Investigator says state senator did not ‘upskirt’ staffer

Legislative Affairs Agency concludes Sen. David Wilson held cellphone at skirt’s hemline, not below it

Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, is seen in the Capitol on April 5. Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file

An internal legislative investigation has concluded that Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, did not sexually harass a legislative staffer in a June incident but did put her into an “uncomfortable situation” that was a “stressful, no-win predicament.”

 

A redacted version of the report, dated Nov. 30, was released Tuesday after a unanimous vote of the Senate Rules Committee. Members of the Democratic Senate Minority voted for its release alongside members of the Senate’s predominately Republican majority, of which Wilson is a member.

The investigation was conducted by Skiff Lobaugh, the human resources director of the nonpartisan Legislative Affairs Agency. It began in November, after Jeff Landfield, an Anchorage blogger and former political candidate, reported that Wilson placed his phone between the legs of a skirted staffer while attempting to record a closed-door meeting.

The incident was witnessed by the Empire and by a reporter from KTVA, as well as others.

According to the Empire’s recollection, written five months after the June incident, Wilson approached the doors leading to the meeting room reserved for the Speaker of the House. At the time, a closed-door meeting of the House Majority caucus was taking place as lawmakers tried to avert a statewide government shutdown.

Wilson pressed his ear against the door, apparently joking that he was listening in.

The staffer interrupted Wilson and asked him to stop. The staffer walked between Wilson and the door and physically blocked him from approaching the door.

Wilson brought out his cellphone and either recorded or pretended to record audio through the door. According to the Empire’s recollection, Wilson reached his phone through the staffer’s legs to access the door.

A security camera video showed otherwise, Lobaugh wrote.

According to video footage, Wilson lowered his cellphone to the height of the skirt’s hemline and about one to two feet away from the skirt. Wilson did not touch the skirt or the staffer, and the phone was lowered for four seconds. After the staffer spoke up, he left the area.

The staffer did not want to talk about the incident at the time, and she did not file a complaint. She never alleged the incident amounted to sexual harassment.

Independent verification of the video is impossible without a court order. The rules set by the Legislative Council explicitly prohibit security camera video from the Capitol from release to the public.

Lobaugh concluded that Wilson’s actions “did not fit the definition of hostile work environment sexual harassment,” and did not violate the policies set by the Legislative Council, which sets the rules for the Alaska Legislature.

While the incident didn’t violate the law, Lobaugh found that the incident was extraordinarily uncomfortable for the staffer because of “the unequal status, in the legislative workplace, of legislative staff and legislators.”

Legislators cannot be easily removed from their jobs, but staffers serve at will and can be fired without cause.

“In that climate there is extra pressure on employees to refrain from reporting or objecting to conduct they may perceive as inappropriate,” Lobaugh wrote.

Since knowledge of the June incident became widespread, the Legislature has assigned a subcommittee to drafting new policies for dealing with the reporting of workplace harassment.

Wilson held a press conference last week in Anchorage, after he had been told of the report’s conclusions, but before the report was released to the public.

“I hope we can give people the benefit of the doubt before we rush to judgment. I have continuously denied these appalling allegations that are being peddled about me. It did not happen,” he said at the time.

In his report, Lobaugh concluded that the incident and subsequent investigation are “unlikely to have a signficant negative effect” on the staffer involved in the incident, because the staffer doesn’t interact regularly with Wilson.

The staffer disagrees with that assessment.

“I never asked for this to be investigated and never accused Sen. Wilson of anything, yet, somehow in some people’s minds, I’m to blame for this,” the staffer told the Empire. “This has been a pretty horrible experience from start to finish.”

In a separate matter also decided Tuesday, the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions declined to charge Wilson for slapping a reporter in the Capitol.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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