Former Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Laura Zylstra Kaiser of Aberdeen is suing DCI chief Bryan Gortmaker and former DCI agent Mark Black for hindering her employment. Let’s look at Zylstra Kaiser’s complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Aberdeen, to learn what the suit is about.
Zylstra Kaiser says she went to work for the DCI Drug Task Force straight out law school in August 2003. She says she received positive performance reviews through mid-2011, when she says her mid-year evaluation praised her “for her exceptional work product, ability ‘to work amicably with other DCI agents and members of her task force, relentless work, and above-average case activity.”
Then comes Brown County Deputy Ross Erickson:
In or about August 2011, Brown County Deputy Ross Erickson was assigned to the Drug Task Force. Almost immediately, he began making sexually explicit comments to Plaintiff, revealing personal information, and making her feel uncomfortable, including, but not limited to:
- Asking “Were you horny when you were pregnant?”;
- Saying “Go ahead and walk away, because I am going to stare at your ass the whole time”;
- Texting her to ask what color underwear she was wearing;
- Stating it was a “good thing” she was not single because otherwise he would hit on her “all the time”;
- Remarking that Plaintiff looked “hot” when she wore glasses,
- When she spoke about her guns, commenting to her “that sounds hot”;
- Petting her hair and, on one occasion, putting his arm around her and swaying;
- When Plaintiff asked for his keys, stating they were in his pocket and she should get them herself;
- After Plaintiff said her husband would be out of town that weekend, asking her: “Should I come over Saturday around 6?” and,
- Having her watch a lewd music video set in a police department [Complaint, Zylstra Kaiser v. Gortmaker and Black, U.S. District Court of South Dakota Northern Division, 2015.09.23].
Now the proper workplace response to such behavior is to take this behavior straight to the boss, whose response should be to drop the hammer on the harasser. Weighing on Zylstra Kaiser’s mind, though, was a 2005 experience in which she had reported another co-worker for sexual harassment and gotten the wrong response from the boss:
Her then-supervisor, Assistant Director Brian Zeeb, said her complaint could be seen as a sign of weakness and made a comment along the lines of, “In the future, if you want a promotion or transfer to a new duty station, some may see this incident as your inability to get along with others.” Rather than undertaking an investigation, Zeeb forced her to confront her harasser. As a result of this experience with DCI administration, Plaintiff feared future reports would adversely affect her career [Complaint, 2015.09.23].
In October 2011, Zylstra talked with fellow female agent Jessica Page about Erickson’s harassment, and Page took the same position: reporting Erickson would only lead to trouble. Zylstra decided to talk about the harassment with fellow Aberdeen agent Mark Black, with whom she had a “close relationship.” (Remember, this is the same Mark Black who eventually was fired from the DCI following revelations of violent behavior toward his own wife.) For a moment, Zylstra thought she’d found a supportive ear:
Black was supportive offered to speak to Erickson for Plaintiff. Plaintiff considered his offer but decided she would speak to Erickson herself. Plaintiff thanked Black for his support and asked him not to tell anyone about her difficulties with Erickson.
Plaintiff approached Erickson on or about October 18, 2011 and explained that she was not comfortable with his sexually-oriented comments. Erickson acknowledged his comments were inappropriate, apologized, and said he would not make any such comments in the future [Complaint, 2015.09.23].
Then Black talked:
Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Black told Brown County Deputy Damian Bahr and DCI Agent Dave Lunzman, the only other law enforcement in the Aberdeen office, about Erickson’s treatment toward Plaintiff.
On or about October 20, 2011, Erickson told Plaintiff that Black had told the “entire office” about what was happening. Plaintiff apologized and stated that it was not her intent to have the office know about the issue. She mentioned she regretted telling Black [Complaint, 2015.09.23].
When called to account, Black allegedly turned against Zylstra Erickson:
Later that day, Plaintiff approached Black and asked why he shared her personal information. Black attempted to shift the blame to Plaintiff and began ignoring her.
