Department store Santa has prior sexual assault conviction - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Department store Santa has prior sexual assault conviction

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COLUMBUS (WKOW) -- Parents brought their children to the Shopko Hometown store in Columbus on Saturday to meet and get their pictures taken with Santa Claus.

What they couldn't have known is that Santa was a 59 year-old man who pleaded no contest to sexual assault in 1985.  A Madison police report cites that Sidney Johnsrud, who now lives in Wyocena, was investigated for assaulting a 15 year-old girl in February of '85.

"He was sentenced to five years probation and he did serve one year in jail, but with Huber," said the sister of Johnsrud's victim.

That sister called 27 News as soon as she heard Johnsrud was playing Santa Claus over the weekend.  She believes Shopko should have known about the sexual assault and not allowed him to be in close contact with children.

"And I think that they should have questioned that further and contacted him and asked him, what that was in regards to," said the sister.

Shoppers we spoke with outside the store Monday were also in disbelief.

"I think he should be let go and, yeah, I don't believe they should be having him here," said Cathy Ballweg.

Managers at the store referred us to Shopko's corporate office in Green Bay.  A media spokesperson would only release the following statement: "Thank you for contacting Shopko and giving us the opportunity to respond.  We value all our customers, including the Columbus community.  We do conduct background checks on our employees.  However, we do not comment on specific employee matters."

That response did not satisfy the sister of Johnsrud's victim.

"If they allowed him to be Santa, because they didn't do a thorough background check, who knows what they're gonna do and what kind of excuses they'll make for him," she said.

We asked the Shopko spokesperson if Johnsrud was still employed at the store or if he would play Santa Claus again.  She referred us back to their prepared statement.

Sidney Johnsrud was also convicted on two felony counts of possession of a firearm in 1999.  Both that and the 1985 sexual assault conviction are listed on the Wisconsin Court System's public records website.

27 News called the Columbus Shopko and spoke with Johnsrud by phone Monday afternoon.  He said he had no comment on our story.

You can view the court record on Johnsrud's sexual assault conviction by clicking here.

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