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 …
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The list of five state lawmakers formally accused of sexual harassment in recent months includes former Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton; Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs; Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver; Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa; and Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial.
Lebsock was at the center of a controversy that resulted in the first expulsion of a House legislator since 1915. House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder — who was in charge of reviewing the investigation into allegations against Lebsock — released a memo to House lawmakers Feb. 27 recommending a resolution to remove Lebsock from the House. Claims against Lebsock included 10 allegations of sexual harassment — and one allegation of retaliation — by five women, according to that memo.
The investigator for the Employers Council, a law group that investigates harassment claims and facilitates sexual-harassment training for the Capitol, found all 11 allegations more likely than not to be accurate. Such investigations use the language “more likely than not” or “less likely than so” to weigh claims, based on the preponderance-of-evidence standard used in most civil-court cases on equal-employment opportunity matters, the memo said.
Becker found the investigator's conclusions “sufficiently well reasoned,” the memo said.
The Colorado Legislature's workplace-harassment policy pertains to conduct that has the “purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.” It bars sexual harassment, other workplace harassment and retaliation against claims of harassment.
Among Lebsock's accusers was state Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat who filed a complaint against him in mid-November.
The House voted to expel Lebsock on March 2.
Lebsock was running for state treasurer and is still continuing his campaign, its website said as of mid-December. His campaign is listed as active with the state Secretary of State's Office as of March 2.
A former legislative aide filed against Baumgardner Nov. 26, claiming he slapped and grabbed her buttocks multiple times during the 2016 legislative session in the Capitol building during the workday, KUNC reported. The investigation into the claims found them more likely than not to be accurate, KUNC reported.
Rosenthal has faced allegations filed in mid-November by Thomas Cavaness, an organizer for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis' gubernatorial campaign. Rosenthal was a candidate for state House at the time of the alleged incident. House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, dismissed the complaint because Rosenthal wasn't a lawmaker at the time.
In January, a complaint formally brought against Crowder in November by state Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, was found more likely than not to be accurate, KUNC reported Feb. 8. Lontine alleged Crowder pinched her buttocks during a joint legislative session and that he made an inappropriate sexual remark to her during a dinner at a health-care summit attended by lawmakers and lobbyists, KUNC reported.
Amid criticism of the Employers Council from several Republicans, the Senate has moved to using the services of another firm, Littleton Alternative Dispute Resolution, in at least two investigations into sexual harassment, KUNC reported March 1.
Those two formal complaints are against state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, KUNC reported. A complaint filed against Baumgardner in November had already been deemed more likely than not to be accurate by the Employers Council.
Two more formal complaints of harassment against Baumgardner were filed in February, KUNC reported.
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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