On information and belief, Black then called Supervisor Jason Even to report Plaintiff’s complaints against Erickson and told Even he no longer wanted to work with Plaintiff because he could not trust her.
That afternoon, Black surreptitiously met with Erickson, Bahr, and Lunzman in a park. On information and belief, and knowing Even would investigate Plaintiff’s harassment complaint, Black worked with Erickson, Bahr, and Lunzman to formulate a set of talking points in an effort to have Plaintiff removed from the department or terminated, including planning to state they did not trust Plaintiff, she falsified the harassment to test Black’s trustworthiness, they were unwilling to work with her, and that she was mentally ill and schizophrenic [Complaint, 2015.09.23].
Supervisor Jason Even took the men’s side immediately, accused Zylstra Kaiser of fabricating the sexual harassment allegations against Erickson, and warned her that the issue could lead to her termination. When Zylstra Kaiser pointed out that that Erickson admitted to the conduct, Even chose not to believe her and said he was unhappy with her general work performance. On November 4, 2011, (the same day that Black interrogated the Mette children as Brown County and the DCI revved up their attack on Shirley Schwab and Brandon Taliaferro in the Mette child rape case) Even put Zylstra Kaiser on a 30-day Work Improvement Plan, the nine tasks of which included submitting to a psychological evaluation, “which DCI had linked to her maternity leave even though Plaintiff had returned from leave nearly a year earlier and had received two positive performance reviews and a promotion since then.” The WIP also ordered Zylstra Kaiser to “rebuild positive relationships with co-workers, supervisors, and managers.” Zylstra obeyed, but got the cold shoulder from co-workers, including Black, who allegedly told her on November 8, “We are done. Don’t ever approach me again.”
That lack of cooperation from her co-workers led to job consequences for Zylstra Kaiser:
On December 8, 2011, Assistant Director Dan Satterlee informed Plaintiff she met the WIP’s requirements with one exception: she had not rebuilt positive relationships.
Although she successfully met eight of nine objectives, Plaintiff was involuntarily demoted from Special Agent III to Special Agent II, which resulted in a reduction in her pay.
Plaintiff was reassigned to the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in Pierre, South Dakota, over 150 miles from Aberdeen, effective January 3, 2012. On information and belief, Plaintiff is the only agent who has ever been transferred against her wishes [Complaint, 2015.09.23].
Zylstra Kaiser filed grievances over the demotion and transfer with Gortmaker and Attorney General Marty Jackley. Both grievances were denied. Zylstra resigned from DCI effective May 18, 2012. She applied for jobs with the Department of Social Services, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Labor Relations, and private employers but received no offers, because, she alleges, of DCI’s “negative references and misrepresentations about [her] employment, demotion, discharge, and performance.” She filed charges of discrimination in 2014 against those three state agencies who didn’t hire her.
Zylstra Kaiser now charges Gortmaker with reprisal discrimination and sex discrimination under the federal Civil Rights Act and the South Dakota Human Relations Act. She charges Black with tortious interference, meaning he undermined her contractual relationship with DCI to cover his backside. She seeks, among other things, a jury trial, “compensatory relief and damages arising from loss of past and future income, benefits, emotional distress, and other damages, with interest on such amounts, and punitive damages in an amount in excess of $75,000,” and lawyer fees.
An anatomy of the dysfunction under which so much of state government operates. Makes one wonder if DCI does anything right.
What a filthy, nasty man! Zylstra-Kaiser is doing the right thing by exposing them all. SD women – you don’t have to put up with such nastiness. This is so wrong and. Is this a symptom of the Good Ol’ Boy mentality that reeks throughout the state? Can’t we raise our men to treat women better than this? Come on, people!
I have had numerous interactions with various DCI agents over the past 40 years. While none have involved sexual advances (in either direction), the descriptions of DCI personnel here fit with my observations in general of DCI agents.
