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Jury Awards Zylstra Kaiser $1.2M for DCI Retaliation, Throws Sexual Harassment Bomb at Jackley, Milbrandt, and Lunzman

Division of Criminal Investigation chief Bryan Gortmaker and former DCI agent Mark Black really did discriminate and retaliate against former agent Laura Zylstra Kaiser for complaining about sexual harassment by a Brown County deputy. So ruled a jury in Aberdeen yesterday, which awarded Zylstra Kaiser $1.2 million in her civil rights lawsuit:

The jury awarded Kaiser:

  • $400,000 for mental anguish, emotional suffering and loss of reputation.
  • $311,812 for lost wages.
  • $498,929 for lost benefits.

Through tears of joy, Kaiser’s mother, Dorothy Zylstra of Sturgis, said the verdict served as justice.

“It’s been six years of hell and justice has prevailed,” Zylstra said [Shannon Marvel, “Kaiser Awarded $1.2 Million in Damages from DCI, Former Agent,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.12.15].

A.G. Marty Jackley frowns on sounding the alarm.
A.G. Marty Jackley not sounding the alarm on sexual harassment.

You know who else is from Sturgis who had a stake in this lawsuit? Marty Jackley, the Attorney General who supported his DCI’s retaliation against Laura Zylstra Kaiser by denying her request for a transfer back to Aberdeen and her family from the crappy work conditions to which she was assigned in Pierre after her sexual harassment complaint. Marty Jackley, who at last check, was still supporting his nomination of an accused sexual harasser to the Board of Pardons and Parole. Marty Jackley, who as a gubernatorial candidate wants to be in charge of the entire state workforce.

Sheriff Mark Milbrandt, not fishing for answers about sexual harassment. From Facebook, 2011.
Sheriff Mark Milbrandt, not fishing for answers about sexual harassment. From Facebook, 2011.

Also facing political blowback is Brown County Sheriff Mark Milbrandt, whose former deputy Ross Erickson’s admission that he sexually harassed Zylstra Kaiser appears to have helped persuade the jury in the plaintiff’s favor. Milbrandt oversaw a department that helped exclude Zylstra Kaiser from effective working relationships, thus supporting the false narrative that former state’s attorney Kim Dorsett offered from the stand Thursday in which she portrayed Zylstra Kaiser as a “cancer” that needed to be removed. It appears now that Zylstra Kaiser was the healthy set of antibodies responding to the disease of sexual harassment and retaliation supported by the Brown County Sheriff’s Department that Milbrandt has run since his election in 1994 and which he wants to hold onto for another four years. Milbrandt faces his first challenger since 1994, Aberdeen policeman and legislator Dan Kaiser, whose wife just came into a million bucks that could be used to fund a pretty vigorous sheriff’s campaign.

Dave Lunzman, not speaking up about sexual harassment.
Dave Lunzman, not speaking up about sexual harassment.

The jury may also have thrown some marbles on the floor at City Hall, where former DCI agent Dave Lunzman now sits on the Aberdeen City Council. Zylstra Kaiser’s colleague at the time, Lunzman participated in the secret meeting with DCI agent Black, Deputy Erickson, Deputy Damian Bahr at Melgaard Park on October 20, 2011, the day that Black launched the retaliation campaign against Zylstra Kaiser. Lunzman stood shoulder to shoulder with coworkers to punish Zylstra Kaiser for speaking up about sexual harassment. Can city employees count on Councilman Lunzman to stand up for them if they find themselves subject to sexual harassment?

Ross Erickson admitted yesterday talking about Zylstra Kaiser’s butt (sorry, Laura, to mention that again). The jury’s big award yesterday indicates Erickson, Black, Lunzman, Milbrandt, Gortmaker, and Jackley were all more interested in covering their own butts than in dealing with sexual harassment seriously. Gortmaker’s and Black’s corrupt retaliation against a good cop will now cost the taxpayers (or at least our insurance pool) a lot of money. It could also cost three elected officials their jobs.


  1. Porter Lansing 2017-12-16 07:12

    This looks ripe for appeal. (pun intended) 😉

  2. Dana P 2017-12-16 08:23

    I feel really bad for Laura Kaiser and what she went through. Those years must have been horrible for her. I’m glad that the jury listened and supported her claims, and found that “the boys” were disgustingly abusive and retaliatory. And GOOD for her for not dropping it. Good for her.

