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Sheboygan Police Department sexual harassment probes: What to know

The Sheboygan Police Department building
The Sheboygan Police Department building is photographed on Nov. 8, 2022 in Sheboygan, Wis. At least three female officers resigned as a result of internal investigations into sexual harassment and other infractions or mentioned frustrations with the department. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

Here’s some of the misconduct surfaced in the Sheboygan Police Department’s three 2021 sexual harassment investigations, and the resulting discipline:

  • In all, the police department found four male officers — Bryan Pray, Nicholas Helland, Stephen Schnabel and Officer 6 — sexually harassed colleagues.
  • None of the officers found to have engaged in sexual harassment, all men, was required to attend an anti-harassment training — although two female officers who were not cited for sexual harassment were required to attend such training.
  • A fifth man, Officer 7, engaged in similar behavior to Officer 6, including viewing nude photos of co-workers while on duty, but was not found guilty of sexual harassment.
  • Three female officers who sent nude photos of themselves or viewed nude photos of their colleagues while on or off duty were disciplined, although none was found to have violated sexual harassment policies.
  • No male officers, four of whom violated the cell phone policy, had their phone privileges restricted. Only female officers lost phone privileges. This included Officer 1, a victim of sexual harassment, who did not violate the department’s phone policy.

Officer Bryan Pray:

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  • Pray sexually harassed at least two female police officers.
    • Pray took a partially nude photo of Officer 8 and shared the photo with other officers while on duty — which she alleges was without her consent.
    • Pray also made degrading comments toward and requests for sex from Officer 8, on and off duty, in person and electronically, over multiple years. He made sexually explicit comments to other female officers, too.
    • Officer 8 alleged Pray kissed her neck and held a knife to her ribs, both without consent. Pray denied this.
    • Pray showed other officers nude photos of Officer 11 without her consent.
    • Pray repeatedly solicited nude photos from Officer 9 while on duty.
  • Pray several times gave false information or was not completely forthcoming to investigators in interviews where he was required to tell the truth. Despite that, Capt. James Veeser wrote he believed Pray ultimately “provided a truthful rendition of events.”
  • In direct violation of supervisors’ orders, Pray retaliated against Officer 8 by talking about her complaint with others during the investigation, including suggesting Officer 8 should be punished.
  • Pray accessed restricted databases without authorization to obtain information about Officer 14’s ex-wife.

Officer Nicholas Helland

  • While on duty, Helland viewed a topless photograph of Officer 1 on the phone of an officer who has since resigned, to whom Officer 1 sent the photo. Helland used his own phone to take a picture of the topless photograph, which he then showed to multiple male officers without Officer 1’s knowledge or consent.
  • Helland spread a rumor that Pray and Officer 8 had a sexual encounter, which Officer 8 denies.
  • Helland was not completely forthcoming in investigative interviews. He said he didn’t leave information out on purpose but “didn’t think of it at the time.”
  • While on duty, Helland surveilled co-workers’ homes without authorization. He also misused departmental databases to conduct further unauthorized surveillance of co-workers, obtaining an address and running a license plate.
  • Helland neglected his duties, including frequently meeting up with a former officer while on duty to talk about their personal lives, sometimes for an hour or more at a time. The other officer sometimes watched movies while they sat parked together, Helland said.

Other Sheboygan officers

  • Schnabel sexually harassed one of his trainees, who needed his approval to become a full-fledged officer.
  • Schnabel also sent unwanted, flirtatious messages to three other young female recruits. Capt. Kurt Zempel decided this didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment, but instead violated a policy banning the “unwelcome solicitation of a personal or sexual relationship while on duty or through the use of one’s official capacity.”
  • Officer 11 sent nude photos of herself while on duty to Pray after he shot and killed a civilian. Another officer told investigators she did this to “assist in cheering him up.”
  • Officer 9 was not forthcoming in investigative interviews. She also viewed nude photos of two female officers that Pray showed her on and off duty.
  • In addition to Pray and Helland, Officer 6 and Officer 14 abused police powers for non-work-related reasons. Officer 6 surveilled another officer’s spouse, finding a home address and running a license plate without authorization. Officer 14, a “veteran officer” of the department, improperly surveilled his ex-wife by checking a vehicle registration for non-law enforcement purposes.

Police Chief Christopher Domagalski handed out the following discipline:

  • Pray: 10-day unpaid suspension
  • Helland: Five-day unpaid suspension
  • Officer 6: One-day unpaid suspension
  • Schnabel: Verbal admonishment, later written reprimand, removed from his post as a police training officer
  • Officer 7: Written reprimand, ordered to attend city anti-sexual harassment training
  • Officer 11: Written reprimand, lost personal phone on duty for one year, ordered to attend city anti-sexual harassment training
  • Officer 9: Written reprimand, lost personal phone on duty for six weeks, ordered to attend city anti-sexual harassment training
  • Officer 14: Written reprimand
  • Domagalski said by email that three additional officers were verbally admonished or disciplined. Their misconduct was not shown in redacted reports.

This is a collaboration by the Sheboygan Press and the nonprofit Wisconsin Watch, (www.WisconsinWatch.org), which collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.