In the early hours of July 3, 2021, Dessiray Koss, 31-years-old and an out lesbian, found herself alone around the firepit at her home in Green Bay, Wisconsin with prison guard Shane Nolan.
Koss’s sister had met Nolan, 30 at the time, earlier in the evening when they were both with friends bar-hopping, and invited them to continue the party at her sister’s place. They joined Koss around the firepit and she offered everyone a beer.
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About a half hour later, according to Koss, with the rest of the group elsewhere, she offered Nolan another beer, which he accepted. That’s when she says Nolan stood up, called her a homophobic slur, grabbed her by the torso from her chair and threw her into the fire.
According to charging documents filed by the Brown County district attorney, Koss crawled from the firepit and began fighting back against Nolan, drawing the attention of the others. Koss’ sister rushed Nolan, knocking him to the ground and punching him. Nolan lunged for Koss’s throat, choking her as they struggled.
An unidentified neighbor helped break up the fight and took Koss to the hospital for treatment of first, second, and third-degree burns. Nolan fled the property.
Police confirmed Nolan’s identity after Koss recognized him in a photo lineup. He turned himself in the following day after not showing up for work at the Green Bay Correctional Institute, where he was employed as a guard. He has since been terminated.
Nolan was charged with felony battery and misdemeanor disorderly conduct, both enhanced with hate-crime penalties. He is currently free on bond.
Advocates with the LGBTQ advocacy group Diverse & Resiliant are representing Koss in the case. They allege that Nolan had originally believed Koss was a man and attacked her upon learning that she was a woman.
Koss had expected to testify at Nolan’s trial, when Brown County District Attorney David Lasee announced a plea deal that substantially reduced the charges Nolan faced.
“Nolan’s charges originally included felony substantial battery with a hate crime modifier and misdemeanor disorderly conduct with a hate crime modifier,” Koss’ representatives said in a statement. “However, the family has learned that the Brown County District Attorney David Lasee intends to offer a plea agreement to Nolan that drops the felony and both hate crime modifiers. Dessiray, her family, and Diverse & Resilient consider this nothing more than a slap on the wrist.”
Nolan “engaged in a criminal act that could have killed Dessi,” Holly Koss said in a statement. “A person who commits a crime so terrible in which they hold a person in a fire because of their sexual orientation has some serious issues that will now [cause] his victim trauma for the rest of her life.”
If convicted on all previous charges, he could have faced up to 10 years in prison along with up to $25,000 in fines.
The lesser charges meant Nolan could avoid prison time altogether.
At a plea hearing Tuesday, Brown County Circuit Court Judge Kendall Kelley told a packed courtroom he rejected the plea and sent the case to trial.
“A trial poses a significant risk that the matter will not turn out as hoped for or as expected by the victim… but I am going to decline to accept the amended information today,” Kelley said.
Victim advocate Nick Ross told the court Koss would prefer to go to trial.
“The victim did not consent to the plea agreement and we do definitely believe this would go against the greater public interest because this extreme form of violence would present safety concerns to the general public, especially the LGBTQ community,” Ross said. “Also we feel that accepting the plea agreement deteriorates the seriousness of the offense and also promotes disrespect for the law, specifically hate crime laws.”
Nolan faces his original charges of felony substantial battery and misdemeanor disorderly conduct with the original hate crime penalties.
“The notion of a hate crime is not merely that the victim is a member of one of the protected classes, and I don’t think there is any doubt that she is a member of the protected class, it’s whether or not we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was motivated by that fact,” DA Lasee said at Tuesday’s hearing.
“If you look at the hate crime law itself, all of the elements were there,” said Kathy Flores, the director of the Diverse & Resilient Anti-Violence Program. “Today Diverse & Resilient believes we’ve taken a small step forward in honoring what the victim wants, but so far it’s just been a travesty of justice.”
Nolan goes on trial in February 2023.