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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, July 28, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Asa George, who worked at WDJT-TV as a morning anchor in 2010, is feared dead after a body was discovered at her West Allis residence.

WDJT-TV staff dealing with death, safety and discrimination allegations


For WDJT-TV CBS 58, its newsroom and the Weigel-owned operation in Milwaukee, it's been a rough year. These past few weeks, we've been tracking reports on a couple different fronts, involving clashes with personnel and management.

Now, in the past 48 hours, a pair of apparently unrelated incidents with a connection to the CBS affiliate have come to the surface.

It would be easy, yet grossly unfair, to group all of these together. It would be haphazard to make connections where none might lie. So, please, take each of these for what they are worth on their own.

At the time of publishing, calls and messages to WDJT have gone unreturned.

Death of a former anchor

In March 2010, WDJT hired Asa George as a new morning anchor to join Shari Dunn in the studio. Before coming to Milwaukee, George worked at the ABC and Fox affiliates in Dayton, Ohio. In 2011, she left WDJT, and in the meantime, did some freelance work at WITI-TV Fox 6.

Earlier this month, concerned friends and family members who hadn't heard from George called police to check on her.

"On 9/6/13 at approximately 10:56 a.m. the West Allis Police Department received a request to check on the welfare of a resident in the 2300 block of S. 58th Street who had not been heard from recently," stated a press release obtained by OnMilwaukee.com today from the West Allis Police Department.

"Officers responded and were able to gain entry into the secured residence."

According to the release authorized by Chief Charles Padgett, the officer located the body of a dead female, but couldn't make a positive identification at the scene due to decomposition.

"Officers, detectives and members of the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's office are investigating to determine the circumstances surrounding this incident to include positive identification and cause/manner of death," the release stated.

The department considers this an open and active investigation, and said that there are no indications of a threat to the community in relation to this situation.

While positive identification of the body has not been made, the Hispanic News Network U.S.A. is reporting that George's brother confirmed her passing on Facebook.

Here is George reporting in Dayton, before she came to Milwaukee:

Resignation over safety

On Sept. 4, former WDJT photojournalist Eric Ellis filed a report with the Milwaukee Police Department about being threatened while he made his way back to his car after covering an anti-violence rally on the city's North Side.

In the report, he described the attempted robbery and death threats made by a group of people that walked up behind him.

On Sept. 11, he sent an email, resigning his position at the station. Mediabistro, through its TV Spy website, ran Ellis' resignation, that spelled out the incident and how he felt unsafe being sent alone to cover stories in the field.

"I feel that the lack of care for the safety of photographers, reporters and MMJs (Mobile Media Journalists) at this station is appalling. I cannot work at a place where I constantly feel unsafe and am sent to unsafe areas alone," Ellis said in his email.

Ellis pointed to an incident earlier this summer where another WDJT reporter had her iPhone stolen while out covering a story. At that time, Ellis wrote, that station managers sent out a message to staffers.

"Even after an email was sent out saying we were not supposed to go to the North side alone, we are sent there alone everyday. The email read: 'Unfortunately today one of our MMJ's was robbed while trying to cover a story on Milwaukee's Northside. While attempting to do an interview the suspect came up behind her and ripped her iPhone from her hand. Thankfully she was not hurt. Until further notice NO one is to go to Northside alone. If we are late to a story or miss it all together so be it. The safety of our staff in the field is far more important.'"

Certainly, there are unsafe areas in the counties that make up the Milwaukee TV market. As a former newsroom supervisor and media executive, I can tell you that managers and organizations are always concerned about the safety of its employees.

Ellis shares his perspective in his resignation letter.

"After my incident, no email was sent out and only a few people knew what happened to me. I am sending this email to make people aware and to submit my immediate resignation from my position," he wrote.

Claims of discrimination

Two different employees of WDJT have filed complaints against the station, claiming they have been the victims of discrimination.

Shari Dunn, who has been with WDJT since 2009, and once anchored the morning news with Asa George, now anchors and reports for the weekend newscasts.

According to news reports, on Aug. 30, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In it, she alleges the station and its ownership have created a workplace environment where white males have favored working conditions compared to her African-American and female peers. She also said that station management has retaliated after she brought the allegations forward.

Carlos Vergara, an anchor and reporter for WDJT and Telemundo Wisconsin WYTU-TV, made a separate complaint against the stations' management. Vergara's attorney Cole White told the Hispanic News Network U.S.A. that his client filed the claim in May that other Anglo anchors with less experience were given the opportunity to anchor on CBS 58.

Vergara, who is fluent in Spanish and English, said that when he was hired, he was told that he would be working on both stations. According to White, the EEOC and Weigel representatives held a mediation meeting, but there was no resolution. Vergara is currently on leave from the station.

According to reports, White, and Dunn's attorney Nola Hitchcock Cross, may now end up filing a class-action discrimination case in federal court, claiming a pattern of discrimination.


Talkbacks

AndrewJ | Sept. 13, 2013 at 11:10 a.m. (report)

I wonder how the Mayor and Police Chief feel about a local organization banning their employees from going to an entire section of the city without security. Wow.

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