    And everything that has been reported in this case, has a similar m.o. to what happens in other sexual harassment claims. Violation happens, victim reports or talks about incident(s), harasser and the “good ole boys” work to retaliate, punish, and otherwise isolate the victim.

    On top of that, the state’s top cop and governor wanna-be gives tacit approval to these actions. Not good, not good at all. More incidents to add to the “South Dakota corruption” pile.

  3. Eve Fisher 2017-12-16 08:40

    Huzzah for Laura Kaiser!

  4. Ben Cerwinske 2017-12-16 08:59


  5. Rorschach 2017-12-16 10:39

    Congratulations to her and her family! She fought the good fight, and surely it was a very difficult thing to live with for so long. The corruption in law enforcement is well exposed by this case and by the Taliaferro/Schwab case. Voters should clean house.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-12-16 10:49

    Dana and Ror touch on the corruption issue. I’m surprised that no one but the Aberdeen paper has hit this story yet. Kaiser’s win puts sexual harassment on the list with EB-5 and GEAR UP as significant examples of corruption in South Dakota government. The major differences are that (1) no one died in this scandal, and (2) the bad guys are being held accountable.

    This story could launch back to our attention the Mette scandal and the persecution suffered by Schwab and Taliaferro at the hands of the same players who rode Kaiser out of the DCI. When asked about corruption in state government, we can point to the Governor’s office, the Attorney General, the Department of Education… it really starts to sound like a long list. Candidates, pay attention, and get voters to pay attention!

  7. Liberty Dick 2017-12-16 10:59

    I don’t know if the state appeals Porter. Do you think Jackley wants this to fester?

  8. John 2017-12-16 11:10

    Good. It. ends. here. now.

  9. Kurt Evans 2017-12-16 12:24

    The South Dakota DCI is a sewer of secrecy, corruption and reckless arrogance, and Marty Jackley is its chief enabler.

    Gene Abdallah is aggressively defaming Tiffany Campbell by making the ridiculous claim that he’s never even met her and publicly condemning her to hell. It seems to me that Kristi Noem would be a stronger candidate for governor than the guy who stands by his nomination of a notorious alcoholic and criminal loose cannon like Abdallah to sit on the parole board.

    I can see how partisan Democrats might want to support Jackley in the Republican primary (for the same reason many of them supported Trump in the Republican primary for president). Please don’t.

  10. Tiffany Campbell 2017-12-16 12:37

    This is a huge win for not only Laura but for all women. Thank you, Laura for standing up against injustice. I am not suprised to learn about Jackley’s role in this, he is a disgrace.

  11. El Rayo X 2017-12-16 13:05

    If Gortmaker and Black had to personally open their check books, a lesson may have been learned. But as long as the State of South Dakota has an insurance company to cover the bill, it’s business as usual.

  12. Francis Schaffer 2017-12-16 13:07

    Cory why will it cost the insurance pool? I don’t believe either Mr. Black or Mr. Erickson was acting in an official capacity as sexual harassment cannot be in their job description nor can conspiracy to retaliate against someone who reports sexual harassment.

  13. Porter Lansing 2017-12-16 13:17

    LD … I think he’ll have to appeal. It’ll take years and he believes he’ll be the Governor during the appeal and can influence the process. Either way, somethings goin’ under the bus.

  14. leslie 2017-12-16 14:08

    Gee, this scandal. Then MCEC scandal. Then EB5 scandal. Daugaard/Rounds/Jackley are beginning to look like idiots.

    Do we think Jackley is easier to beat than Noem?

  15. grudznick 2017-12-16 14:18

    Mr. Rayo X, who is the state’s insurance company?
    The state.
    Ms. Kaiser will get her millions from taxpayer pockets, which means that whomever was responsible cost the South Dakota taxpayers money. Unless the award is to come right from somebody’s personal wallet.

  16. Rep. Susan Wismer 2017-12-16 14:46


    You would be absolutely appalled at the issues for which our state’s public liability insurance pool is responsible. Job description has nothing to do with it: it’s about something that happened in the course of their employment, during business hours, in dealings with co-workers. Taxpayers will pay.

    I wish I understood more about how the Brown County social services/law enforcement/judicial system could possibly have had so many disasters in the last 10 years, but they have done an excellent job of keeping those factors away from the public and this legislator.

