After more than a month of back and forth, Denver City Council announced on Monday evening it would not publicly investigate whether Mayor Michael Hancock’s years-old flirty texts to a detective constituted sexual harassment.
Detective Leslie Branch-Wise, who served on Hancock’s security detail six years ago, recently came forward and revealed she received a series of suggestive text messages from the mayor in 2012.
On Wednesday, her attorney sent a letter on her behalf saying Branch-Wise was "extremely disappointed" the council has decided not to look further into the mayor's text messages.
Since the publication of the texts, Hancock apologized for his actions ("I never want to embarrass this city" he said in an interview with 9NEWS), the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police asked for the mayor to resign, a city councilman called for a formal investigation into how the situation was handled years ago, council declined to investigate as an effort not to “re-victimize” Branch-Wise and Branch-Wise herself called for an investigation.
The latest in this saga is city council's Monday night decision not to investigate once again, citing "extensive additional legal advice."
"Council is unable to grant Detective Branch-Wise’s request for an investigation. Since we are not the judicial branch, we are unable to make a legal conclusion about the Mayor’s conduct and there are no disputed facts," a statement on behalf of the council from President Albus Brooks read in part.
Branch-Wise's attorney, Sean Lane, disagrees with this, writing in a letter that the council does have the power to investigate and that they are simply shifting responsibility.
Lane goes on to write that the council has missed the point entirely. "The Council has the power to seek the truth, or at least try to," he writes. "It is unclear why the Council does not want to exercise this power."
From approximately August 2011 to March 2012, Branch-Wise worked on the mayor’s security detail, according to court documents. During that time, she filed a sexual harassment complaint against the Special Assistant to the Mayor, Wayne McDonald. The city paid $75,000 in “liability claims” to Branch-Wise in 2013 to settle these claims.
A letter from Kirsten Crawford, a city attorney, on Monday, says the investigation into the texts is "a legal conclusion to be determined by a court of law." Because she settled with the city, she's not allowed "to avail herself of the process where these types of legal conclusions are made," Crawford wrote.
In a statement, the council said each member of the body agreed Hancock’s conduct was unacceptable.
The mayor has told 9NEWS he would cooperate fully with an investigation into his actions; however, it seems like there will not be one.
Read the entire statement from city council below:
“Detective Leslie Branch-Wise requested the Denver City Council to publicly investigate whether Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s texts to her six years ago constituted sexual harassment. Each Council Member agrees that Mayor Hancock’s conduct was unacceptable. Tonight, based on extensive additional legal advice, Council is unable to grant Detective Branch-Wise’s request for an investigation. Since we are not the judicial branch, we are unable to make a legal conclusion about the Mayor’s conduct and there are no disputed facts. In 2013, Detective Branch-Wise waived any opportunity to pursue the legal process where these types of legal conclusions are typically made. Furthermore, the request for an open investigation would be problematic under state law confidentiality requirements.
Council is deeply concerned that there is not a process to make a complaint against a Denver elected official for sexual harassment. Council will lead by example and adopt a clear policy and process for reporting and investigating complaints against a Council Member. We call on the Mayor to follow suit and adopt consistent policies to meet the community’s demand for accountability.
Our attorney will communicate with Detective Branch-Wise’s attorney on this matter.”
The city council's decision did save Denver some money. Last year, the city of Longmont hired an outside firm to look into a claim - which was determined to be unfounded - that female councilmembers were harassed by male councilmembers; taxpayers spent about $10,000 on that investigation.
The full letter from Lane, Branch-Wise's attorney, can be read below: