Report alleges many Ethan Allen sexual assaults in 1960s, '70s
28 residents interviewed in yearlong probe
Town of Delafield — A yearlong investigation by the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department has uncovered shocking allegations of sexual molestation at Ethan Allen School for Boys in the 1960s and 1970s, including the alleged assault of several juveniles by the superintendent of the institution, clergy and other staff members.
The Sheriff's Department interviewed 28 former residents of the facility, and 17 of those made allegations that they had been sexually assaulted, some saying they were repeatedly molested. However, there will be no prosecution of the alleged perpetrators due to the statute of limitations, said Sheriff's Department Capt. Karen Ruff.
Roland Hershman, who was superintendent at the time and the focus of the investigation, emphatically denied any wrongdoing and suggested that the accusers had ulterior motives.
"I did nothing improper with any kid," he said in an interview with a reporter. "I never hurt a kid or touched a kid sexually. That's all I can say."
Ruff said the Sheriff's Department's job was to investigate the matter and collect information, not to draw any conclusions. "If the matter was not beyond the statute of limitations, the report would have been forwarded to the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office to determine if there should be charges," she said.
Allegations by eight men who were at the juvenile facility - then known as the Wisconsin School for Boys - said Hershman sexually assaulted them on many occasions, according to a 200-page report by the Sheriff's Department. Nine other men interviewed by investigators claim they were assaulted by other staff members at the institution or at other state facilities.
The report details dozens of alleged incidents of sexual assault, including numerous incidents of sodomy, oral sex and other molestation.
One of the victims told police he was molested "hundreds" of times by Hershman, now 86, of Green Bay. Another alleged that Hershman assaulted him daily, according to the report.
Hershman's work was highly respected, to the point that the Wisconsin Correctional Association gives out an annual award in his name.
Despite no possibility of prosecution, Ruff and the Department of Corrections agreed that a probe into the allegations was needed. The DOC is conducting its own investigation. The status of that investigation could not be learned by press time.
"Even though it is outside the statute of limitations, we agreed it still needed to be investigated and documented," Ruff said. "The victims needed a voice."
It is unclear whether the alleged victims may still file civil lawsuits.
The names of the victims and all but one of the alleged assailants were redacted in the report. Only Hershman's name was not redacted.
Letter initiates probe
According to the report:
The allegations came to light in a November 2009 letter to a social worker from a man seeking release from prison.
The man described a life of abuse at home and at Ethan Allen. At home, the man said, his father "brutalized him physically." The man said his father shot his mother in the head in front of him and his siblings.
The man was sent to the juvenile facility when he was 12 years old, and not long after he arrived in 1966 he claims to have been assaulted by Hershman. After each incident, Hershman allegedly slapped him so hard he fell backward, the report said. The man was eventually sent to the Green Bay reformatory school in 1969 by Hershman, as he was "no longer in the category of the young boys Roland Hershman preferred to molest," the man wrote in the letter to the social worker.
That letter was forwarded to the Department of Corrections, which in turn contacted the Sheriff's Department in February 2010. Sheriff's detective Robert Wepfer has spent more than a year on the investigation.
Wepfer interviewed 28 men who were housed at Ethan Allen during the 1960s and 1970s. Eight of those interviewed claimed they were assaulted by Hershman, according to the report. Of the eight, six were in the state prison in Waupun at the time of the investigation, and one was at another facility. Nine others claimed they were assaulted by a staff member at Ethan Allen or at another institution, the report said. Wepfer noted there was some difficulty corroborating information as some witnesses and victims are deceased and some records from that period are not available.
Also, a number of the individuals were hesitant to disclose any alleged sexual assaults by Hershman, the report said.
Ruff said it is not unusual for victims of sexual abuse to be ashamed or embarrassed to report such crimes.
"There is a high percentage - I don't have the number - of sexual assaults that go unreported," Ruff said. "They don't want to go through the process. There is shame and embarrassment."
That is more true for men, she said, especially those involved in same-sex offenses.
The allegations by the eight men include:
A man who said he was molested on "probably hundreds" of occasions by Hershman. The man was in and out of Ethan Allen in the mid-1960s to early 1970s. Another, who was at the facility in the late-1960s, said he was assaulted on "a number of occasions" by Hershman, while another man said he too was allegedly assaulted on "a number of occasions" during the mid-1960s by Hershman.
Another claimed he and another resident had to perform sex acts in front of Hershman, while Hershman allegedly performed a sex act, the report said. The other resident is now deceased. The incidents allegedly occurred in the late 1970s.
Another man claimed he was inappropriately touched in the late 1960s, while another claimed he was assaulted on multiple occasions from the late 1960s to the early 1970s by Hershman.
