- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - An Alaska lawmaker was cleared but not totally exonerated Tuesday for his actions in separate allegations of sexual and physical harassment at the state Capitol in Juneau.

The Senate Rules Committee released a report from the legislature’s human resources department that found state Sen. David Wilson did not violate the Legislature’s harassment policies when he placed a cellphone near the hemline of the skirt of a female House staffer trying to keep Wilson from listening outside a closed-door meeting.

Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth’s office separately Tuesday released a letter saying that the state would not pursue misdemeanor harassment charges against the Wasilla Republican after he slapped a newspaper reporter in a stairwell.

Before the rules committee started in Anchorage, Wilson declined to comment on the attorney general’s decision, saying he had not seen the letter. After the committee meeting, he refused to answer questions.

Vowing to be transparent, the rules committee voted to release both the human resources report with some redactions and an accompanying report from a lawyer for the Legislature. However, the committee did not release the security footage from the Capitol, which human resources manager Skiff Lobaugh used extensively to base his findings.

Senate Rules Chairman Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican, refused to answer when asked why the video was not released.

A Senate majority spokesman later said a separate legislative body controls release of the video, but did not immediately details what efforts the Rules Committee took with the Legislative Council have the video released along with the human resources report.

A public records request submitted by The Associated Press to obtain the video last month was denied.

Lobaugh investigated after hearing reports of an alleged incident that Wilson used a cellphone “to record ‘up-skirt’” of the female aide keeping Wilson away from a closed-door hearing outside the House speaker’s office on June 15. Such an act would be a violation of the Legislative Council Policy on Sexual and Other Workplace Harassment.

The aide told the investigator the incident made her feel uncomfortable, but she did not want to file a complaint. Lobaugh decided to move forward because employers can be held liable if they know about possible complaints and do nothing to follow up.

Lobaugh said he interviewed Wilson and the female aide and reviewed accounts of reporters and what they said they witnessed.

He also reviewed the security footage of the incident, and determined that Wilson did take his cellphone out and lowered it to the height of the woman’s skirt. However, the report said Wilson kept the phone a foot or two away from the aide and did not physically touch her or the skirt with his hand or phone.

The phone was at that level for four seconds, and Wilson left the area after the aide accused him of trying to take a photo up her skirt, according to the report.

Lobaugh concluded from interviews with Wilson and others that he only intended to record the meeting that was in progress, but the report does not indicate why a state senator would do that since it involved House personnel.

While Lobaugh found the incident did not violate any workplace policy, it put the staffer in an untenable position because of the non-equal stature of legislators and aides, who can be fired for no cause.

“While Senator Wilson may have been acting with joking and friendly intentions his actions and comments still put the HSE (house staff aide) in a stressful no-win predicament,” Lobaugh wrote.

Wilson was also accused of slapping reporter Nathaniel Herz in a Capitol stairwell on May 2 when Herz asked him about a story Herz wrote in an Anchorage newspaper about a bill that Wilson had sponsored.

The Juneau Police Department investigated it as a case of harassment and turned its findings over to the Office of Special Prosecution.

In a letter back to Juneau police, the attorney general’s office says there was not enough evidence to prove it was Wilson’s conscious objective to harass or annoy Herz.

“This in no ways (sic) implies that Senator Wilson’s conduct is not of concern, but rather that the resources necessary for this prosecution is disproportionate to the conduct, especially since the Legislature has the authority to address this conduct through other means,” the letter says.

Herz told The Associated Press that he would not second-guess the decision from state lawyers.

“It doesn’t change my feelings that reporting it was the right thing to do and registering that it wasn’t OK,” said Herz, a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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