I once saw a group of about a dozen DCI agents called from all over the state to testify at a trial as they arrived and gathered in a courthouse lobby. They greeted each other with an extended ritual of feigned nut-grabbing and knee-lifts-to-groins that would have appeared immature among 10-year-olds, and was performed in front of the county treasurer and auditor windows.
Agent Kaiser’s accusations are credible to me.
It appears the DCI & AG offices are incapable of investigating themselves, much less being trusted to know what right looks like, then do it.
So you’re saying, Bob, don’t just feign it?
Cops lives suck. Little wonder that the misanthropes on the public dole who infest the halls at DCI are thuggish, criminally insane, entitled white guys living under their own rules instead of under the law.
It is time to clean out the pot.
Demented Criminal Infantile for their acronym.
To all the men out there that need advice on how to treat women in the workplace, I’ll give you a clue. Learn from the gay men. I have worked with the nicest, most decent, sweetest homosexual men and can tell you that I much prefer them over some straight guy that thinks he’s god’s gift to women. Gay men in MN are very open now when it comes to gay equality and all I can say is that the world has been a better place for me for having met these decent men.
Powers spins this story because Dan Kaiser is a constant burr under the establishment machine’s saddle, and because establishment crony Marty Jackley is running for governor.
Thanks for the real story on this Cory.
Disgusted that Mrs Kaiser had to put up with such criminal behavior by a co-worker and then her supervisors. Let’s hope she gets a judge that isn’t in the tank for the administration.
Anyone know if Marty has to recuse himself from this case before a federal judge?
Grudz proves again (s)he is a POS.
Don’t be too hard on PP, he probably just doesn’t know how to pull up the complaint. It will be interesting to see how much this one will cost as the ag’s office will probably have to farm out the defense of this.
yeah, this is pretty much how sexual harassment is handled in this state, right grudz?
$20 says this thing never goes to court and is settled for an undisclosed ammount.
Or maybe by an amount of ammo….
It looks like an impossible trial to get a verdict. He said, she said, with the DCI boys holding the stay out of trouble card in the form of shared talking points. Unless she has some kind of admissible digital evidence shes screwed.
Remember, her life will be an open book before they would get through, and those low lifes arent just setting around playing racehorse pitch. If she did something wrong, like breaking the law to catch someone breaking the law, that would be enough. That seems to be SOP for the DCI for a while now.
It looks to me like she will be the one that is really on trial. They sure dont need to kill her. Not when they intend to use her to send a message.
No need for me romanticiz about the DCI, in my relationship with Kevin Thumb there was no love. All you need to know about him is that he is an habitual liar.
It boggles my mind that adult males would behave that way. There are some parts of SD where women are treated with respect and dignity. My country ranch church in northwest SD was like that. Women were simply good, important, worthwhile people who were smart and valuable. It was a wonderful atmosphere.
That’s hard to find in SD. It’s extremely rare that I hear women made fun of or harassed here. Maybe it’s the places I go or the people I know. But i doubt it. Jenny, how about Rochester?
A couple years ago I was visiting friends in RC and overheard a group at the next table making fun of the women there. It caught my ear because it was so unusual to me. I looked around to see if anyone was noticing. No. I asked my friends if what they thought about the other table. They hadn’t noticed because it was a routine event.
That’s too bad for SD and a real reason people leave. I hope Zylstra Kaiser rips them to shreds.
November 4, 2011 and Mark Black.
I think it important we look at the big picture and the intricate timeline that comes into place with Laura’s sexual harassment lawsuit and the criminal acts by the same state players in the Schwab Taliaferro malicious prosecution case.
Over the past couple of years, Laura and I have compared our particular time lines along with documented facts and discovery.
By doing so, it has become clear that on November 4, 2011, Mark Black was given marching orders to get rid of a few individuals who were about the expose the state of wrong doing that would ultimately lead to major lawsuits against the State of SD.