    Continuing the musing on lawsuits that cost taxpayers: Conditions at some of our state institutions at certain times are so appalling that life-time incapacitating injuries to and deaths of employees and/or patients/inmates happen entirely too often, and taxpayers pay for that as well. Instead of adequate staffing and compensation levels, Pierre takes its chances and pays only when things go terribly wrong AND somebody sues. It’s cheaper for the taxpayer, and that’s what they vote for. As long as our leaders aren’t honest with taxpayers about the true cost of our “best in the nation business climate,” this will continue.

  17. leslie 2017-12-16 14:50

    Susan-just as important, “life-time incapacitating injuries to and deaths of employees” happens everyday and our diluted unjust Work Comp state laws are paralyzing for those workers supposedly protected.

    Thank you for pioneering running when you did. It looks like a female tidal wave is about to overtake the nation. about time!!

  18. Francis Schaffer 2017-12-16 15:38

    Thank you for the response, yet I view this as not something that happened but as something they/he chose to do. An overt action which was contrary to the laws of this country or written departmental policy. The jury has also chosen who they believe. I believe anyone in a supervisory capacity should be fired as well.

  19. David Newquist 2017-12-16 16:43

    Brown County is just an indicator of how corruption can sprout and thrive. Innocence and justice projects (South Dakota has none of its own) have been asked for help numerous times over the decades, but state’s open records laws and the absence of any sunshine laws or freedom of information laws forms a very opaque door behind which the legal system operates, which cannot be unlocked or opened for public scrutiny, and which is totally controlled by the people who hide their operations behind it. Kaiser’s case gives a glimpse into the character and modes of operation of the various agencies involved. In the Schwab/Taliaferro case before it was dismissed by the judge, we got sworn testimony which detailed who was engaged in corrupt practices and how they went about the business. But even after the malicious and nefarious ways of miscarrying (aborting is a more accurate verb) justice were revealed, nothing was done about it. Multiple counsels for justice organizations have said that disciplinary action against some of the lawyers was appropriate, and the trial transcript laid out a compelling case of malicious prosecution.

    Interviews of people who have encountered the justice system give some insight into the operations. One example comes from the jail. A person being held needs to make telephone calls to contact family, employer, and legal counsel. A family member is informed that money needs to be deposited in the inmate’s account to cover the costs of the calls. The account is administered by some outfit in Texas. It is assumed that each call generates some fees for the company in Texas and the Sheriff’s department. The question is how much does each call actually cost and hoe much are the Texas company and the sheriff’s department claiming as reimbursement?

    Another example: a young person is attacked by another and gets into a fight.. The police are called and arrive after the incident is over. They interview witnesses and one such witness is distraught and confused and uncertain about what she actually saw happen. She said it looked like the young man in defending himself grabbed another person by the throat. She described it to other people as pushing the other fighter away by pushing against the person’s throat. The police sent the tape to the state’s attorney’s office who decided that the description of grabbing the other fighter by the throat was an aggressive act and was a felony. The young man was summoned to the sheriff’s office where he was served a summons but told not to talk to anyone about the case, including his family.

    The young man, of course, talked to his family and was told to get a lawyer. In an initial interview with a defense lawyer, the lawyer said it sounded like a clear case of self-defense and cites a fee. In trying to get ahold of the lawyer to inform him that he has raised the money and to arrange for his preliminary hearing, the young man calls the lawyers office eight times. The lawyer does not return the call or give his secretary any messages for the young man. The young man finally found an attorney, paid a deposit, and the case reviewed. The witness explained to the defense attorney and the state’s attorney that her interview taped by the police was made under stress and confusion that that she did not clearly state what she actually saw.

    However, at the preliminary hearing the defense attorney told the young man that he had talked with the state’s attorney and they offered plea bargain if the young man would plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault. The young man said he preferred to plead innocent and go to trial. The defense attorney told him that would cost upwards from $10,000. The young man did not have access to that amount of money and said he would have to take the plea.

    The real problem is this point. The preliminary hearing is to access the evidence supporting the charge. If the testimony od the witness is withdrawn or revised, this is the time and place to point that out to the judge. The states attorney had been told that the witness had revised and clarified her account, and defense attorney did not bring the clarification up or call the witness before the court so she could explain her clarification. The attorney was informed that what he was doing was a classic case of a wrongful conviction.

