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Chippewa County sheriff gets ‘no confidence’ vote from board of supervisors

Months-long investigation spurred by sexual harassment complaint results in claims of sheriff having 'long history of not being credible'

Police car
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

A months-long sexual harassment investigation into Chippewa County Sheriff Travis Hakes has resulted in a near-unanimous vote of “no confidence” by the county’s board of supervisors.

The county said the sheriff has “a long history of not being credible” regarding issues including his work history, while Hakes said the investigation was biased against him. 

With a 19-1 vote, the Chippewa County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Feb. 20 stating it has “no confidence in Chippewa County Sheriff Travis Hakes’ continued leadership” of the sheriff’s office. A subsequent resolution asks that any future communications between the department and the board go through the county’s chief deputy and not Hakes. 

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A joint statement from Chippewa County Board Chair Dean Gullickson and County Administrator Randy Scholz said the vote was necessary because Hakes targeted a female job applicant and subordinate with “inappropriate communications” and special treatment “including texting a racist, ethnically charged meme.” 

The statement also accuses Hakes of lying about his prior work history. In particular, it claims he stated that he left his previous job as a City of Chetek police officer in good standing. But the statement said records from the city of Chetek and the Chippewa County’s District Attorney’s office show “Hakes resigned to avoid an investigation involving his comments made to a victim suggesting he could modify or eliminate his body cam recordings.”

“Sheriff Hakes has demonstrated his negative impact on the fundamental operations of the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Chippewa County Department of Administration,” the statement said. “This impact has also created concerns for the safety of the general public.” 

In December, the county’s district attorney also concluded that Hakes be added to Brady/Giglio disclosures, according to the statement. Those disclosures, compiled by district attorneys, identify law enforcement officers “who have had incidents of untruthfulness, criminal convictions, candor issues, or some other type of issue placing their credibility into question.” 

The DA determined that “the only way to ensure that prosecutions are not negatively affected is for Sheriff Hakes to avoid actively being involved in any investigations, or handling physical evidence.”

In a Facebook post written after the board’s “no confidence” vote, Hakes criticized the “Madison-based attorney” who conducted a third-party investigation “that has now topped over $100,000 in taxpayer funds.”

“Like the general public, I have not yet had an opportunity to review the report, but I suspect it’s filled with more hearsay and conjecture,” Hakes said. 

Hakes ended the post stating that he’s glad the county board has “finally put an end to this charade, and I look forward to effectively leading the Sheriff’s Office without this investigation sabotaging my ability to do so.” 

Chippewa County Board Supervisor Ken Schmidt told WPR the investigation wasn’t about bias. He said the county has a duty to thoroughly investigate sexual harassment investigations involving any employees or department heads and that the subsequent revelations came to light as a result. 

In October, the board was set to consider initiating “removal proceedings” for Hakes. While the county doesn’t have the authority to remove a duly-elected sheriff, they could have asked Gov. Tony Evers to do so. Schmidt said, the “no confidence” vote was the alternate option. 

“We have very little authority over the sheriff,” Schmidt said. “I mean, we control his budget, we’re not going to take away money from the sheriff’s department to prove a point. That’s not palatable. So by making this “no confidence” vote, we’re indicating to the department, we understand that there’s problems, and we understand that it’s not a good situation and this is what we can do to show the public that you do need to look at this and there are issues here.”

Schmidt said from now until Hakes is up for re-election in 2026, it’s “status quo.” He says he’s hopeful the sheriff “doesn’t get involved in any big cases, where he ends up in a position where he’s supposed to be testifying” after being placed on the Brady/Giglio disclosure list. 

“You get into a situation where it’s a murder or robbery or something that serious,” Schmidt said. “If he’s the first cop on the scene, you know, how’s that going to work? That can be awkward at best.”