State senator denies harassing House staffer in June incident
State Sen. David Wilson lashed out Thursday against claims that he harassed a female legislative staffer in an incident earlier this year, saying he is exonerated by a video and report not yet available to the public.
Wilson, a Wasilla Republican who had asked the Legislative Council to see the video of the June encounter, called a press conference Thursday to tell reporters his side of the story.
“This is a very serious accusation,” Wilson said. “I am deeply saddened by this accusation because I believe the situation that has happened was manipulated for political purposes.”
The incident involves a female staffer who had been trying to keep Wilson from listening in on a closed-door meeting between House members. When she told Wilson to leave, witnesses say he refused and tried to record the meeting through the door – and at one point placed the phone between the staffer’s legs and under her skirt.
The encounter was witnessed and covered by KTVA reporter Liz Raines as well as Juneau Empire political reporter James Brooks, who confirmed her account of Wilson’s actions.
“He took his cellphone and appeared to press it against the door between the staffer's legs," Brooks told KTVA at the time.
Wilson, however, vociferously denied those accounts of the incident Thursday based on his viewing of the video footage, saying he was told by the Senate’s leadership that “the report clears me of any wrongdoing of sexual harassment, and goes into very great detail of why I'm cleared of those allegations.”
“I can guarantee you the video shows my phone is off – it never leaves the waistline of my body,” Wilson said. “It goes from my hand, I'm holding papers, down, comes back up, I never bend down; it does not go to the door, it does not go between anyone's legs. I can guarantee you that shows very clearly on the video.”
Wilson called for video of the June incident, as well as a report on it issued by the Legislative Affairs Agency, to be released to the public to corroborate his account. He admitted that he had not personally seen the report, but had discussed it with Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks).
The leadership of the GOP-controlled Senate said in a statement Thursday that the agency had concluded its investigation of the incident and released a confidential version of the report to Kelly, but further information couldn’t yet be made public.
“Per legal advice, the report may be released through an official committee action,” leadership officials wrote. “Sen. Kelly has asked the Rules Committee Chairman to hold a hearing to discuss the report and consider release. Leadership is first working with legislative attorneys to determine the appropriate form of a release in order to protect individuals involved in the investigation.”
When asked what punishment a lawmaker who sexually harassed someone should receive, Wilson declined to comment.
Juneau Police had forwarded separate charges against Wilson to the state Office of Special Prosecutions for review after he allegedly slapped Anchorage Daily News reporter Nat Herz during a discussion of a May ADN story. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson at Special Prosecutions said no charging decision had yet been reached Thursday in the case involving Herz, but that he expected a decision “relatively soon.”
Asked Thursday about the slapping case involving Herz, Wilson -- who filed for and withdrew from the lieutenant governor’s race earlier this year – said only that “I did not assault him.”
Wilson called for an apology Thursday from KTVA and Raines – but not the Empire and Brooks. KTVA News Director, Janis Harper, said in a single-sentence statement, however, that “we stand by our reportage of this story.”
He also called for House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) and House Rules Committee chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) to step down from their leadership positions over their handling of the incident. The House majority hadn’t responded to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Edgmon had answered sexual-harassment allegations against state Rep. Dean Westlake (D-Kiana) Wednesday with a call for victims of harassment in the Legislature to come forward, as well as a request for clearer guidelines and policies regarding harassment. The Legislative Council said it had created a working group to discuss harassment policies after the June incident.
Late Thursday afternoon Edgmon responded to Wilson's news conference by calling on the Senate to investigate his comments and protect witnesses from retaliation. In a statement, he said:
"Senator Wilson crossed the line of appropriate behavior by using a press conference to chastise individuals who came forward as witnesses to an alleged incident of harassment. I believe this is a violation of the legislature's harassment policy and warrants a serious investigation by the Senate."
He went on to say:
"I feel compelled to set the record straight, I am constrained by confidentiality requirements regarding both personnel matters and discussions which take place during executive session. I cannot comment on the findings of the report, as it is not yet public, and this remains a confidential personnel matter. However, the statements about why I chose to allow this matter to rest this spring are unequivocally false. Executive sessions are confidential, and though Senator Wilson thought it appropriate to summarize my intentions during an executive session, I am not permitted to give a full explanation of context. I will say, it became apparent that I could not both pursue the matter through Legislative Council and respect the wishes of the staffer in question that the matter be kept private and not politicized."
In a statement Thursday, Rep. Westlake said he welcomes legislative efforts to address sexual harassment:
“I can’t discuss the recent allegations made against me because it is a confidential personnel matter,” said Rep. Westlake. “I firmly believe that everyone deserves a safe, healthy, and professional working environment. I sincerely apologize if an encounter with me has made anyone uncomfortable. That has certainly never been my intent. I welcome both the review and update to the legislature’s sexual harassment policies, as well as new training for members and staff.”
Daniella Rivera contributed information to this story.
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