On November 4, 2011, Laura was in Pierre and aware of all of the state player (regarding her case and ours) that were present in Pierre as well.
Meanwhile, Mark Black was in the Brown County DCI interrogation rooms going after the Mette children in a strategic attempt to get them to change their stories.
When watching the recordings of those interrogation videos, Mark Black can be seen receiving text messages and phone calls (along with occasional breaks while leaving each of the children alone for long periods of time in the cold, scary and isolated rooms) during the entire interrogation process.
We believe the interrogations were live streamed to Pierre with someone feeding Black intimidating, confusing and attacking questions to ask the Mette children.
Laura and I believe Black was given his marching orders on that day (November 4, 2011) to get rid of her case along with the Schwab Taliaferro case, partially supported by the following:
During the November 4, 2011 off camera recording of Black and Ross Erickson, you can hear the following:
Black: “I have so much to lose. Yea. They got both in front of me.”
Erickson: “Stick with me – I’ll take you to the promised land.”
We believe the ‘both in front of me’ were our individual cases.
That video can be seen and heard at:
As a reminder, I filed a criminal complaint against DCI Agent Mark Black for perjury and other related felonies on March 13, 2014 and ironically – he was fired by the AG on that same day.
Since then, Mark Black has stated he never contacted or interviewed by law enforcement or the Attorney General’s office regarding my criminal complaint and only learned about it after the SD AG had dismissed my complaint as reported by news media.
For the record, I was never contacted or talked to by the AG’s office about my criminal complaint and I also heard about the dismissal of my criminal complaint by the AG from news media.
I wish Laura well with her lawsuit as this has been a long and exhausting road for her and her family. Through it all, Laura has continued to handle this nightmare with strength, grace and determination and is to be commended for bringing attention to these horrific actions. Most importantly Laura has the truth on her side.
Lastly, Laura’s lawsuit is about sexual harassment, discrimination, intimidation and the retaliation that followed after she tried to report it. To say this lawsuit is about SD Representative Dan Kaiser is merely a distraction to the real story.
There might be more to the this story than what we see here. We are only seeing one side of the story. Let the defendants defend themselves in a court of law. They are innocent until proven guilty based on a preponderance of the evidence.
MC, a preponderance of evidence shows that kind of behavior is common place. This is one of those rare situations where the accused should be guilty until they prove themselves innocent. I know that’s not the law, but frankly, these kinds of situations make me so angry . . . . .
The deck is so stacked against the accuser. Child abuse cases ought to have the same standard.
Clearly you must understand the difference between a court of law and the court of public opinion.
There is nothing in our legal system that says the public can not scrutinize public cases and come to our own conclusions. It happens everyday all over this country, yet when republicans face heat they yell there is another side to this story (without telling it) or that the perp must be proven guilty.
Clark is pounding sand into our assets. There will be no trial and South Dakota will settle for an undisclosed amount of cash.
Anyone believing Marty and the DCI want federal probes of their white boy’s club is delusional.
Imagine Marty Jackley complying with a federal judge to hand over DCI emails, people.
The author Claire Wolfe once said “America is at that awkward stage; it’s too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards.” My Family and I have spent years trying to report a case of $800,000 of fraud and theft to DCI in South Dakota. My Mother first reported these crimes to agent Joshua Bobzein who was so horrible that I actually had to file a criminal complaint against Bobzein. I filed a criminal complaint for Misprision of Felony (SDCL 22-11-12), Obstruction of Justice and Willful Failure to Perform Official Duty (SDCL 3-16-1) regarding: (SDCL 23-3-19) (SDCL 23-3-16) (SDCL 23-3-14) (SDCL 23-3-15) (SDCL 23-3-12) (SDCL 23-3-13) (SDCL 7-16-7) (SDCL 23-3-27) (SDCL 1-12-1) and (SDCL 34-20B-63). I reported the criminal complaint to Director Gortmaker, Mike Rounds, Dennis Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley. I also tried to initiate the “Commencement of Proceedings for the Removal of Law Enforcement Officer upon written complaint of a citizen of the State” (SDCL 3-17-6) with “Service and Notice to SD Attorney General of the Waiver of Sovereign Immunity (SDCL 21-32-18)” of the Defendant, but a corrupt Judge in Beadle County illegally prevented the Clerk of Courts from filing it. I have personally met with supervisor Jason Even who demonstrated that he was a complete idiot who didn’t know the first thing about law enforcement or criminal investigations. And I have met with Jessica Page, who despite appearing to sincerely want to help the crime victim, was completely incompetent. So, the bad guys got away; not because they were clever criminal masterminds, but because of the corruption and incompetence of SD DCI Law Enforcement. We would have been better off reporting these crimes to the Girl Scouts. (no offense to the Girl Scouts). Thanks.
