Home News and Features Co-op GM to Resign Amid Sex Charges Against Former Employee

Co-op GM to Resign Amid Sex Charges Against Former Employee

Photo courtesy of Hunger Mountain Co-op.
Hunger Mountain Co-op General Manager Kari Bradley has announced his resignation effective Sept. 1. In his announcement dated Aug. 3, Bradley stated the move is in response to a “sexual harassment matter” where he claims to have made “responsible decisions,” but others with opinions on the situation have publicly disagreed.

The case unraveled in recent weeks when it became widely known that Montpelier police arrested Reis Winkeljohn, 27, for alleged sexually inappropriate conduct via social media with a teenage girl who worked under his supervision, according to information from the Montpelier Police Department dated June 27. Winkeljohn’s actions allegedly occurred on April 29 and 30, and involved sending photos of his penis to the teen during work hours and then coercing her into sending nude photos to him via Snapchat by strongly insinuating multiple times she would be fired if she refused. 

The teenager had started working at Hunger Mountain Co-op on April 22. She said the first day went “fine,” but on the second day Winkeljohn asked her about her personal life, making her uncomfortable, according to Sergeant Diane Mathews, a patrol sergeant with the Montpelier Police Department in her sworn affidavit. Then, on April 29 — the third day the young woman worked with Winkeljohn, he greeted her in the morning by asking for a hug, which she rebuffed. “He didn’t seem to like that,” the young worker told Mathews. Next, Winkeljohn allegedly saw the young woman using the social media app “Snapchat’’ and asked for her phone. She allegedly handed him the phone, and he added himself to her Snapchat connections before allegedly proceeding to message her inappropriately throughout the day. Snapchat deletes content after it is viewed, so Mathews said she could not use actual content as evidence, but she could verify that messages were sent between the two. In the messages, the teenage girl told Mathews, Winkeljohn allegedly asked her how many times she had had sex and what her favorite positions were. She gave him some sexual information about herself before cutting off the conversation.

The next day, on April 30, Winkeljohn allegedly sent a shirtless photo of himself and asked her to reciprocate, the affidavit states. He allegedly told her, “if you don’t send it, it’s going to make things at work awkward and I don’t know how long you will keep your job.” She sent him a non-nude photo, and he allegedly responded by sending three different videos of himself masturbating. She started crying, but he allegedly kept asking for more photos until she finally relented. He allegedly continued to send her messages, including telling her not to tell anyone because he could get in trouble and she would lose her job. The victim reported to Mathews that she could not sleep that night and felt disgusted with herself, so she cut him off from Snapchat and reported it to the Hunger Mountain Co-op human resources department.

She also reported Winkeljohn’s alleged sexually inappropriate conduct to her school nurse (at U-32), and to the Department for Children and Families. The nurse told her that another person had reported the same thing had happened to them at the Co-op. In her DCF interview included in Mathews’ affidavit, the victim described how she had “worn a dress to work on Sunday. She walked up the stairs (an open staircase inside the coop) and ‘I noticed him trying to look up my skirt.’” She saw him under the stairs looking up and had to hold her skirt to her legs. The teenager also reported the incident to Mosaic — a nonprofit sexual violence prevention organization in Barre. And, she told her therapist. 

“I don’t know what to do. This is a person in power. I need to report this,” she told Sergeant Mathews. 

When Sergeant Mathews interviewed Winkeljohn, he allegedly painted the teenager as the aggressor, and claimed he was the target of a new employee. He also told Mathews “this isn’t the first allegation of harassment that has been put on me.” Winkeljohn allegedly said the latest victim sent him unwanted explicit pictures, but he did not report it to a supervisor. He at first said he did not send any inappropriate pictures, but then, in a sworn statement, he said, “On Sunday night I accidentally sent a dick pic to (the victim), the 15-year-old at the Co-op, but it was not intentional, it was intended for someone else.” He then said he was sorry and that he did not want to pursue the underage girl. 

