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Senate GOP asks DA to investigate harassment claims

Senate Democratic leader calls it an 'attempt to delay and distract' from current process

Posted

Amid a cloud of sexual-harassment claims and investigations that has lasted months at the Capitol, state Senate Republicans called for claims of unwanted sexual touching to be investigated by the Denver District Attorney's Office.

“When allegations of unwanted sexual contact are raised, we have no doubt they should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law,” Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, said in a news release. We “are calling on Denver District Attorney Beth McCann to launch a full-scale investigation into these allegations of sexual harassment by both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.”

The announcement comes as Grantham criticized investigation reports by the Capitol's third-party, non-criminal investigators, saying there are problems with their “reliability, accuracy and fairness” and accusing such reports of having apparent bias. Grantham leveled that criticism in a statement regarding an investigation of state Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, who was accused of sexual harassment by a former state House intern.

If the DA found evidence to prosecute criminal sexual misconduct, and lawmakers were found guilty, Republicans would move in the House and Senate to expel those lawmakers, the release said. Former state Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, faced a vote to expel him from the House in the what was the first expulsion of a House legislator since 1915. The House voted to expel Lebsock on March 2.

Currently in the Legislature, the non-criminal investigators evaluate claims that may or may not equate to criminal violations and present findings that top lawmakers use in their decisions to issue punishments.

A source at the Capitol who spoke on condition of anonymity said Senate Republicans would still consider punishments if the current independent investigations suggest a lawmaker violated the Capitol's workplace-harassment policy, the current standard against which claims are weighed.

As of the March 1 announcement at the Capitol at 10:30 a.m., the Denver District Attorney's Office had not been contacted about the Senate GOP's request. And Senate Republicans had not contacted the office about the allegations against lawmakers before that, according to Ken Lane, spokeman for the DA's office. It received a letter from Grantham at about noon requesting that it open an investigation on lawmakers in the Senate or House.

The DA's office sent a letter to Grantham's office the morning of March 2 clarifying that the DA does not have jurisdiction to "investigate or enforce civil matters or workplace policies."

Sexual harassment that meets criteria for criminal sexual assault or unlawful sexual contact should be criminally investigated "apart from the separate authority" of the Legislature to investigate allegations of misconduct on its own, the letter said.

The DA's office “encourages any victim who wishes to report any criminal sexual misconduct by a state legislator that occurred in Denver to file a complaint with the Denver Police Department,” a March 1 statement from the office said, noting that's how the criminal investigative process begins. If “the alleged misconduct occurred in a judicial district other than Denver, the victim is encouraged to contact the local law enforcement agency in that jurisdiction.”

As of March 2, neither the Denver Police Department nor the DA's office has received any complaints or requests for investigation from an alleged victim of conduct in Denver involving state legislators who are being investigated by the Legislature's process, according to the letter.

A Democratic state Senate leader called the GOP's move an attempt to distract from the current process.

"The Legislature's decision to take disciplinary action and whether or not allegations merit a criminal investigation are separate questions,” Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, said in a statement. “To suggest otherwise is an attempt to delay and distract from what should be a straightforward process informed by the findings of experienced, objective workplace investigators.

“The potential for a criminal investigation does not remove our obligation to create a work environment free from all forms of harassment."

Senate Republicans said the current investigations by the Employers Council, the private contractor with expertise in employment law that investigates harassment claims under the Legislature's own workplace-harassment policy, would not be stopped as a result of the new request. The source at the Capitol who wished to not be named said the request to the DA comes out of a recognition that the Legislature, and by extension, the Employers Council, is less well equipped than the legal process to handle allegations that qualify as sexual assault — it can't compel witnesses to give input, for example.

It's unclear which claims against lawmakers could rise to the level of criminal misconduct and if both the Employers Council and outside law enforcement would investigate in such cases if claims were to be brought to police.

Bringing allegations of sexual assault by lawmakers as criminal allegations would require, or at least implore, alleged victims to publicly testify in court, a contrast with the anonymity granted by the confidentiality rules in the Legislature's process.

The allegations of sexual harassment leveled against state lawmakers range from innuendos and shoulder-touching to repeated propositions for sex and unwanted touching of buttocks.

Sexual comments or innuendos about a person's clothing, body or sexual activity can constitute verbal sexual harassment, according to the Legislature's workplace-harassment policy. Patting, pinching or intentionally brushing against a person's body can constitute physical sexual harassment, according to the policy.

The list of lawmakers formally accused of sexual misconduct in recent months includes Lebsock; Tate; Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs; Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver; and Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, dismissed the complaint against Rosenthal because he wasn't a lawmaker at the time of the alleged misconduct.

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