A man told police he was allegedly assaulted in the early 1960s on multiple occasions and the eighth man said he was allegedly assaulted on multiple occasions in about 1977 by Hershman.
Of the nine who claimed to have been assaulted by other staff members, the allegations include one who said he was molested by a counselor, and was also molested by multiple individuals at a nearby religious institution where he was taken. He said "probably others" were also molested at that facility, according to the report.
Another said he was molested at Ethan Allen as well as assaulted at the Kettle Moraine Correctional facility in Plymouth and the Green Bay Correctional Institute.
Others claimed being assaulted by "numerous staff members," including a teacher and counselor, and one alleged that a "deacon or priest" who came to the facility molested him at the facility in 1982 or 1983, the report said.
One counselor allegedly involved in an assault at Ethan Allen in the mid-1970s was later arrested that year in connection with a separate incident outside the facility for child enticement. That person was arrested in January 1983 in Milwaukee for lewd and lascivious behavior and in 1985, also in Milwaukee, for first-degree sexual assault, the report said. The man was convicted and died in Waupun in December 1989.
Like Santa Claus
While some of the victims did know each other, others did not, according to the report. The stories have a similar theme, with many of the victims either not having a father or having an abusive father. Many were in and out of Ethan Allen. The men recalled Hershman as being generous, giving gifts, and described him as loving and caring. One said Hershman was like "Santa Claus," while another said he was "like a dad to him."
Another called Hershman "smooth" and said there seemed to be a "conspiracy regarding sexual assault of children" at the facility. The man provided investigators with 50 names of youths he thought had been assaulted and said there were probably more than 200 victims, according to the report.
Another victim, who claimed he was assaulted on "almost a daily basis" by Hershman, said Hershman would make him feel like a "special person," the report said.
The man said he was also assaulted at KM Correctional, Green Bay and Waupun state prison, where he was allegedly forced to engage in sex acts in the chapel. The man said he was released in 1971, when the state Supreme Court ruled a juvenile could not be held in an adult state prison, such as Waupun.
The man, who was in prison at the time of the interview in 2010, said "people messed me up."
Hershman would take some of the youths to McDonald's or Big Boy, to Milwaukee Bucks games or other activities, the report said. But other trips were not as innocent, according to some of the residents.
One man, who was in and out of Ethan Allen several times from 1966 to 1972, recalled repeated sexual abuse. The man recalled being taken by Hershman to a seminary in 1972, where he played a game like hide-and-seek. The man said he was assaulted by eight or nine men at the seminary, according to the report. The man did not know the name or location of the seminary.
The man also said Hershman took him to a party where the man wore a mask and something like a diaper and engaged in sex games.
Several of those interviewed recalled Hershman taking them swimming at the Waukesha YMCA, where they swam in the nude, allegedly in front of Hershman.
A reporter contacted Hershman at his residence by phone Tuesday and asked about the allegations.
"That's completely false," said Hershman. "All I can think is they are looking for some money."
Asked whether the men making the allegation made up the stories, Hershman said "yes." Hershman said he never had any type of sexual relationship with a youth.
Ruff and Wepfer questioned Hershman. The investigators said Hershman was "unemotional" and talked in a "flat tone," they noted in the report.
Hershman told them there had been one claim of molestation in the early 1960s, but an investigation cleared him.
Hershman also told the officers that he did take the youths swimming on multiple occasions, and they did so without trunks, because "it was the times," the report said.
Hershman said the most he ever did was put his arm around a boy. Hershman, who never married, said he had never had a sexual encounter with a man, according to the report.
Hershman's work at Ethan Allen has been recognized through the Roland C. Hershman Award for meritorious dedication to the field of juvenile justice, which is presented by the Wisconsin Correctional Association.
"This award recognizes an individual in the public or private sector who has provided leadership for change of youth involved in the juvenile justice system," according to the WCA website.
Charles Cole, director of the DOC, did not return calls seeking comment.
Ruff said this is "one of the most involved cases" of sexual abuse investigated by the Sheriff's Department, and gave kudos to Wepfer. "He did a phenomenal job," Ruff said. Wepfer has been working as a sensitive crime detective for years.
"It is very disturbing," said Ruff of the allegations. Ruff said Ethan Allen now has in place a number of measures to ensure such incidents do not happen. Ruff said she did not know what protocols were in place at the facility during the 1960s or '70s.
Ruff said there have been probes into other alleged assaults at the facility and "Ethan Allen has cooperated fully."
The more recent cases, however, were "nothing to this extent," she said.
Future of Ethan Allen
The future of the Ethan Allen is uncertain. Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget calls for closing the juvenile detention facility in the Town of Delafield as well as Southern Oaks Girls School in Racine in favor of consolidating juvenile operations at Lincoln Hills School in Irma near Wausau.
State Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) of the 33rd Assembly District has suggested the property should be sold.
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