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Vilas Zoo director faces sexual assault case

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SEATTLE (WKOW) - The director of the Henry Vilas Zoo Thursday waived her right to a speedy trial in a sexual assault case in Washington in connection to an incident at a Seattle conference in 2018.

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Ronda Schwetz, 51, is next scheduled to appear in Seattle Municipal Court August 19. The misdemeanor charge against her is Assault-Sexual Motivation. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of one year minus one day in jail.

Seattle Police reports state a UW-Madison professor who was a subordinate to Schwetz at the zoo attended a conference by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums with Schwetz in the fall of 2018. The reports say budget constraints led Schwetz and the man to share a hotel room.

The man told police on Sept. 23, 2018, Schwetz returned to the hotel room "very drunk" and ultimately began to assault him. "Ronda grabbed...and started groping him to the point that it started to hurt," the report states.

Reports state on Sept. 24, 2018, Schwetz also returned to room intoxicated and "...got on top of him and grabbed." The police reports say the man was able to stop her, but later, after he went to bed and was asleep, "woke up and Ronda was fully nude and on top of him."

The man told police he was from a country in Europe and working in Madison on an H1 Visa and under Schwetz's supervision, and would be deported if he lost his job. He said his concern for his position also prompted him to wait until June 2020 to report the alleged sexual assault, when he was no longer working as a subordinate to Schwetz. The man is no longer on the faculty of UW-Madison.

Schwetz's attorney, Chloe Anderson has yet to respond to a request for comment from 27 News.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi installed Schwetz as Zoo Director in June 2012.

Dane County Administrator Greg Brockmeyer says Schwetz is on a voluntary leave of absence. He says Schwetz's annual salary is $122,741. Brockmeyer says accumulated vacation time is being used to pay Schwetz during her leave.

Brockmeyer says the man who maintains he was sexually assaulted by Schwetz was interviewed in a separate, personnel investigation. "(Man) did not raise any of the new allegations....during his interview with the County. Director Schwetz strongly affirms these allegations are false. We support her decision to take a leave of absence, and will ensure that the Zoo remains a strong asset to the community during her leave."

In the Seattle Police reports, the man also states Schwetz acknowledged during the conference the man had walked in on her while she was having sex with someone on Vilas Zoo property.

Police reports also say the man told officers the CEO of AZA reprimanded Schwetz for straddling a man in a hotel bar and unbuttoning his shirt during the conference. AZA spokesperson Ashley Jones has yet to respond to a request for comment from 27 News.

The man has also filed a lawsuit against Schwetz over her alleged actions.

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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