Groping Accusations Now Take a Needed Toll in California Politics | Nov 21 2017

Amid new groping allegations, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra says he will not run for re-election

|| Sacramento Bee

“Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, a Los Angeles Democrat accused of groping a woman in 2009 when he was a legislative staff member, announced Monday that he will not seek re-election next year.

The announcement came just hours before the Los Angeles Times reported allegationsinvolving Bocanegra and six more women. If they are true, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said, he will move that Bocanegra be expelled from the Assembly.

“These allegations are extremely disturbing, especially since they come after Mr. Bocanegra had previously been investigated and disciplined as a staff member and agreed to stop any harassing or abusive behavior,” Rendon, D-Paramount, said in a statement. “The decision to deny constituents the representation of their elected official can be a difficult one, but make no mistake: If the investigation affirms the allegations, I will move to immediately expel Mr. Bocanegra from the Assembly.”

In a message posted to Facebook on Monday morning, Bocanegra said he would immediately resign from his leadership position as majority whip and suspend his campaign for the San Fernando Valley seat.

“As you may know, news stories were reported a few weeks ago about a regrettable encounter when I was a legislative staffer in 2009. It was a moment that I truly regret, that I am very sorry for, and for which I have accepted responsibility for my actions,” Bocanegra wrote. “These news reports have since fueled persistent rumors and speculation, and I do not believe that this is in the best interest of my constituents to continue to serve next term.”

“I have sought counsel from community members and constituents,” he continued. “After much discussion and reflection, the most prudent decision to avoid another costly special election in Los Angeles and ensure our community is not left without any representation in the State Assembly would be for me to resign at the end of the legislative session. I will spend this time focusing my energy on serving my constituents.”

His decision comes more than three weeks after longtime Capitol staff member Elise Flynn Gyore spoke publicly, including to The Bee, about an after-hours event in 2009 in which Bocanegra, then a chief of staff, stalked her around a downtown Sacramento nightclub and grabbed her underneath her clothes.

The Assembly investigated Bocanegra at the time and ordered him to stay away from Gyore. She said she continues to deal with what she feels was an inadequate response by the Legislature.

Bocanegra apologized for that incident in a statement and said it “was something I regret and learned from.” But the Times story describes six more allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct since then. Bocanegra responded that the Assembly Rules Committee should investigate, “rather than adjudicate these allegations in media reports.”

One woman who worked for former Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes when Bocanegra was his chief of staff said Bocanegra asked her out on dates for years and repeatedly made comments about her appearance.

Two more former Fuentes employees described a drunken party in 2012 where Bocanegra touched one of them on the stomach and tried to get the other to stick her hand in his front pants pocket. Yet another former Fuentes staffer said Bocanegra came up behind her at a house party that same year and ran his hands down her neck and along the sides of her breasts, before grabbing her bottom.

Two other women shared separate episodes, in 2010 and 2014, where Bocanegra tried to kiss and grab them without permission during events at the same club where he allegedly groped Gyore.

Sylvia Castillo said she was living in Sacramento during the summer of 2010 for a temporary job with a nonprofit organization focused on youth leadership when a friend invited her to the Mix Downtown one evening. After visiting the restroom, Castillo was separated from her friend, and she circled the bar trying to find her.

At the booth where they had been sitting that night, Castillo found Bocanegra, whom she said she had met a few times through work. She sat down to ask him if he had seen her friend. Bocanegra told her he had not and asked how she was doing, Castillo said, then almost immediately lunged for her.

“It didn’t cross my mind that I had anything to fear,” she said in an interview with The Bee. “Before I could even finish my sentence, he grabbed me and put his hand up my dress. Grabbed me and put his tongue in my mouth.”

Castillo said she managed to push Bocanegra away and ran out of the club. She decided at the time not to report the incident, because she was leaving Sacramento in a few days and “I just honestly wanted to move past it.”

But she was forced to confront the memory earlier this year when she came to the Capitol to advocate for a bill, as part of her current job with a Bay Area nonprofit that works on women’s access to health care, and testified before Bocanegra in committee. She said she finally came forward because she read Gyore’s account and was shocked by the similarities.

Castillo said she wants male lawmakers to stop “preying on us” and realize, “We are your equals.” She also wants Bocanegra to resign sooner than the end of the legislative session next Sept. 1.

“He’s already proven he can’t play nice, he can’t play by the rules and respect women,” she said. “Those who work in the field, are we still going to have to face him in the hallways for ten very long months?”

In recent weeks, the Los Angeles Daily News and a handful of Bocanegra’s constituents have also called on him to resign, including former Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, a fellow Democrat who defeated Bocanegra in a stunning upset in 2014 and then lost to him again last November.

After his announcement Monday, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, demanded that Bocanegra resign immediately.

“@AsmBocanegra you are not the victim, you are the perpetrator who’s victimized untold #’s of women & girls & brought shame to the people you purported to represent,” she wrote on Twitter. “Don’t wait till 2018. Leave now. #WeSaidEnough #MeToo #IBelieveYou”

The allegations against Bocanegra have surfaced amid a broader discussion about sexual harassment at the Capitol and beyond. Hundreds of women in California politics launched a campaign last month called We Said Enough, urging changes to male-dominated power structure that they say has led to “pervasive” abuses.

Adama Iwu, a leader of We Said Enough, commended Rendon for saying he would move to expel Bocanegra from the Legislature if an outside investigation confirms the allegations. But she added that the Legislature’s process for reporting and investigating complaints remains “deeply flawed,” and she repeated calls for a confidential hotline.

Investigations are conducted by the the Assembly Rules Committee, an administrative office overseen by a panel of lawmakers, though the Assembly has said complaints against members are referred to outside counsel. Many women at the Capitol say they are reluctant to come forward about the harassment or abuse they have experienced, because they fear being seen as difficult or suffering professional retribution for speaking up.”

….Continue reading more @ SacBee

 

She Said A Powerful Congressman Harassed Her. Here’s Why You Didn’t Hear Her Story.

|| BuzzFeed

“When you make private settlements, it doesn’t warn the next woman or the next person going into that situation.”

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.”

Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sex acts, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic.

Conyers confirmed he made the settlement in a statement Tuesday afternoon, hours after this story was published, but said that he “vehemently denied” the claims of sexual harassment at the time and continues to do so.

And the documents also reveal the secret mechanism by which Congress has kept an unknown number of sexual harassment allegations secret: a grinding, closely held process that left the alleged victim feeling, she told BuzzFeed News, that she had no option other than to stay quiet and accept a settlement offered to her.

“I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go,” she said in a phone interview. BuzzFeed News is withholding the woman’s name at her request because she said she fears retribution.

Last week the Washington Post reported that Congress’s Office of Compliance paid out $17 million for 264 settlements with federal employees over 20 years for various violations, including sexual harassment. The Conyers documents, however, give a glimpse into the inner workings of the office, which has for decades concealed episodes of sexual abuse by powerful political figures.

The woman who settled with Conyers launched the complaint with the Office of Compliance in 2014, alleging she was fired for refusing his sexual advances, and ended up facing a daunting process that ended with a confidentiality agreement in exchange for a settlement of more than $27,000. Her settlement, however, came from Conyers’ office budget rather than the designated fund for settlements.

Congress has no human resources department. Instead, congressional employees have 180 days to report a sexual harassment incident to the Office of Compliance, which then leads to a lengthy process that involves counseling and mediation, and requires the signing of a confidentiality agreement before a complaint can go forward.

After this an employee can choose to take the matter to federal district court, but another avenue is available: an administrative hearing, after which a negotiation and settlement may follow.”

….Continue reading more @ BuzzFeed