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Black leaders rally around state representative after calls for resignation

Supporters of State Rep. Jovan Melton - who Democratic leadership has called on to resign his position after reports of previous domestic violence arrests came to light this week - held a fiery news conference on Thursday calling what's happening to him a "21st-century lynching."

Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, surrounded by prominent African American leaders in the metro area, slammed Democrats in the Colorado legislature Thursday for calling on State Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora) to resign after two past arrests came to light.

“[It’s] a Jim Crow standard of justice by the House Democratic leadership,” Webb said at a news conference, citing other instances when the same lawmakers delayed calling for their colleagues’ resignations in the wake of harassment claims. “We’re not going to allow our own party to be a party to what they’re trying to do to Rep. Melton."

The Denver Post published a report earlier this week on the arrests, both related to domestic violence allegations. According to the Post, Melton pleaded guilty to harassment and trespassing charges stemming from a 1999 arrest. He was arrested again in 2008 on misdemeanor assault charges, the Post said, but that case was dismissed.

The Post report said the 1999 incident involved a college girlfriend, and a judge gave him a 12-month deferred sentence.

Multiple Democrats in House leadership “encouraged” Melton to resign after the report. Even Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis agreed with House leadership.

“I believe in consequences; I also believe in redemption. If somebody committed a crime when they’re young, does that mean they should never stand for public office? If they redeem themselves? If they ask, those who were affected, to make restitution? And then it’s up to the voters," Polis said in a text to Next. "In this case, I think Representative [Jovan] Melton really needs to look himself in the mirror and ask if he can continue to be an effective representative for the people of his district, having lost the confidence of his colleagues and so many voters. I agree with Speaker [Crisanta] Duran and with Majority Leader [KC] Becker that he should take a serious look at resigning."

RELATED | Democratic leadership asks representative to resign following report of domestic violence arrests

“It’s our own party, and the leadership of that party, that decided to be judge, jury and executioner,” said Bishop Acen Phillips. “Most of the time when you talk about sexual harassment, it’s because someone waited 10, 15, 20 years and never reported it. This is not the case.”

"It just makes you think. Are they doing it because he's young and black and victorious at what he does?" continued Phillips. “This is a 21st century lynching of a black man."

While former State Rep. Wilma Webb spoke at length about men who are wrongly accused, Wellington Webb, Phillips and Reverend Patrick Demmer focused on this being a race issue and brought up other cases to show a discrepancy.

State Rep. Paul Rosenthal (D-Denver) was accused of harassment for an incident that happened before he was a representative. There was no investigation because it didn't fall under the purview of the Capitol. In 2016, State Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver) was pulled over for DUI. Video from the arrest showed him mention being a representative to the officer, but no one one called for him to resign.

Former State Rep. Steve Lebsock was accused of sexual harassment by State Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster). Winter went to House Speaker Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) who had a mediation between Winter and Lebsock. After that mediation, Lebsock was promoted to chair of a committee. Winter ultimately came forward with her allegations, and then after it was public, Duran demoted Lebsock. Lawmakers voted to expel Lebsock in March.

State Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) called Democratic leadership weak at Thursday's news conference.

“Because let's not forget that Democrat leadership, particularly Crisanta Duran, knew for over a year-and a-half, Lebsock's conduct and she promoted him to chair of local government during that time period. And then when the news started to break is when she tried to cover her own backside,” he said.

He also said the state party background checks lawmakers when they are candidates for office.

MORE | Amid report of domestic-violence arrests, Colo. lawmaker apologizes, but denies violence

Next reached out to the State Republican and Democratic Parties.

The GOP would not comment, saying it's a question about internal procedures.

A Democratic Party spokesman said, "it is standard practice to vet candidates in targeted and recruited races."

Duran, Becker, and Asst. Majority Leader Alec Garnett (D-Denver) provided the following statement to 9NEWS after the press conference:

“It was a difficult decision to ask Rep. Melton to step down. While we understand that the criminal justice system has not worked for far too many people of color and survivors, race didn’t play a role in the decision making.”

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