Colorado Senate President calls for Denver DA to review sexual harassment claims at Capitol

Posted at 11:42 AM, Mar 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-01 20:02:36-05

DENVER – Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham on Thursday called for Denver District Attorney Beth McCann to investigate some of the sexual harassment allegations made against several state lawmakers and for the General Assembly to write another sexual harassment review program that he hopes will be the best in the country.

Saying at a morning press conference that some of the various allegations made against lawmakers from both parties “appear tantamount to assault,” Grantham and fellow Republicans called for a higher standard for elected officials.

Grantham called for a “full-scale” investigation from McCann’s office into the allegations, which have so far been investigated by an outside agency hired by the General Assembly.

Grantham suggested that if McCann were to find that some of the allegations reached the criminal level, that those lawmakers should be prosecuted. He said that if the members were found guilty, that his party would be “prepared to offer resolutions and vote for expulsion” for those members, no matter their party. But a conviction would be the basis for expulsion under the proposal, he said.

He said, however, that “not everything will rise to the level that is tantamount to assault,” and that the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy and investigative process would remain in place alongside the extra facet he hopes McCann will agree to.

“What I am attempting to do is prevent this from becoming – if it is political – from becoming more political,” Grantham said.

Grantham also said that he and party leaders were working to add additional measure to the under-review workplace harassment policy, which has been in the process of being revamped since the first allegations against state lawmakers were made public late last year.

Grantham said he hoped that the additional work will make the Legislature’s policy the best in the country for combating and addressing workplace sexual harassment. The new ideas would be added to the recommendations from the Investigations Law Group, which is set to report back to legislative leadership in April, and voted on by both chambers.

McCann's office received the request from Grantham Thursday afternoon. Read the full letter here.

Colorado has two criminal statutes that could be used in such a prosecution, but sexual harassment is not a criminal offense.

Prosecutors would likely have to charge any lawmaker with criminal sexual assault or unlawful sexual contact, a class 1 misdemeanor in most cases and a class 4 felony if the person uses force, intimidation or a threat to make the contact. Another option would be to charge them with harassment, a class 3 misdemeanor. There is a civil statute for sexual harassment. Grantham noted in the press conference, “I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to be one,” but said legislative counsel had been working on the issue.

Ken Lane, the spokesperson for McCann's office, sent a statement laying out how such cases might be prosecuted should McCann agree to Grantham's request:

Criminal sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact are serious crimes defined by state statute, and are prosecutable by the state’s district attorneys and attorney general.

In Denver, the criminal investigative process begins with a victim filing a complaint with the Denver Police Department, which has a specialized sexual assault unit that investigates whether a possible criminal act has occurred.  Denver District Attorney sexual assault prosecutors work closely with DPD’s sexual assault detectives in helping to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant the filing of criminal charges.  If so, charges are then filed.

The Denver District Attorney’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 to begin the investigative process to determine whether such conduct constitutes a prosecutable crime.  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 to initiate a criminal investigation.

And Senate Democrats scoffed at Grantham's suggestion.

"The legislature's decision to take disciplinary action and whether or not allegations merit a criminal investigation are separate questions. 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," Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman said in a statement provided to Denver7.

"The public rightly expects elected officials to do more than make it through the workday without committing a crime," she continued. "The potential for a criminal investigation does not remove our obligation to create a work environment free from all forms of harassment."

The announcement comes on the same day that the Democratic and Republican caucuses from the state House were meeting to prepare for a hearing, expected to happen Friday, to try and expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, from the House over 11 sexual harassment complaints deemed to be credible by an outside investigator.

Earlier in the morning, Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, blocked a motion from a House Republican that could have sent the Lebsock investigation to an ethics committee, and the House voted to table the motion altogether.

Had the motion succeeded, it would have thrown a wrench into the spokes of the plan to try and expel Lebsock on Friday. But still, since the salacious investigative report into Lebsock’s actions is heavily redacted, some Republicans in the House say they are on the fence as to whether they have enough information to vote to boot him from the chamber.

Lebsock was questioned and got the chance to speak about the investigation at a joint caucus hearing Thursday that followed the early vote on the Republican motion. The caucuses split after the first hearing and will work through the afternoon, setting up a likely vote on Lebsock's expulsion Friday.

Grantham said at the news conference that he himself wouldn’t feel comfortable making that decision based off the version of the report he’d seen, but added that the decision would be up to the House and not him.

But Grantham himself has also been under pressure from Democrats who say he is not doing enough to address the sexual harassment complaints made against his fellow Republican senators.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, stepped down from one of his committee chairmanships in the Senate and agreed to attend sensitivity training after a complaint made against him by a former aide was found to be credible, and with another complaint being threatened.

The outside investigator found Baumgardner “more likely than not” grabbed and slapped the aide’s buttocks and made other unwanted comments.

In a letter from Grantham and Majority Leader Chris Holbert, the two wrote they were “concerned by the inaccuracies, bias, conflicts of interest, and inconsistencies” they say they saw in the investigative report.

Democrats were incensed and drafted a resolution to expel Baumgardner from the Senate, which Grantham has yet to officially introduce.

Aside from Lebsock and Baumgardner, Republican Sen. Jack Tate also faces investigation on a sexual harassment complaint in which he’s accused of making unwanted advances toward an unnamed intern. All three have denied the allegations.

Should the House end up taking up the expulsion measure Friday, it will need two-thirds of the chamber to vote for Lebsock’s expulsion, which was in question as of Thursday. The House as 65 seats, and Democrats hold 37 of them.

Should the vote succeed, Lebsock would be the first Colorado lawmaker expelled since 1915, and the second state lawmaker from across the country since the start of the #MeToo movement to be removed from the state’s Legislature.

The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault on Thursday urged House members to vote in favor of the expulsion measure.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said she supported Grantham’s idea to have McCann prosecute the cases, and said she believed it would be a “crucial next step” toward making the Capitol a place where sexual harassment isn’t tolerated.

“My office will provide assistance at the District Attorney’s request,” Coffman said in a statement. “I fully expect any member of the legislature who is found to have committed sexual misconduct to be removed by the legislative body.”