Suspended state senator files lawsuit as staff complaint against her is released

Document alleges lawmaker made offensive comments about breastfeeding and vaccines

By: - January 30, 2023 5:12 pm
The South Dakota State Capitol, as seen on Nov. 2, 2022.

The South Dakota State Capitol, as seen on Nov. 2, 2022. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

A South Dakota state senator allegedly made lewd comments to a legislative staffer about breastfeeding and said vaccines would harm or kill the staffer’s baby, according to the staffer’s written complaint.

Julie Frye-Mueller (Courtesy of SD Legislative Research Council)
Julie Frye-Mueller (Courtesy of SD Legislative Research Council)

The complaint by the Legislative Research Council staffer against state Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City, was released Monday by Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown. Meanwhile, Frye-Mueller filed a lawsuit against Schoenbeck in federal court, alleging her right to free speech has been violated.

The staffer’s name was redacted from the complaint. The staffer wrote that the incident happened Jan. 24 in her office at the Capitol, and was reported Jan. 25. Frye-Mueller has since been suspended by the Senate, and a committee has been formed to potentially recommend expelling, censuring, disciplining or exonerating Frye-Mueller. The lawsuit from Frye-Mueller asks a judge to reinstate her.

The complaint says Frye-Mueller went to the staffer’s office to discuss a bill draft. Frye-Mueller allegedly asked about the staffer’s baby and whether the baby was vaccinated. 

“I told her, ‘Yes,’” the redacted complaint states. “Without allowing me to elaborate further, she proceeded to point her finger at me and aggressively say that this will cause him issues. She said my baby ‘could get down syndrome, or autism.’ She further went on to say that ‘he will die from those vaccines.’”

Frye-Mueller allegedly went on to ask the staffer whether she is breastfeeding. After the staffer said she is formula-feeding, Frye-Mueller allegedly said the staffer’s husband could suck on the staffer’s breasts to produce milk, and that “a good time for that is at night.” Frye-Mueller then allegedly gestured to her own chest area and motioned to her own husband, who was in the room. “He smiled and nodded,” the complaint says.

Frye-Mueller said Saturday at a press conference in Rapid City that she was offering private advice to the staffer, and that the Senate’s actions are unfair.

The Senate Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion that was appointed last week to review the matter had its first meeting Monday evening and discussed procedure and logistics.


Staff complaint against Julie Frye-Mueller

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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.