As Shirley Schwab points out, Ms. Zylstra Kaiser was going through her experience at the same time the DCI and AG office were performing on the Taliaferro-Schwab debacle, and Black’s conduct is a matter of a trail transcript which leads to the judge dismissing the case against them with specific mention of Black’s performance being one of the reasons. It will be difficult to defend Black and anyone who tries to use his words and actions as credible evidence. Ms Zylstra Kaiser encountered the same players involved in the events that led up to the malicious prosecution of Taliferro-Schwab, including Kim Dorsett. This lawsuit, wherever it leads, provides another window on the corruption that oozes from every crevice in state government, Benda, EB-5, the GEAR UP matter, and much other business the current regime in Pierre is involved in. The DCI will get its day in court, but the question is how to give many other apparent miscreants their day in court. This law suit may lead the way.
The only way this will ever before a jury is if Ms. Zylstra Kaiser asks for more than Marty is willing to pay: it’s just that simple.
Think about it: NorthWestern Energy is reaching an agreement with PUC commissioners whose campaign coffers they fill while Mike Rounds pushes for legislation that pads utilities like NorthWestern Energy and Xcel who are paying off his campaign debt after he promised to be the 9 million dollar man.
You poor bastards.
South Dakota has a criminal for a governor just like voters wanted. The Children’s Home Society is a front for raising cash just like the Governor’s Club has been.
Why South Dakotans stand for it remains a mystery.
I get it.
We have a woman who is making some very serious allegations against a group of men.
We have only heard one side of the story and based on that, and they are part of the current administration, you folks have already tried, convicted, and sentenced them. The only thing left is for involuntary sex reassignment
I have seen situations were women have threaten sexual harassment, to get what what they want. There have been other situations where the woman will start conversation and steer in way to get a man to say something he normally wouldn’t. Then those comments would be taken out of context and used against them.
The court of public opinion is different than court of law. In the court of public opinion, the truth doesn’t matter, only how it is spun. The sentence is always a lifetime sentence of shame.
If all of this is true, then they deserve everything they have coming to them. If not, it really doesn’t matter, their lives might as well, be over. They will never be trusted again.
Sad, really, we were the greatest country on earth, and we can’t even get this right.
MC-you got your story ass backwards. In a court of law under one party rule,the truth is whatever the one party decides it is. Wingnuts are spinning a tangled web and one day they will receive their just rewards. A friendly little safety reminder-don’t play around pitchforks and torches.
I acknowledge MC’s point that there is surely more to the story. Indeed, we are reading here only the complaint. We need to get Gortmaker, Black, Erickson, and Jackley speaking on the record to what happened. When they speak, I will report.
But MC, I am inclined to think that the “more to the story” may well follow the lines that Shirley and David lay out for us. The coincidence of the administrative attack on Zylstra Kaiser and the legal attack on Schwab, Taliaferro, and the Mette children suggests a connection, a multi-front push by Brown County an DCI to shut down potentially damaging lawsuits.
Deb G, I could never see this good ol’boy mentality happening in MN. Maybe it was around in the old day, but not now.
