|Jeffrey C. Hilgers|
By Ed Treleven
A former Dane County sheriff’s deputy who allegedly began a sexual relationship with a woman while she was in a jail diversion program was charged Thursday with second-degree sexual assault.
Jeffrey C. Hilgers, 42, of Madison, who resigned in August 2013 from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, was also charged with seven counts of possessing child pornography, which was allegedly discovered on his computer as investigators searched it for evidence related to his alleged relationship with the former inmate.
According to a criminal complaint filed Thursday, Hilgers began a relationship in April 2013 with a 42-year-old woman who was in the Pathfinders Jail Diversion Program .
According to the complaint, at the time that Hilgers and the woman first met, she was an inmate in the Dane County Jail and he was assigned to the housing units where she was incarcerated. But the relationship didn’t begin until later, when the woman was at home on the diversion program.
State law forbids sexual contact between correctional officers and inmates because of the supervisory role the officers have over the inmates. In recent years, several guards have been convicted of having sexual relationships with inmates at state prisons.
Guards or correctional staff who have sex with inmates can be charged with second-degree sexual assault.
Hilgers appeared in court Thursday and was released on a signature bond. His lawyer, Brian Hough, declined to comment .
According to the complaint:
The woman told Pathfinders program manager Fran Augustine in May 2013 that she was in a relationship with a sheriff’s deputy who knew she was in Pathfinders.
The woman met with investigators and said that there was nothing going on between her and Hilgers while she was in the jail, where she said she hardly talked to him. But they ran into each other in April 2013 at Capitol Centre Foods and began talking, then exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. They met for coffee that day.
During the interview with investigators, the woman also said, “I just am so afraid that he’s going to get in trouble here and it’s really unwarranted.”
In the weeks that followed, their relationship included sex, she said, but she said she never felt as though he used his position as a sheriff’s deputy to pressure her into sex.
Hilgers told another sheriff’s deputy about the relationship on May 30, 2013, and said that nothing had happened while the woman was in the jail. Hilgers told Deputy Gerald King that the woman was supposed to get off the jail diversion program around April 30, 2013, but her release date was extended.
King told investigators that Hilgers didn’t seem to realize the gravity of the situation until King told him that the woman was still an inmate.
Hilgers told investigators that when he learned that the woman’s release date had been extended, he decided he couldn’t wait any longer and began to see her.
As part of the investigation, investigators got a search warrant and seized two computers from his house, looking for evidence of communication between Hilgers and the woman. A search of the computers turned up eight images considered to be child pornography.
Hilgers is alleged to have possessed the child pornography in July 2011, prior to an April 2012 change in state law that made child porn possession punishable by a mandatory minimum three years in prison.
For crimes before the change in law, there was a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence, but the old law allowed judges to impose a lesser sentence or place offenders on probation if they believe the sentence is “in the best interests of the community and the public will not be harmed.”