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Milwaukee County jail guard's stalking allegations persisted over years
When former Milwaukee County jail guard Aron Arvelo was charged recently with two felonies accusing him of secretly recording female co-workers, it wasn't the first time he had run into trouble for harassing women.
Just 21/2 years earlier, officials tried unsuccessfully to fire Arvelo after he was caught stalking a co-worker. But a five-member citizen panel refused to follow the recommendation, putting Arvelo back in his old job.
One Milwaukee County Board member said Friday that the Personnel Review Board erred by returning the guard to the county payroll.
"It's not a close call," said Supervisor Mark Borkowski, vice chairman of the Judicial, Safety and General Services Committee. "This is abnormal behavior."
Records show Arvelo, 26, repeatedly called and sent text messages to a fellow guard beginning in March 2010, even going so far as to move into her apartment building, where he was caught peering into her windows, according to county documents released to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The harassment continued on the job and in the parking lot at the County Corrections Facility-South where they worked, prompting a supervisor to warn Arvelo to back off, records show. But his harassment escalated, with Arvelo following the woman around work, staring at her.
In late 2011, Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. recommended Arvelo be fired for multiple violations, including refusing to follow an order and "threatening, intimidating, coercing or harassing employees."
But the county's Personnel Review Board rejected Clarke's recommendation less than a year later, finding the penalty was "too severe" because of Arvelo's clean record. The board also found that there was "no evidence of (the victim) telling CO Arvelo to leave her alone" — though the report does say the victim had gone to supervisors at least twice.
The order concludes: "In the interest of both parties, the Personnel Review Board strongly suggests that both parties work in different facilities, if possible, to avoid further problems in the future."
The order was signed by board president Coral Pleas, vice president Patrick Doyle and board members H. Fred Delmenhorst, Florence Dukes and Frances Bauer. The first three were appointed by Gov. Scott Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive. The final two were chosen by County Executive Chris Abele.
"That's in the past," said Dukes, who is no longer on the personnel board, declining to comment further.
Abele declined on Friday to comment on the Arvelo case but noted that the personnel board had been a source of concern.
"When I first got to the County, one of the most common complaints I heard from department heads was how difficult it is to discipline employees when those decisions were often overturned by the PRB in a manner that seemed arbitrary," Abele said via email. He has replaced all five board members in the past couple of years.
Instead of firing Arvelo, the personnel board gave him an eight-month unpaid suspension — which he had already served — and put him back on the job.
Tony Gibart, speaking for End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, said it is important to respond immediately to allegations of harassment or stalking.
"Stalkers often escalate their behavior over time when left unchecked," Gibart said. "Escalation in stalking cases takes the form of increasingly disturbing violations of the victim's privacy and personal security."
Within a year of being back on the job, Arvelo's harassment of female co-workers appeared to be escalating — he allegedly secretly recorded women with small cameras, according to court documents.
In summer 2013, Arvelo tossed a camera with an illuminated blue light under a co-worker's skirt, according to a search warrant related to the current charges. Late last year, Corrections Officer Antonio Rivera spotted Arvelo walking out of a women's locker room, the same document said.
It is unclear whether the 2013 incidents were reported to Clarke's Internal Affairs Division.
Sheriff's office spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin did not respond to questions about those 2013 incidents. She stressed that Clarke recommended Arvelo be fired in 2011.
Clarke refused to comment for this story.
In January, female guards found a miniature camera hidden in their locker room. Sheriff's internal affairs investigators recovered video taken of female guards undressing in a locker room.
Video also was taken of the women getting in their cars in the parking structure. According to court records, the video shows a partial view under a woman's dress. Arvelo allegedly set up a camera under the driver's side view mirror.
Investigators also recovered a drawing in Arvelo's locker of one of the women, with a tattoo that would only be visible when she is undressed, according to court documents.
One of the women Arvelo recorded told investigators he hit on her in late 2013 and bought her an unsolicited Christmas present. She described him as "creepy."
Arvelo did not return phone messages last week seeking comment.
His attorney, Susan Roth, declined to comment.
Arvelo, who resigned from his $39,000-a-year county job earlier this year, has pleaded not guilty to two felonies that accuse him of capturing and keeping nude images without permission, and three misdemeanor counts of invading privacy and one for disorderly conduct. He is set to face trial in July.
The earlier case of harassment for which Clarke tried to fire Arvelo unfolded over more than a year, records show.
According to records:
In March 2010, less than two years after Arvelo was hired by the county, he began calling and exchanging text messages with a female guard he worked with on third shift at the County Corrections Facility-South, now called the House of Correction.
The female guard said Arvelo asked her out. She refused, saying she would not date a co-worker. She said they were friends but the relationship was never sexual.
In October 2010, Arvelo moved into the female guard's apartment complex. She didn't try to dissuade him but said there were plenty of other places to live.
In his termination hearing, Arvelo said he had been to the woman's apartment to watch television and for breakfast and she helped him pick out a puppy.
In late summer 2011, the woman stopped texting with Arvelo. Shortly after, Arvelo was spotted standing outside her building, staring into her window for five to 10 minutes, records show. Arvelo then backed up and kept looking into her window. The woman said she later realized someone could see better into her windows from that farther distance.
Arvelo also stood outside of the woman's car at work, staring at her, as she sat inside, the report said.
On Sept. 24, 2011, a supervisor confronted Arvelo about stalking the female co-worker by looking in her window. Arvelo said he "was just walking his dog." The lieutenant told Arvelo to walk his dog somewhere else.
After he was admonished, Arvelo immediately called the woman and sent her a text message, telling her he was obsessed with her. A supervisor changed Arvelo's work location to keep him away from the woman, but Arvelo switched shifts, allowing him to be in the same building as the woman.
On Sept. 28, 2011, Arvelo followed the woman to the bathroom. As she tried to quietly leave the restroom, she encountered Arvelo standing in the dark watching her, the order says. She reported that to supervisors.
Again, Arvelo was confronted by supervisors. "Stay away from (the victim), do not talk to her, just stay away," the supervisor said, according to the report.
Arvelo did the opposite. He texted the woman. He later said he didn't realize being told to stay away by the supervisor was an order. Clarke recommended he be fired a few weeks later.
Borkowski, the County Board member, said there are two problems with Arvelo's case.
First, there has been heavy turnover on the personnel board, making it difficult for the panel to have consistent standards in how it handles disciplinary cases, Borkowski said. Despite that, he said, there also appeared to be no reason for the board to flip Clarke's recommendation in this case.
"This is not brain surgery," the veteran supervisor said. "That was abhorrent behavior."
The Arvelo case has similarities to that of fired Milwaukee police officer Alex Lopez, who harassed and stalked a woman after she broke off a relationship with him.
In that case, however, Lopez was charged with a felony and fired. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received probation. He is appealing his termination.
Arvelo is the third staffer in the sheriff's office to be charged with at least one felony this year.
Another correctional officer has been charged with five counts of second-degree sexual assault of an inmate by a correctional officer. Last month, a sheriff's clerk was charged with felony misconduct in office on allegations that the clerk stole $1,200 in cash that had been paid for restraining orders and other court documents. Both quit their county jobs.
Also, Capt. Keona Garth-Dickens, who oversaw the guards at the County Jail, resigned last month after Clarke tried to fire her for a wide range of salacious and unprofessional conduct — from performing a lap dance on a fellow worker to leaving the jail for lengthy periods with her so-called "work husband" to run personal errands.
Borkowski said the number of incidents was incredible from the sheriff's office, especially given how Clarke likes to run a tight ship.
"I would understand one, maybe two of these a year," Borkowski said. "But it seems like there's something new every other week."