The fallout from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's apology for inappropriate texts sent to Denver police detective Leslie Branch-Wise when she was on his security detail in 2011 and 2012 has been fast, furious and, at times, contradictory. Hancock has been lambasted by two different police organizations and chided by powerful politicos, with one former city council member calling on him to resign. Meanwhile, the City of Denver has announced that it is developing new sexual-harassment training for city employees even though Hancock continues to insist that he didn't sexually harass Branch-Wise, and the head of a notorious Denver prostitution ring says the mayor was a client.
"I'm saying I did not sexually harass her," Hancock said during an interview with journalist Tony Kovaleski about Branch-Wise on Denver7, the station that broke the story on February 27. "My text exchanges with her blurred the line between being a friend and a boss."
They did more than that, according to rules and regulations established by the Denver Career Service Authority. The section in question defines sexual harassment as "any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature when: 1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; or 2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or 3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment."
Moreover, examples cited under the sexual-harassment heading include "unwelcome sex-oriented verbal 'kidding'" and "unwelcome 'teasing' or jokes." And this collection of texts between Hancock and Branch-Wise seems to fit that description:
Hancock: “What are you doing tonight?”
Branch-Wise: “Nothing just watching TV.”
Hancock: “Just giving you a hard time. I have to keep you balanced. All I hear from my friends is how fine you are. I just had dinner with three friends in LA and your name came up and they all commented on you. You should feel good my friends really appreciate you.”
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Hancock: “OK, so I just watched this story on women taking pole dancing classes. Have you every taking [sic] one and why do women take the course? If not, have you ever considered taking one and why? Thoughts?"
Hancock: “Be careful! I’m curious!”
Hancock: “Hope you are doing better.”
Branch-Wise: “I am. Much better.”
Hancock: “Very good. Have a good weekend.”
Branch-Wise: “You too!”
Hancock: "Just landed in LV. It's party time, baby!!"
Branch-Wise: "Yay!!!!! Like a rockstar!"
Hancock: "Loved the short doo. You make it hard on a brotha to keep it correct everyday."
Hancock: "You look sexy in all that black! LOL!
Branch-Wise: "You saw me?"
Hancock: "How would I know you had on black? Were all over the TV!"
Even as Hancock continued to insist that he isn't guilty of sexual harassment, the City of Denver's Department of Public Safety sent out a letter to members explicitly using the term in the context of the mayor's actions. Here's the wording, sent out under the signature of Troy Riggs, the department's executive director:
Dear Members of the Department of Public Safety:
In light of the media stories about about the Mayor's communications six years ago with a member of his security detail, the Mayor and I believe it is very important to reiterate our commitment to a professional, respectful and safe work environment for all City employees — without regard to their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, national origin, disability, age, religion or any other status protected by law....
Please be assured of the Mayor's and the City's commitment to the laws and City policies that govern equal employment opportunity in the workplace, including those that prohibit sexual harassment and retaliation. The City's Office of Human Resources has been developing a mandatory sexual harassment training for City employees, which will be rolled out shortly.
If you have questions about the City's policies, please feel free to contact the Office of Human Relations or Safety Human Resources.
Thank you for the important work that you do on a daily basis for the Department of Public Safety, the City and our community.
Executive Director of Public Safety
After Riggs's memo saw light, Diane Vertovec, director of marketing and communications for Denver's Office of Human Resources, tried to walk it back. "We’ve seen some tweets and news reports indicating that the City and County of Denver is launching sexual harassment training in light of the apology Mayor Hancock issued yesterday. That’s not accurate," she wrote.
"Denver’s Office of Human Resources has been working to deliver a sexual harassment and safe workplace training program that will be mandatory for all City and County of Denver employees," Vertovec continued. "This training program was in the works months prior to the apology issued yesterday by the mayor and is not a response to that news. This training is on track to be released to employees in early March and will be required training every two years. All employees are required to participate in the fifteen-minute online program which includes a video presentation with examples of the various types of behaviors that may constitute sexual harassment, and what the responsibilities are if it occurs."
In the meantime, the Denver Fraternal Order of Police unleashed a tweetstorm directed at Hancock. It reads:
"Just saw Tony Kovaleski investigative report on Mayor Hancock sexual harassment on a female Denver Police officer. First, on behalf of Denver Sheriff FOP we back you 100%. No female officer should ever have to endure such egregious behavior from a so called trusted official.
"Not the first time that the Mayor has exercised his power over a female. This organization has been a witness and supporter of another victim. We have stood hand in hand with Lisa Calderon and her plight as a woman being bullied around by the mayor for speaking out. #fightback
"Mr. Kovaleski stated that Mayor Hancock is the most powerful man in Denver. What always brings a weak man down? Sex, power, and money! The real power is this female officer speaking out against behavior that is unbecoming from an elected official.#standupbeloud
"Officers make mistakes too Mr. Mayor and we are also human. The difference is we get time off or terminated. What does the Mayor get when he violates his own executive orders and policies. NOTHING! Something is definitely wrong in Denver And has been for a long time."
By the way, Lisa Calderon, who's mentioned in the Denver FOP tweets above, is the co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum, which is reportedly planning a March 7 rally to castigate Hancock for his actions.
