Report: House lawmaker sent inappropriate text messages

State Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, also made jokes about an employee’s sexual orientation, a report says.

State Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma

State Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma

By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

OLYMPIA — An outside investigation has found that Rep. David Sawyer sent a House employee multiple “inappropriate and offensive” text messages over a period of three months, according to the executive summary of a report released Monday.

The summary, written by Elizabeth Van Moppes of Beresford Booth law firm, also says that he made comments and jokes about another House employee’s sexual orientation, and used employees’ time to discuss a newspaper’s investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him. His actions violated the House’s policies on harassment, decorum and ethics, according to both the executive summary and a separate one-page summary by House attorney Alison Hellberg.

In an email, Sawyer wrote that it was “clear that I messed up and that it’s time for me to acknowledge some personal mistakes.”

“I messed up. I didn’t mean to, but I did, and I’m sorry,” he wrote. “I commit to taking these findings to heart and change my behavior to earn back the trust I have lost.”

The report —which was not released in full — comes a month after Sawyer was suspended from his position as chairman of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee based on initial findings House leadership learned about while the investigation was ongoing. In an email sent to Democratic House members sharing the executive summary Monday, House Democratic leaders wrote they are recommending that he be permanently removed as chairman. A meeting of the caucus to discuss that has not yet been set.

While two dozen people at the House, including current and former legislative assistants and staff members, were interviewed during the investigation, the executive summary only details the information shared by three women who had brought forward allegations against the Tacoma Democrat between last November and this past February. The investigator noted in the report that the women’s names are not used in the report because they feared retaliation for participating in the investigation.

The first woman, referred to as “Witness One,” told the investigator that Sawyer sent her texts and ignored her lack of interest that was “displayed in both actions and specific words.”

“He disregarded her stated requests that he ‘shut it down’ and pressed her with unwanted attention,” the investigator wrote. “Both his conduct and his intentions were sexual in nature.”

The investigator also found that Witness Two, who had alleged the sexual orientation jokes, was required to discuss the negative press he was receiving, including after work hours, which she wrote likely violated state policy on use of state resources for private purposes.

“I find that Witness Two extended copious energy managing the workload of Rep. Sawyer’s emotional reactions to his personal problems,” the investigator wrote.

The third witness also was subjected to discussion on the news stories about the allegations, and the investigator wrote that he used her time “to retell his political dating history.”

“Even after being told by Majority Leader Sullivan that doing so was improper, and after apologizing to her for making her uncomfortable, Rep. Sawyer asked Witness Three if she wanted to chat about the strategy being recommended by his consulting attorney and crisis manager,” the investigator wrote.

The investigator wrote that while she found all three of the women to be credible, “there are a number of times where Rep. Sawyer’s testimony is contradicted by text messages and thus his veracity is left lacking.”

The separate one-page summary of the full report written by the House attorney mentions incidents not detailed in the executive summary, including allegations that Sawyer texted and “drunk dialed” multiple women at inappropriate hours. Recommendations of the investigator include more formal training on harassment and reporting, and more formal tracking of who has attended the training.

Earlier this year, public radio’s Northwest News Network and The News Tribune/Olympian reported that several women had accused Sawyer of inappropriate or harassing behavior both before and after he was elected to the Legislature in 2012. The executive summary notes that scope of the investigation was limited to Sawyer’s time as an elected member of the House.

Sawyer’s interaction with staff has been restricted since February, and House leaders said Monday that restriction continue and he will not be assigned a legislative assistant. The investigator’s finding that he violated ethics policy was also being referred to the Legislative Ethics Board, House leaders said.

Sawyer is up for re-election this year, and Democrat Melanie Morgan, a Franklin Pierce District school board member, has filed to run against him and has already picked up key Democratic endorsements, including from Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

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