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Gov. Hickenlooper on Hancock sexual harassment allegation: 'Our laws probably aren't sufficient'

Posted at 11:54 AM, Mar 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-06 21:01:00-05

DENVER -- Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on Tuesday addressed a Denver police detective's claim that Mayor Michael Hancock sent her sexually harassing text messages, saying it's not his place to call for the mayor to step down.

In an interview with Denver7 in February, Leslie Branch-Wise said Hancock made inappropriate comments and sent her harassing text messages in 2012, when she was working on his security detail. Hancock said he doesn't believe his behavior was sexual harassment but he apologized, saying he realizes now that it was inappropriate.

In response, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police is calling for Hancock to resign and asking for an independent investigation into the city's public safety leadership.

When asked to comment on the controversy Tuesday morning, Hickenlooper said he had not spoken to Hancock since the story broke and he isn't in a hurry to call on the mayor to resign.

"As close as I can tell, there's no laws broken," Hickenlooper said. "I think the key here is looking at, what are the qualifiers, what allows someone to do their job successfully and how is the public responding to this information? And exactly how does that individual react? Do they apologize? Do they take responsibility for their actions? That stuff's still sorting itself out."

Hickenlooper also suggested that changes might be needed at the legislative level to fight harassment in the workplace.

"As we get into issues around the workplace and people's rights to be able to work in a place without being intimidated or somehow undergoing behavior that's really inappropriate, our laws probably aren't sufficient to what people -- the public -- really expects now," he said. "And I think that's one of the issues that's going to come up…it's already coming up in certain ways in the state legislature."

Just last week, Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled from the Colorado House over explicit sexual harassment allegations levied by five women against him that were deemed to be credible by an outside investigation.

"This process, what we saw with Rep. Lebsock and what we're seeing with Mayor Hancock…I mean, this is really, honestly, a very difficult process for everybody to go through, which is probably making us healthier," Hickenlooper said.

Hancock has not announced any plans to resign and a spokesperson from the mayor's office called the FOP letter a "scare tactic" and said union leaders have "never supported the reform efforts by Mayor Hancock."

The Denver Women's Commission released the following statement Tuesday on its Facebook page:

The Denver Women’s Commission is troubled by recent allegations of sexual harassment against Mayor Michael B. Hancock. As a Commission dedicated to empowering Denver women and girls, we believe that harassment—in any form—is unacceptable.

We at the Denver Women’s Commission hear you. We see you. Calling sexual harassment by its name, whether jointly perceived or not, ensures that victims feel supported and safe to come forward.

The Denver Women’s Commission stands in full support of all courageous individuals, like Police Detective Leslie Branch-Wise, who so bravely came forward to shine a light on this pervasive behavior. We also stand with the victims who have made the decision to remain silent due to circumstances outside of their control.

On this day, March 1st, we met with Mayor Hancock to speak truth to the privilege of his power as a leader of our City and how abuse of that power causes systemic damage.

Enough is enough. We are dedicated to creating change. Denver’s women deserve better.