A University of Central Missouri-authorized investigation into a student’s story of being propositioned by Missouri Sen. Paul LeVota while she was a Capitol intern concludes her version is more believable than his denial.
The report, provided to The Star on Friday by former intern Alissa Hembree, said she was likely solicited for sex by a man she was working for, which violated her civil rights.
That report was the result of a complaint alleging violations of Title IX — the federal law that protects students in federally funded education programs from harassment and discrimination based on gender.
A key finding focused on the evening of Jan. 26. Hembree said she had been with LeVota and others at a lobbyist event near the Capitol, he coaxed her to his Jefferson City duplex on the pretext that she’d had too much to drink to drive to her home in Fulton and then pressed her for sex.
LeVota, an Independence Democrat, denies that he was at the bar with her, that she was ever at his duplex and that he propositioned her.
“The preponderance of the evidence substantiates the investigator’s findings that Senator LeVota directed unwelcome sexual advances and comments toward Ms. Hembree,” wrote Derek Teeter, an attorney hired by the university to look into the matter. “This conduct of a sexual nature ultimately created what would cause a reasonable person to perceive there to be an intimidating or hostile environment that interfered with the complainant’s academic or professional performance.”
The investigator also looked at how Hembree was treated before and after that January night. He concludes her complaints on those counts — she said LeVota sent her inappropriate text messages before and treated her shabbily after that night — were not substantiated.
“My investigation did not uncover substantial evidence that the senator acted with retaliatory animus,” Teeter wrote.
All those conclusions were based on a standard of “whether it is more likely than not that the sexual misconduct occurred.”
LeVota has received wide criticism since a report released Wednesday by the administrator of the Missouri Senate detailed Hembree’s charges. That report did not offer a conclusion on the facts or suggest a course of action.
The Star reported that night that an intern who worked in LeVota’s office in 2010 said she experienced similar treatment. The story prompted a referral of the case Thursday to the Senate’s ethics committee and LeVota’s ouster from that panel.
Meanwhile, several lawmakers and fellow Democrats have publicly criticized LeVota and questioned whether he should remain in the General Assembly.
“The new evidence released (Friday) further calls into question Senator LeVota’s fitness for office,” Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement.
The Central Missouri Title IX investigation produced the first document that weighs in on the “he said, she said” element of the accusations against LeVota.
Most notably, it focuses on an office outing to Gumbo Bottoms in Jefferson City. LeVota’s chief of staff, Ron Berry, told Teeter he recalled attending the event with LeVota, Hembree and a fourth person. Berry said he walked back to the Capitol building with Hembree and LeVota. Then, Berry told the investigator, he left the two alone at the Capitol.
“Ms. Hembree’s account calls into question the credibility of the senator when he stated he did not attend an event at Gumbo Bottoms with Ms. Hembree,” the report states.
The intern told her account of that evening to Berry on Feb. 2 and to a fellow student a few days later “in which she described the event as the most uncomfortable night of her life,” the report states. “The fact that Ms. Hembree reported the account to two persons, in close proximity to its occurrence, supports her credibility, especially in the absence of any apparent motive on Ms. Hembree’s part to concoct such a tale.”
The report also cites her ability to recall details of LeVota’s duplex that largely matched those provided by Berry and LeVota. “And her ability to recall these specific details calls into question the credibility of the senator’s statements that she was never there.”
Hembree told the investigator that LeVota asked her about her sex life, offered her wine, posed questions suggested by a dating app for people beginning a relationship and said what his wife and daughters “don’t know won’t hurt them.”
“Further, there was a considerable power disparity that the senator enjoyed over Ms. Hembree by nature of his position that would limit Ms. Hembree’s ability to say ‘no’ to the senator’s proposal.”