    So, the young man was extorted into pleading guilty to a false charge, the attorney did not properly represent his client, but still collected a nice fee. Attempts to obtain the tape containing the witness’ testimony were thwarted with all manner of excuses for why the tape could not be made available. A challenge to the plea would have exposed how many people involved in the justice were not doing their jobs but had a nice little business of extorting plea bargains.

  20. Sick of the cover ups 2017-12-16 23:17

    Why is this not plastered all over the news? Where is Angela? Look what he has cost our state…Not to mention what this agent had to go through. If this is how Marty Jackley “takes care” of the citizens of South Dakota’s interests as attorney general, how in the heck will he be able to effectively and honestly be in charge of the whole state? You can only sweep so much dirt under the rug until it starts to pile up. Vote for Billie Sutton and get some ethics back into our government.

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-12-17 08:17

    Francis, Susan’s explanation makes sense. The suit names Gortmaker in his official capacity with DCI, which would thus invoke agency/risk pool liability. It does not name Black in his official capacity—does that mean he’ll pay out of his own pocket?

  22. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-12-17 08:20

    Thinking about El Rayo’s comment: One would think that if Marty Jackley will support system-wide retaliation against LZK for putting the DCI at risk of bad press (remember, her lawsuit included the charge that DCI’s retaliation kept her from getting jobs in other state agencies like DSS), he would support similar retaliation against bumbling subordinates who cost the state $1.2 million and lots of bad press.

  23. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-12-17 08:29

    LibDick, I guess an appeal is anyone’s guess. Letting this issue die now—drop the appeal, pay the settlement—may be better than keeping the issue hot through the election year. Thinking in crudest terms, $1.2 million could go a long way in getting LZK to pipe down.

    Then again, maybe an appeal has advantages for Jackley and other figures he wants to protect. Keep the matter in the courts, and Laura and Dan may feel compelled to maintain the public silence that they seem to have studiously observed about her complaint while litigation was pending. Dan would have to keep quiet about it during his sheriff’s campaign, and Jackley could make the same bland comment to reporters: “I cannot comment on pending litigation.” Plus, the damage this jury award could do to Jackley could be so great that he could conclude he has to fight it as long as he can.

    How would you weigh the advantages, LibD?

  24. mike from iowa 2017-12-17 09:45

    Happy she got 1.2 mil, but, this is North Mississippi. Let’s see if she can hang on to it. Maybe Mickelson will write a law saying he is the sole beneficiary of any legal judgment awards in your state.

    Can’t citizens petition or referendumb open records law in this sad state?

  25. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-12-17 09:58

    We could certainly initiate something, Mike, but now not until 2019 for the 2020 ballot. We can’t refer anything unless the Legislature passes something related in the coming Session that we need to repeal.

  26. grudznick 2017-12-17 12:27

    So as Mr. Kaiser, the fellow voted in by the Aberdeenians to go to Pierre for them and perhaps soon to be new Sherriff in Mr. H’s town, pads his pockets with taxpayer dollars will he also seek a raise if he stays in the legislatures? That might be double dipping.

  27. Francis Schaffer 2017-12-17 13:13

    So who was the supervisor of record for the task force? Does Brown County have legal or financial exposure? It seems anyone in the chain of command who knew and failed to follow policy or law should be dealt with according to those same policies and laws, including the sheriff and the attorney general. I want this state to get back to no one being above the law. I wonder if Laura has a copy of her personnel file from her time with the DCI.

  28. dale b 2017-12-17 13:30

    if they keep this going via an appeal or another trial it keeps the spotlight on it longer and they could also get a bigger judgement. they will let this go away

  29. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-12-18 21:51

    Francis, note that the actual harasser, Ross Erickson, and his supervisor, Sheriff Mike Milbrandt, were not named as defendants. Thus, Brown County doesn’t bear any of the cost of this jury award. For reasons I don’t know, Zylstra Kaiser chose to sue the DCI chief and former agent Black, not over sexual harassment, but over their retaliation against her for reporting sexual harassment. She also chose not to include Lunzman as a defendant, even though he was in the DCI and the drug task force and appears to have played a supporting role in sharing the talking points devised at the secret Melgaard Park meeting. Perhaps LZK’s lawyers made some very smart choices, narrowing their targets only to the most provable culprits.

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