Ex-volunteer FF sentenced for assaulting child of fellow Wis. FF
Circuit Judge Ellen Berz said Brian Henige groomed the teen girl intentionally
The Wisconsin State Journal
MADISON, Wis. — A trusted friend, neighbor and volunteer firefighter, said by prosecutors to have groomed a 15-year-old girl for repeated acts of sexual assault over a period of several months, was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison.
What Brian Henige did, Circuit Judge Ellen Berz said, was not a "mistake," as he characterized it.
"This was intentional," Berz said. "This was knowing. You knew what you were doing. And you continued it every single time over and over. At any time, you could have said to yourself, what the — am I doing?"
But Henige, 54, did not, Berz said, and had claimed to a state Department of Corrections agent who wrote a presentence report that the girl had been a catalyst for what he characterized as a relationship.
"Any normal adult would have said no," Berz said. "Especially someone who has children of his own."
She called the repeated acts "very aggravated," and said they show a lack of a "moral compass."
"I believe you understood that what you were doing was wrong," Berz said. "The problem is you were unable to regulate your conduct to be in compliance with what you believe was right. And that poses a risk to the public."
Henige was a neighbor of the girl's family and had watched the girl grow up. But starting in 2019, a text message correspondence between the two that had existed more innocently since the girl was 12 years old shifted into more inappropriate areas, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Winter said, such as boyfriends and what she did with them during dates.
"He cultivated the relationship and got it to a place where he felt comfortable sexually assaulting a juvenile," Winter said. Henige also knew the girl had mental health concerns and exploited them, Winter added.
The assaults for which Henige was charged occurred in 2020. The girl said Henige threatened to kill her and hide her body if she ever told anyone what was happening. He was arrested in March 2021 after the girl confided to a school counselor.
In January, Henige pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree sexual assault of a child and one count of possession of child pornography, for possessing a nude image of the girl.
Berz sentenced Henige to the mandatory minimum of three years in prison for child pornography possession with a concurrent five-year prison sentence for the sexual assault conviction. He will be on extended supervision for 10 years after his release from prison.
Winter sought a 10-year prison sentence, while Henige's attorney, Paisley Hoffmann, asked for three years. She argued this was Henige's first contact with the criminal justice system and that he posed no danger to others.
In court Wednesday, the girl said her repeated contacts with Henige went beyond sexual assault and into other forms of physical abuse. She said he blamed the girl's parents for failing to raise her properly.
She said Henige has repeatedly lied about what happened.
"Only one of us is telling the truth," she said, "and I hope it's pretty obvious who it is."
She gave Henige what she said was her "final goodbye."
"The least you can do is sit in jail, not just so you can learn from what you've done but so no other innocent human beings have to know you like I know you," she said. "You're a monster. And you're not sorry for what you've done, you're sorry because it landed you right there. You're sorry because you got caught."
Henige, in a statement to Berz, said he wanted to express his "deepest apologies to the people I have hurt," including the girl, her family and his own family.
"I am deeply ashamed of my actions and the damage they have caused," he said. "I am incredibly heartbroken that I did not seek help for my mental state during the time of these events. I would never have thought I was capable of such actions."
The girl's father said he served with Henige as a volunteer firefighter with the Middleton Fire Department. They were neighbors and their families were friends for 26 years. When Henige remarried, the girl and her father were in Henige's wedding party. They helped Henige move when he sold his house.
"Brian, you were in our trusted circle," the girl's father said. "We had the keys to each other's homes. You were a neighbor of over 20 years. You were a friend. I was a groomsman in your wedding. You were a fellow firefighter that I trusted with my life. ... We trusted you. Little did we know what you were doing. What an awful feeling as a father knowing I was sending the sheep to the wolf."
(c)2022 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)