Last night, March 27, the Denver City Council met in executive session to discuss the possibility of launching an investigation into inappropriate texts sent by Mayor Michael Hancock to Detective Leslie Branch-Wise during the 2011-2012 period when she was on his security detail. But the members emerged without making any commitment to such an inquiry despite another letter from Branch-Wise's attorney (shared below) urging them to take action.
An announcement about such a probe could come from the Denver City Attorney's Office as early as today. Until then, the council members are practicing message discipline. None of the thirteen tweeted about what went down during their get-together, which took place out of public view.
Earlier this month, council president Albus Brooks stated that "an investigation is not warranted because there are no disputed facts about the case." But he changed his tune after Branch-Wise publicly asked for an investigation.
In a message to Westword sent last week, Brooks wrote, "Based upon recent statements from Detective Branch-Wise, I and other council members have directed our legal counsel to develop a proposal for a potential investigation. A formal vote by council is necessary before we could begin any such investigation. We are listening and we are working. We will know more at the end of the week."
This last prediction proved overly optimistic. In the days that followed, councilman Kevin Flynn remained torn about what exactly there was to investigate, or what the panel could do if wrongdoing were uncovered.
"The charter allows us to do investigations into the conduct of city officials," he told us. "But the problem is, we can't impose a consequence.
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"I guess the investigation would center on whether or not it was sexual harassment," he said, then added, "That's not a factual issue. That's a judgment call — the kind a hearing officer would make if this was being done in the Career Services system. But the mayor isn't subject to Career Services rules, so I don't know where you go with that. ... What we're waiting on now is for the city attorney to suggest a best practice for how to proceed, because we haven't done this in my experience here. So I don't know how it goes. Do we convene as a council and start asking questions? Do we hire an HR professional or consultant to do it for us? I have no idea."
To that end, the council scheduled a chat to take place after its regular meeting on March 27. In advance of that get-together, Sean Lane, Branch-Wise's attorney, sent a letter to legislative counsel Kirsten Crawford in response to a missive sent on March 22; the text from that document is shared here, as well. The latest document, which was copied to multiple media organizations, reads in part, "Detective Branch-Wise has previously advised that she encourages the City Council to investigate the conduct of the Mayor and is fully prepared to cooperate with such an investigation."
In addition, a letter encouraging a "name-clearing hearing" for Branch-Wise was sent to Brooks by William Sulton, attorney for Wayne McDonald, the former Hancock friend fired by the mayor in 2012 for alleged conduct toward the detective that sounded similar to his own. McDonald received a $200,000 settlement from Denver in 2016, and Sulton has said he's planning to sue the city again after Hancock alluded to the sacking in his video apology to Branch-Wise.
We'll provide an update when the City Attorney's Office reveals whether an investigation into the mayor's behavior is in the offing. But even if council members decide to act, they don't collectively seem all that enthusiastic about the prospect.
Continue to see the March 22 letter from Crawford and the reply from Branch-Wise's attorney:
Kirsten Crawford letter:
Dear Mr. Lane:
I am writing on behalf of President Brooks and the Members of the Denver City Council. We are in receipt of your letter, dated March 17, 2018, requesting on behalf of Leslie Branch-Wise "a full and open investigation of the incident that included Mayor Michael Hancock engaging in a perceived pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior."
Please email or mail your client's complaint in writing to me, setting forth all the facts and allegations against the Mayor by close of business Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Council will review your client's written complaint for additional information not known to Council and the public to determine whether further investigation is necessary and warranted.
We understand that your request is for an "open" investigation but sexual harassment investigations are normally conducted in a privileged and confidential manner.
Please understand that both the scope of the investigation and the remedies available at law may be affected by your client's previous Settlement and Release dated June 28, 2013.
Kirsten J. Crawford
Sean Lane Response:
Dear Ms. Crawford:
Greetings. Please accept this correspondence in response to your letter of March 22, 2018.
On March 13, 2018, Denver City Council President Albus Brooks issued a written statement on behalf of the Denver City Council. In that statement, the City Council stated that transparency and accountability are of the utmost importance. However, the Council further stated that an investigation would be contrary to "best practice" and would risk "re-victimizing" Detective Branch-Wise. Detective Branch-Wise has previously advised that she encourages the City Council to investigate the conduct of the Mayor and is fully prepared to cooperate with such an investigation. Detective Branch-Wise advocates that conducting an open and transparent investigation on behalf of the citizens of Denver is the "best practice."
You have asked Detective Branch-Wise to provide a "complaint," setting forth all the facts and allegations against the Mayor. This seems to imply that there is no need for further investigation of the disputed facts now known to the City Council. Detective Branch-Wise has stated publicly that she believes that she has been the subject of sexual harassment at the hands of the Mayor. The Mayor has publicly denied this.
It appears that there is a fundamental dispute that could be resolved by using the City Council’s subpoena power to summon witnesses, question them under oath, conduct the investigation and issue a public report of its findings. On March 19, 2018, Mayor Hancock participated in an interview with Tony Kovaleski and stated that he knew his intent when he wrote the text messages that Detective Branch-Wise has already disclosed.
Certainly, at the very least, the City Council could use its powers to ask the Mayor to state, under oath, his intent when he wrote the subject text messages to Detective Branch-Wise. The Council could also question Detective Branch-Wise under oath and then publish a public report of the investigation, pursuant to Denver Municipal Code, Chapter 13 §§ 13-31 and 13-35.
Detective Branch-Wise wishes to emphasize to the Denver City Council that she is still fully prepared to cooperate with an investigation of all of the events regarding the reported behavior of Mayor Hancock while she served on his protective detail. It was the City Council that expressed an interest in conducting an investigation, but deferred out of concern for "re-victimizing" her. If Council truly wishes to investigate this situation on behalf of the citizens of Denver they should do so, with the full cooperation of Detective Branch-Wise.
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My client, Detective Branch-Wise, would again like me to thank you for your time in this matter.
Very truly yours,
THE LANE LAW FIRM, P.C.
Sean J. Lane