a Milwaukee hotel had previously won the agency's wildlife management leadership award.
The agency initially refused to release details of the January incident, saying people make mistakes. DNR officials reconsidered after The Associated Press challenged that rationale and released nearly 20 pages of documents Wednesday.
The documents identify the employee as Harvey Halvorsen, a Baldwin-based wildlife supervisor and winner of the 2017 DNR wildlife management leadership award.
Witnesses told DNR investigators that Halvorsen was "sloppy drunk" in a hospitality suite at the Hilton Hotel in Milwaukee on the evening of Jan. 28, the night before the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference. Witnesses said he was drinking beer out of an ice bucket, saying "Is this like the ice bucket challenge? We can call it the beer challenge."
One female DNR worker said Halvorsen stared at her chest although he didn't say anything that made her feel uncomfortable. Another female DNR worker said she thought Halvorsen said something about her breasts. The women's names were redacted from the documents.
During an interview with DNR investigators Halvorsen acknowledged he had been drinking from an ice bucket but didn't remember interacting with any women.
When told of the harassment allegations, he "gasped" and said he would never do anything like that even if he was drunk and he treats women as if they're his daughters.
He acknowledged that he had never watched a mandatory training video on sexual harassment or reviewing the agency's harassment policies but said his behavior wasn't appropriate and he caused a spectacle. DNR officials ultimately suspended Halvorsen for a day without pay in March.
Kris Johansen, wildlife supervisor for the DNR's west-central district, said Halverson retired last week. Calls to a possible home listing for Halvorsen were met with a busy signal.
DNR Administrative Policy Adviser Victoria Harmon initially denied The AP's request for documents surrounding the incident on Oct. 31, writing that releasing them would hamper the agency's ability to hire competent employees and compromise future internal investigations if employees knew their statements would be released to the public. She added that the agency had to withhold the documents to avoid hurting employee morale and "human beings in all walks of life make mistakes."
The AP challenged those justifications. On Nov. 16 DNR Chief Legal Counsel Jacob Curtis said in an email the agency was "now prepared" to release the documents. He offered no explanation.
"It's clear someone there realized they were on thin ice in making the earlier denial," Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders said.