State Sen. Wilson legally cleared in reporter slap, staffer harassment
State prosecutors decided Tuesday not to prosecute a state senator in connection with the slapping of an Anchorage Daily News reporter earlier this year, hours before a legislative investigation cleared him of harassing a female staffer in a different incident.
State Sen. David Wilson said Tuesday afternoon that he had no immediate comment on a letter from Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson, with the state Office of Special Prosecutions, declining to file charges against him in a second-degree harassment case forwarded by Juneau police. According to an ADN story, Wilson struck reporter Nat Herz during a May discussion in the state Capitol of a story Herz had written about him in the now-rebranded Alaska Dispatch News.
"I haven't fully seen that report and so I won't make comments without reviewing that report first," Wilson said.
Peterson based his dismissal of the case on state statute regarding the harassment charge, which requires proving that “the offender acted with the specific intent to harass or annoy.”
“Based on my review of the investigation, it is unlikely that the state will be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Senator Wilson acted with the specific intent to harass or annoy Mr. Herz when he slapped Mr. Herz on May 2, 2017,” Peterson wrote. “Stated another way, the evidence in this case fails to demonstrate that it was Wilson’s conscious objective to harass or annoy Mr. Herz.”
Peterson called the resources necessary to prosecute the case "disproportionate to the conduct," but suggested that the Legislature “has the authority to address this conduct through other means.”
Peterson declined a request to answer further questions on the charging decision Tuesday, saying in an email that "the letter speaks for itself, and we do not discuss criminal investigations aside from what is in the public document."
Reached for comment, Herz said that staff at Special Prosecutions contacted him to explain their charging decision well before the release of Tuesday's letter. Although Herz never received an apology for the slap, Wilson reached out to him soon after the incident; Herz said he feels safe reporting on the senator in future stories.
"He wanted to be clear that he harbored no animosity, and he's treated me respectfully and professionally since then," Herz said. "I'm ready for this to go away and for everyone to get back to work."
Wilson had been in the news last week when he told reporters that unreleased video and a report from the Legislative Affairs Agency exonerated him in a separate June incident. He had reportedly held a cellphone between a female staffer’s legs as he was trying to record a closed-door House session which she was blocking his access to.
Legislative Affairs' report on that encounter, made public Tuesday, described video footage which partially contradicted Wilson’s claim last week that his phone “never leaves the waistline of my body.”
“Senator Wilson lowered the cellphone to a height level with the hemline of [the staffer’s] skirt, at a distance of about one foot to two feet away from the skirt,” agency staff wrote. “Senator Wilson did not physically touch [the staffer] or her skirt with his hand or his cellphone.”
"Witnesses' accounts and the surveillance video were fairly consistent," the report states.
Wilson hailed the release of the report Tuesday, saying he had no further comment on its content.
"I'm very grateful and thankful for the Rules Committee's release of the report," Wilson said. "I hope the report will speak volumes for itself."
Although the report didn’t find that Wilson had violated the Legislative Council’s harassment policy, it said his actions had placed the staffer in an “uncomfortable situation.”
“What clearly made this specific situation uncomfortable was that [the staffer] was placed in a position between doing what she was directed to do by the legislator who employed her, and simultaneously coping with actions and statements from another legislator that were to the contrary of her assigned duty,” agency staff wrote. “While Senator Wilson may have been acting with joking and friendly intentions his actions and comments still put [the staffer] in a stressful no-win predicament.”
Daniella Rivera contributed information to this story.
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