Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham is calling on the Denver District Attorney’s Office to launch a criminal investigation into any sexual harassment charges that rise to the level of sexual assault.
Grantham was flanked by Republican women in the West Foyer of the Capitol, as legislative Republicans and Democrats were meeting elsewhere in the Capitol to consider the expulsion of Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, who is accused by five women of allegations that include inappropriate touching.
Grantham said his request would include any legislator, Republican or Democrat.
Five lawmakers have been accused, including three Republicans in the Senate: Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, Jack Tate of Centennial and Larry Crowder of Alamosa.
Two House Democrats have had formal complaints: Lebsock and Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Denver. The case against Rosenthal was dismissed because the allegation against him occurred before he was a legislator. Rosenthal has denied the charge.
“Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem in the United States and right here in Colorado,” Grantham told reporters. “It is an infection that has spread across our state Capitol, casting into doubt our ability as lawmakers to represent the kind of democracy our constituents can be proud of.
“Of even greater concern, some of these allegations appear tantamount to assault.”
Grantham said his letter to Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, a former Democratic House member, is an official request for an investigation.
Asked by Colorado Politics if the investigation has become politicized inside the statehouse, Grantham deflected and said the public can decide that, but if it’s the case, moving it to a full investigative and judicial process would help remove that specter.
He said Republicans want to work with Democrats in creating a workplace harassment policy for state government that is a model for the nation, and that the criminal investigation would not override what has occurred to date.
But it might when the House votes on the first expulsion in the Colorado legislature since 1915 on Friday.
Thursday morning in the House Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, called for a fuller investigative process with legislative hearings and the opportunity for lawmakers to question investigators and witnesses.
Republicans, and some Democrats, have complained about seeing only a heavily redacted report offered by House Democratic leadership on Wednesday. He characterized the case against Lebsock as “five degrees of hearsay.”
He said lawmakers were in a “shoot-aim” situation without more facts.
Willett’s proposal and Grantham’s request could give Republican lawmakers cover to vote against the expulsion on Friday. Politics is draped around this issue. The chief complainant against Lebsock is Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who is running against Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, in the northern metro Denver district this year.
Republicans have only a one-seat majority in the upper chamber, meaning if Winter wins, and all other seats stay in their current party’s hands, power would shift to Democrats, who have a nine-seat edge in the House.
As Grantham spoke at Thursday’s press conference, Martinez Humenik stood immediately to his right in front of the TV cameras.
Behind the scenes at the Capitol, the political connections and motives of other accusers and investigators have been parsed for accuracy and fairness.
Grantham’s request would open them up to process that could lead to perjury charges if they are found to be untruthful, or any political consorts also could be brought into the discussions.
The process to date has been largely confidential, though some accusers have been leaking drafts of the investigative reports to reporters.
House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, who is leading the expulsion process, said she took seriously Willett’s concerns bout due process.
“I also take seriously the findings in the report and the concerns we have in this body about persons in positions of authority using that position to solicit sex and to put other people, subordinates, in compromising positions,” she said.
Willett’s motion failed 35-26 with three members absent and Lebsock abstaining.
Becker called Gratham’s move a distraction.
“No one is alleging criminal behavior,” she said. “If the only time we’re going to look at such actions is withn it’s a criminal matter, then we’re holding ourselves to a lower standard than the private sector,”
Becker said the only thing that the DA would look at is whether the conduct rose to a criminal level of sexual assault. If House members don’t think the preponderance of evidence presented in the report warrants expulsion, they can vote no on Friday.
“I believe these things happened,” she said.
The Denver District Attorney’s Office issued a statement:
“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.”