A Minnesota lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct apologized Thursday while disputing some of the allegations made by a woman who says he touched her without her consent.
Emily Schlecht, a 23-year-old who works at a sexual violence center and who has talked publicly about her own sexual assault in 2015, accused state Rep. Rod Hamilton of making unwanted advances. Schlecht told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Hamilton insisted that she stay at his St. Paul apartment during a snowstorm this month, then made her lay her head on his lap, stroked her head and hands and kissed her cheek. She also said he asked her to lie down with him.
Hamilton disputed that characterization, saying he asked her to lay on the couch alone and kissed her on the top of her head — not her cheek. He said he brought her to her car the next morning and the pair parted amicably.
Schlecht told the Star Tribune that they had discussed her past sexual assault in depth and that Hamilton knew she didn't like to be touched.
"It was extremely uncomfortable for me," she said. "I cried myself to sleep. I felt like I couldn't leave."
Schlecht filed a report with St. Paul police last week. Sgt. Mike Ernster told the newspaper there wasn't enough evidence for criminal charges.
In a statement, Hamilton categorically denied "any accusations of sexual assault" but said he regretted that his actions that he said were meant to comfort Schlecht instead hurt her.
"I now understand that my actions, while well-intentioned, may be viewed differently by survivor of sexual assault, and that it may have caused additional pain and hardship. For that I fully apologize," he said.
In the year of the #MeToo movement and a cultural reckoning that has brought down many powerful men in politics and entertainment, Minnesota has frequently been in the spotlight. Two state lawmakers were forced to resign late last year after both were accused by women of repeated sexual harassment. Former Democratic Sen. Al Franken resigned after at least eight women accused him of misconduct.
Hamilton is a seven-term Republican lawmaker from southwestern Minnesota. House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Hamilton's chairmanship of the House Agriculture Finance committee would be suspended while a House investigation progresses.
The GOP lawmaker was holed up in his office near the Capitol for much of Thursday morning and afternoon. When he eventually exited, he answered every question from reporters with the same response: "At the advice of counsel, I've already issued my statement and there will be no further comment."