Also weighing in with harsh remarks was the Denver Police Protective Association, which issued the following statement:
The Denver Police Protective Association stands in support and solidarity with our member who has endured sexual misconduct in the workplace at the highest level. We recognize the hardship this has brought to her, her family and other members through this difficult time.
In today's climate, with the proliferation of sexual misconduct by prominent public figures and elected officials who are entrusted with great power, our members are saddened to learn the City of Denver is now affected by this epidemic. While we are aware that this isn't the first time the Mayor's name has been associated with sexual scandal, we consider the allegations against Mayor Michael Hancock very serious. We urge the people of Denver to be adamant that our City officials are held accountable to the highest standard for their behavior and actions.
The Denver Police Protective Association commends the bravery and courage of what Time magazine named "The Silence Breakers" and those who continue to come forward. We are determined to create a workplace where all women are free from sexual harassment, misconduct and assault, and vow to expose any retaliation....
We also support and encourage others who have been victimized to come forward, as there will always be support for those who have experienced sexual misconduct.
The most explicit call for Hancock to voluntarily leave office because of the revelations has come from former Denver City Council member Susan Barnes-Gelt, who Facebooked a link to Mike Littwin's highly critical column for the Colorado Independent along with this introductory comment: "Colorado Independent is spot on. Hancock should resign and shame on the city council for playing dumb.... Fortress City Hall needs more than sunlight. How about disinfectant?"
Current city council members haven't gone quite so far. For instance, Robin Kniech wrote: "Sexual behavior in the workplace is disrespectful and disempowering to women, and it is totally unacceptable. Responsibility always lies with the boss to set high standards and to live by them, and I’m deeply troubled by the Mayor’s actions, the environment it created for Detective Branch-Wise and the consequences for our City. It can be confusing and scary to try to navigate what to do about inappropriate behavior in the work place, but no one deserves to feel uncomfortable or intimidated. It is up to us as leaders to make clear that sexual behavior in the workplace is unacceptable, and anyone experiencing it can and should speak up and seek help."
For his part, a statement from Albus Brooks combines compassion for Branch-Wise with remarks that implicitly support Hancock remaining in office:
My heart hurts for the city in this moment.
My head hurts for Detective Branch-Wise and the families this impacted.
The Mayor has rightfully apologized and I trust that he and his administration are taking the appropriate steps to learn from this lesson so it won't happen again.
In this situation, Denver City Council has no legal authority to take any action on behalf of this employee or against the Mayor.
Mayor Hancock's apology and process for reconciliation is important not only for the parties involved, but for the city of Denver.
As the President of Denver City Council, it is important to me that we foster a safe work environment for all city employees. I am committed to creating a culture where the lessons we learn from can be applied to develop a more equitable Denver.
As Brooks's take circulated, Hancock's apology train rolled on. He's said to have sent a handwritten I'm-sorry note to Branch-Wise and delivered the following to Denver staffers:
Dear City Employees —
Yesterday, I issued a sincere apology to a Denver Police Detective who is a former member of my security team. I also apologize to my wife and family, and I apologize to all of you. I have learned from this mistake, and today I assure you that my words and actions will continue to support all women in the workplace.
Six years ago, the Detective called me to let me know that she had requested a transfer out of the unit because a member of my staff had sexually harassed her. I listened and what I heard greatly disturbed me. I apologized that this had happened. We reviewed the matter and took immediate action. The employee was fired within days.
While those facts have been public for years, I am apologizing for my own words from that time — text messages that were too familiar and unprofessional. Unfortunately, I didn't know until just a few days ago that she felt our text exchanges contributed to the pain and disrespect she was already feeling. But it is obvious now that she did feel that way.
I have the utmost respect for the Detective. She showed courage in 2012, and again by coming forward now. She is a valued and dedicated police officer who has served and continues to serve this city well.
I trust that those who know me will recognize that this is not a full measure of my character — of who I am as a husband, a father, a son or the Mayor of this great city. I hope you'll also take a moment to hear these words directly from me.
Thank you for the important work that you do every day for the city and its residents.
One more person to be heard from: Scottie Ewing, the central figure in the Denver Players/Denver Sugar prostitution ring, which touched on Hancock when his cell phone number (listed under the name "Michael Handcock") appeared on an alleged clients list.
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Early March 1, Ewing sent an email to Westword editor Patricia Calhoun:
"This evening my phone, texts, and messenger was suddenly inundated with links to the latest Hancock bullshit. I liken Hancock to a guy like Anthony Weiner. He's smart enough to not hire an escort again, however, he lacks the self control and resorts to sexual harassment via text.... What a fool. A man flirts for ONE reason, and that's to get laid, or perhaps just to be a creeper.
"The irony is, all these years I was in the sex biz surrounded by young, beautiful girls; not once did any escort, phone girl, bartender, waitress or staff member ever accuse me of or associate me with sexual harassment. Who's got better character and is more honest? Hancock is married with kids and is the BOSS of Denver. His wife deserves better. This is further proof through behavioral patterns he was indeed a customer despite the successful efforts to hide and squash the evidence. He deserves to be humiliated again. If this isn't clear evidence of a Weiner-like pattern, I don't know what is. I stand by my records, the escort(s) that saw him, and my facts. He was a customer of mine, period. Thanks, Michael, for the delayed validation.