Officials: Wisconsin coroner's sexual assault probe near end

August 2, 2019

OSHKOSH A coroner in eastern Wisconsin accused of sexually harassing multiple women, leaving the state for months while still collecting paychecks and retaliating against whistleblowers should make the appropriate decision and step down, officials said. 

Bill Wingren, chair of the Winnebago County Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said this week that he's looking into the allegations against longtime County Coroner Barry Busby, the Oshkosh Northwestern Media reported. Wingren said he's working with the county executive, human resources and corporation counsel's offices.

"We have to look at all these allegations," Wingren said. "This whole process has to be about the issues not personality, certainly not politics. We want to make sure that we have the facts. We're investigating and hope to have some concrete results."

One of the grievances against Busby came from a woman who said he sexually harassed her last October during the Wisconsin Coroners and Medical Examiners Association conference. It wasn't the first time a woman accused Busby of sexual harassment there. In 2017, Miranda Zuhlke sent the association a letter about unsolicited sexual remarks she alleges Busby made to her at that year's fall conference. The subsequent morning, Busby came up to her to apologize but also said he only made his comments because she was "just really pretty," she wrote.

"He has a very bad reputation for being the way he is," Zuhlke recently told the newspaper. "I think anybody that knows him or spends any time with him or knows him in years past would attest to his behavior. People can form their own opinions, but this is how he is."

Busby, who's been coroner since 1997 after then-Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed him, told The Associated Press on Thursday he believes he'll be vindicated.

Winnebago County officials said they're investigating the possibility of replacing the coroner position with a medical examiner. Wingren said he's considering offering a proposal to the board to officially reprimand Busby.

"I just have to look for direction," he said. "I don't know what that does, though. In government, sometimes symbols are important. I'm just hoping that he just does the right thing (and resign)."

Shiloh Ramos, chairman of the county board, also said he thinks that Busby should resign.

The committee is scheduled to discuss the matter at its next meeting on Aug. 12, according to Wingren.

The investigation comes as state and federal agencies also review discrimination grievances against the county and as a former chief deputy coroner mulls filing a lawsuit for unlawful termination.

Chris Shea, a former chief deputy coroner, filed a discrimination complaint against Busby with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Equal Rights Division. The suit alleged Shea was terminated by his former boss over fears that he would divulge allegations of Busby's sexual harassment and accused the coroner of spending most of the winter out of state instead of at his job.

"I did have a copy of a sexual harassment charge that was given to me by (an employee in Busby's office) in the fall of 2018 and I was also aware of other unethical things that he was doing and I wondered if this was why I was let go," Shea wrote in the complaint.

Shea's attorney, Nate Cade, said his client's next move could include a lawsuit.

Wingren commended Busby for what he called "a storied career" in service to the county and the state but added he cannot ignore the truths.

"I beat the drum (that) the government needs to be open, honest and accountable," he said. "This is not open, honest and accountable at all. We're failing the people."



Associated Press