Also, at one point, Hunger Mountain Co-op Human Resources employee Elly Wood allegedly asked the teenage girl to come in to discuss the matter without her parents. However, she did bring a parent to the meeting. She allegedly was told not to tell her friends or discuss it on social media, but the victim said she made it clear she would not stay quiet about it because she knew it had happened to others and she wanted to prevent it from happening again.

Mathews then obtained documents from Hunger Mountain Co-op’s human resources department pertaining to Winkeljohn by using a subpoena. “I found Winkeljohn displayed a pattern of behavior with female workers,” Sergeant Mathews reported. Between May 28 and June 17 six reports were made to HR about comments Winkeljohn allegedly directed at them about sex, sexual orientation, sexual comments, and their bodies. The complainants ranged in age from 16 to 22. Sergeant Mathews said four of the six complainants quit working at the co-op because their complaints were deemed to be unfounded. In fact, all six reports were deemed unfounded by the HR department according to letters Mathews obtained from the co-op to all six complainants — all dated July 12, 2023. However, in a supplementary affidavit, Hunger Mountain responded by saying they did discipline Winkeljohn by retraining him in their sexual harassment policy. Additionally, those four workers who quit said they did so because they were continually scheduled to work with Winkeljohn despite their reports. It is their opinion that “nothing was done” in response to their reports, the supplementary affidavit states.

After the most recent victim reported her story to Sergeant Mathews, another teenage girl decided to do the same. That person, now 18, said Winkeljohn allegedly invited her to drive with him to Burlington with her hands down his pants. She was 16 at the time. He also told her multiple times he wanted to have sex with her. This earlier complainant took a screenshot of the Snapchat conversation she had with Winkeljohn, which depicts an explicit and insulting exchange between the two, with him calling her a dumb b**** who he wants to f***.

The interviews and evidence led Sergeant Mathews to believe charges were in order for the misdemeanor of disseminating indecent materials to a minor, and the felony of luring a child by requesting and coercing his younger employee to send nude photos through threats of getting her fired. 

Law enforcement later cited Winkeljohn into Washington County Superior Court July 20 on charges of sexual exploitation — luring a child (felony), disseminating indecent material to a minor (misdemeanor), and disturbing the peace by phone (misdemeanor). He pleaded not guilty at the arraignment and was released on the condition he stay away from the victim and any other females under the age of 18. Other conditions include to not use Snapchat with any female under the age of 18, nor have any contact with the victim or any other female under the age of 18 “in writing, by telephone, e-mail, or through a third person regardless of whether you are in jail or released.” The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail, a $10,000.00 fine, or both.

Hunger Mountain Co-op Council President Eva Schectman essentially defended Bradley’s decision making, writing, “The Co-op’s leadership team investigated complaints related to the former employee and took appropriate action according to Co-op policies, given what we knew and learned at that time.” Schectman went on to acknowledge harm was caused, and the council will be committed to prevent it from happening in the future.

As a result of this situation, Co-op member Marni Liekin started a petition Aug. 4 on change.org asking for at least 150 signatures in order to prompt the Hunger Mountain Co-op leadership to hold a special meeting “regarding sexual harassment and other issues.” The petition had 305 signatures as of Aug. 6. “The more signatures the better, as a statement of no confidence in the Co-op management and council,” Liekin stated on the petition request. To be discussed at the requested meeting would be two motions, one to terminate the following management employees: Kari Bradley (general manager), Kevin O’Donnell (operations manager), Jay Wisner (HR manager), Elly Wood (assistant HR manager), and Rihanna Weiss (front end manager).

The second motion would be to dissolve the current co-op council and replace it with a new slate of representatives if “evidence shows complicity” regarding any knowledge and advice the council may have given management regarding “repeated sexual harassment at the Co-op.”

According to Liekin’s petition, Hunger Mountain Coop bylaws state that the council must convene a special meeting upon receiving a request for one by petition signed by 150 members, which amounts to 5% of membership. The council will hold the meeting to deal only with matters warned in the notice of the meeting, which must be held in Washington County at a time and place they designate within 45 days of the request.