The Denver City Council doesn’t plan to use its investigative powers to look further into the text messages sent by Mayor Michael Hancock to a police detective in 2012, according to Council President Albus Brooks.
The announcement comes two weeks after Hancock admitted to sending the suggestive messages, which Det. Leslie Branch-Wise described as sexual harassment.
The council is the only body of city government with the power to punish or investigate Hancock in this case, as we reported earlier. They won’t use that power, and they won’t push for an independent investigation — in part because Hancock and Branch-Wise seem to agree on what happened, according to Brooks.
(The texts said she was “sexy” and that Hancock’s friends thought Branch-Wise was “fine,” among other statements. Hancock has apologized for the texts, but denies they were harassing or that he made sexual advances.)
The council feels “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,” Brooks wrote.
Twelve of the 13 council members were briefed on Monday behind closed doors about the matter. They learned more details about a $75,000 settlement that was paid to Branch-Wise and a $200,000 settlement to Wayne McDonald, a mayoral aide who was fired after Branch-Wise raised allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. (McDonald denied that he had harassed her and later sued both her and the city.)
The settlement with Branch-Wise included a “standard release of any future claims,” meaning she can’t sue now, per Brooks’ letter.
“Council stands against any kind of sexual harassment or otherwise to any person and we commend Det. Branch-Wise on her courage and conviction,” Brooks wrote on behalf of the council.
“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.”
The letter denied that the council members had any prior knowledge of the text messages.
Councilman Rafael Espinoza called earlier this week for an investigation of the scandal, but he now supports Brooks’ letter, he said.
He acknowledged that any of the council’s committees could use investigatory powers, but he said on Wednesday that wouldn’t be feasible.
“Technically, we could investigate with a majority of any committee, but we are not qualified investigators and establishing an objective would be a challenge,” he wrote in a text message.
The council also could have pushed for an independent investigation. That would have required the support of a majority of the full council, he said.
“However, based on the fact that a new investigation would put the victim back under scrutiny makes it easy for me support the position we took regarding an investigation in our letter. I believe that given cultural shifts, a different conclusion might be drawn (than what) was historically accepted, even with the exact same evidence, but that alone isn’t reason to reopen settled matters,” he continued.
An attorney for McDonald, the fired aide, may keep the discussion going. He argues the city violated its settlement agreement with McDonald as it discussed the new scandal.
Hancock said in his recent apology that he had fired a “member of his staff” in 2012 after Branch-Wise originally raised the issue of sexual harassment.
The attorney, William Sulton, said that statement violated a non-disparagement clause that McDonald and city officials had signed.
Sulton planned to “request a public name-clearing hearing at which the people of Denver will hear the entire story,” he wrote in an email earlier this month.