A letter released late Tuesday night from the Denver City Council president says they do not wish to further investigate the situation with Denver's mayor and a member of his security detail so as to not re-victimize her.
Earlier in the day on Tuesday, 9NEWS obtained a letter penned by City Councilor Rafael Espinoza to the mayor's office asking Mayor Michael Hancock to launch an independent investigation with a third party.
“This should be done with all due speed to ensure that voters have clarity the conduct of the person occupying the most powerful office in Denver,” Espinoza wrote.
The letter from City Council President Albus Brooks says members of council met with attorneys and learned the legal details - both past and present - of the mayor's reported behavior.
Brooks' statement does not necessarily mean Espinoza's request for an outside investigation has been withdrawn; Espinoza's request was directly to the mayor's office.
Recently, a former member of the mayor’s security detail, Detective Leslie Branch Wise, came forward and revealed she received flirtatious texts from Hancock six years ago.
In a closed executive session this morning, members of the council heard a briefing from the city attorney’s office about the nature of settlements paid out to Branch-Wise and Wayne McDonald.
McDonald, a former friend of the mayor who served as a driver, was paid a $200,000 settlement after he sued the city. McDonald was fired for sexually harassing Branch-Wise but maintained his innocence according to court records.
Branch-Wise received a $75,000 settlement from her claim against McDonald.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Espinoza wouldn’t go into detail about what was discussed in executive session but maintained he still wants a third-party investigation.
“He needs to do this for both us and for himself and the public,” Espinoza said.
9Wants to Know also learned city council members signed non-disclosure agreements during today’s executive session.
“This is not the first time the City Attorney’s Office has had to ask City Council members to sign NDAs where litigation has been threatened and there are legal limitations in place about what can be released publicly,” said Amber Miller, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office.
The full text of the letter released by City Council President Brooks' office Tuesday night can be read below:
The Denver City Council, like many Denver citizens, is concerned about the recent reports of sexual harassment against the Mayor toward a member of his security detail. We want our constituents to know that we take these matters seriously, and we have been working to obtain as much information as possible.
Today, we learned details of the legal environment, past and present, following the reported behavior. The City settled a lawsuit with Mr. Wayne McDonald in August of 2016, after lengthy litigation. Because the legal matter at the time of settlement involved payment of wages, the settlement was paid out of departmental funds and did not require approval by the City Council.
The City settled with Detective Branch-Wise in July of 2013. Because that settlement was paid out of the claims and liability fund, Council did review and approve the settlement by resolution. While there were no claims of sexual harassment against the Mayor at that time, the Branch-Wise settlement also included a standard release of any future claims against the City arising under the same circumstances. Therefore, there cannot be any further litigation regarding the Mayor’s actions at this time.
Because Mr. McDonald’s settlement agreement includes clauses of non-disparagement, and non-dissemination, it is important that Council members (or any city employee) do not violate those contractual provisions. While Det. Branch-Wise’s agreement did not contain the same confidentiality clauses, the parties involved have not disputed the facts that recently surfaced, and we feel strongly that any attempt to further investigate this new matter without her request or consent would be contrary to best practice and risks re-victimizing her.
While we strive to be transparent, City Council members cannot comment further on the legal aspects of these matters given the confidentiality requirements. We want the people of Denver to know that at no time prior to the recent media reports were we aware of the texts currently at issue; we learned of them when you did and have been seeking information ever since.
Council stands against any kind of sexual harassment or otherwise to any person and we commend Det. Branch-Wise on her courage and conviction. Going forward, we are looking at putting processes in place to ensure that we are aware of all settlements that rise to a certain threshold. Regardless of the fund from which it was paid, we want to monitor claims in the city more closely. Again, transparency and accountability are of the utmost importance to us. We will continue to ensure that City employees feel safe to report misbehavior and are free from retaliation. We are continuing to meet with City Attorneys to get answers to our questions. We will do our best to serve the constituents of our city.
- Denver City Council
Albus Brooks, MBA
Denver City Council President