There are just too many smart capable women in power. MN Attorney General Lori Swanson wouldn’t put up with it.
Clark bemoans an America moving forward under a black Democratic president but supports the criminal actions of Denny Daugaard in a crime-ridden, disease-prone chemical toilet like South Dakota: how bipartisan.
MC has taken the typical male republican position here, doubt the woman’s credibility and worry about future of the men involved. It is easy to figure out, the men all have the same story so they must be right and the lady a lunatic out to ruin their careers.
In our society we do have courts of laws that seek the truth, in South Dakota justice is what the republican party says it is, and we also have the court of public opinion which can be as valuable as a court of law.
If I’m reading MC correctly, he wants the media out of the daily political and civic activities of our society until a court of law has determined innocence or guilt.
I mostly agree with you Jenny. And the U of MN has added the Affirmative Consent Sexual Activity standard. That’s a wonderful policy.
MC, the deck continues to be stacked in favor of the rapist/molester/harasser. Incremental steps have been taken to give the victim a little better chance. You cite a few anecdotes, and I’m sure instances happen. Women are not perfect. The cold, hard, fact remains, males perpetrate more than 90% of the sexual crimes. I’m not sympathetic to the cry of males being “picked on.”
Males write the laws in every state and DC. Males need to change other males. Women and children can’t do it.
Keep in mind that I have several wonderful male friends whom I respect and enjoy. I am also well aware that the large majority of males are not sexual criminals.
MC, how often do you talk with your male friends about the need to strengthen sex crimes laws, make sure all the rape kits get tested, put more money into child protection, really go after dead beat dads, etc? How often do you contact your legislators and Congress people about these issues? Comment on blogs in support of these things?
Yeah, I thought so.
@Roger Cornelius Curious when you did your nation wide survey that supports your asinine assertion? Mrs Kaiser is in fact Rep Dan Kaiser’s wife, a noted male Republican, who obviously supports her. You slime every other Republican male because MC’s naïve embracement of the establishment, in his bid to be named as Hickey’s replacement?
It’s likely that Mike Clark isn’t crazy enough for Daugaard by somebody like Roger Hunt or Allen Unrubb might just be insane enough for Denny.
Ms. Geelsdottir, I support all those things. I say so here and now. Did you know the U of MN has a very active police force of their own to try and fight back all the horrible crimes that are occurring on that campus? If we blogged about every one of those crimes it would be 100 times the volume of blogging that Mr. H can issue forth.
UM has more students, faculty and staff than the population of Rapid City.
Indeed, Lar. Indeed. Run some stats on ethnic crimes for us, wouldja?
You’ve already gotten more of my time than I usually give you, sock puppet.
Then I win, Lar.
I am just curious about something.
Do any of you know the complex and exhausting process Laura Kaiser had to go through before she could actually file this type of complaint in both Federal and State Court? I have not only watched and observed her efforts these past 3 years but supported her every step of the way as well.
Don’t take my word for it – just Google it and perhaps you may have a little different view on the entirety of Laura’s sexual harassment lawsuit against the State of SD.
I just do not understand why everyone must make this about politics because it is not. Nor is it about what is happening at the University of Minnesota.
This is about corruption in the State of South Dakota and it is because of strong and determined individuals such as Laura Kaiser that this type of unacceptable behavior will finally be exposed for what it is.
Laura’s complaint will be heard in both South Dakota Federal and State court proceedings. In the meantime, let us all take a breath, put politics and rhetoric aside, and support this courageous young lady. She has been through hell and back and she deserves all of our support as she goes forward.
I truly doubt it many other individuals would have endured what she has and kept on fighting to get to this point.
Gina Score died for South Dakota’s sins.
Denny Daugaard and Marty Jackley can already see Hell from their decks, Ms. Schwab: if only it was from prison cells.
Excellent point Shirley. Mea culpa.
Brady Folkens’ ashes should be divided up and ground into the carpets at the governor’s mansion and at Marty’s house.