After reports of a sexual harassment complaint against him, a Tennessee state lawmaker apologized, then fired back regarding an allegation of sexual misconduct against him at the State Capitol on Thursday.
“In today’s social climate, verbiage or actions can be misinterpreted,” Rep. Rick Staples (D-Knoxville) told reporters. “If currently, or in the past, if I have had any words or actions that have been misinterpreted — that is due an apology, and I submit that apology, and it also deserves a humble I’m sorry.”
Tennessee legislative sources say a woman filed a sexual harassment complaint against Rep. Staples with the House Ethics Committee. Staples is also a member of that committee.
Those legislative sources say the complaint came after the woman visited the capitol earlier this year with a group from East Tennessee.
While the lawmaker did not take any questions about the exact reason for his apology, he did offer some fiery words during his brief statement to reporters.
“I am under no investigation at this point — I have not been found guilty of anything. Unfortunately, this has been used in a tool of an avenue of political character assassination,” Staples said before silently heading to an elevator.
Legislative sources say the ethics complaint against Staples was investigated and action was taken. However, while House members carefully said they can’t talk about ethics complaints, a Republican leader suggested the complaint against Staples was not acted on immediately by the Democrat leader who received the complaint, which could be a violation in itself.
“I think it would be…because I think House rules say you’re supposed to do it immediately,” said House Republican Caucus Chair Cameron Sexton.
“The harassment policy requires us to move quickly with respect to any sort of report,” responded House Democrat Caucus Chair Mike Stewart. “And I can tell you myself, I have always complied with that policy and always have.”
Any action taken against Rep. Staples by the ethics committee is confidential by law.