NAACP Asks Prosecutor to Review Harassment Complaint Against Anne Arundel Leader
Saturday, May 9, 2009
The Anne Arundel County NAACP requested yesterday that the Maryland state prosecutor investigate an allegation by a woman who said that County Executive John R. Leopold made an unwanted advance toward her last week.
The state prosecutor's office is designed to investigate criminal matters, not claims of sexual harassment, but the NAACP said that Leopold's prominence as a public official necessitates a special inquiry. It also asked Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), the attorney general's office and top legislators to request State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh's involvement.
The woman, Marvenise Harris, is African American and a state employee whose office is in the Anne Arundel County building in Annapolis where Leopold also has his office. She wrote letters to the NAACP and to her employer, the state Department of Human Resources, claiming that on April 30, Leopold (R) made an unwanted advance to her in the building's cafeteria, seeking a date with her in a way that left her uncomfortable.
The Washington Post obtained a copy of her letter for a story published yesterday. After the story appeared, Leopold requested an investigation himself, asking the attorney general's office to determine how the letter was made available to reporters because such investigations are supposed to be confidential.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said his office investigated that yesterday and that only a handful of people had access to the letter sent to the department. "We've confirmed none of them leaked the letter," spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said.
Leopold's office yesterday also issued a statement saying that the Department of Human Resources closed its investigation into Harris's allegation with a finding of "no probable cause." A spokesman for the department would not confirm that or even whether a complaint existed, citing confidentiality rules.
Leopold spokesman Dave Abrams said that an official in the department told County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson that there had been an investigation. Leopold was not interviewed, Abrams said.
He said county officials were not told why the complaint was dismissed. Harris works for the state and Leopold is head of the county government, and Abrams said he did not know if Harris's allegation would result in a case in which the state had jurisdiction because Leopold did not hold employment power over Harris.
Abrams declined to address any specific allegation Harris made in her letters. In an interview Thursday, Leopold said he did not recall an encounter in the cafeteria.
Harris wrote that Leopold asked her several times during the exchange for her personal phone number and to go out on a date and that when she said no, he said, "You mean to tell me you are going to turn down all of this?" while gesturing to his body. A witness confirmed the incident to a Post reporter.
"These are serious allegations," said NAACP county president Jacqueline Allsup, in explaining why the organization wants the involvement of the state prosecutor's office. "We want to make sure the rights of the woman involved are protected."
Officials with the state prosecutor's office said they would neither confirm nor deny an investigation.
O'Malley's office said the governor is aware of the issue and is reviewing the matter with legal advisers.
"We take these allegations very seriously," spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. "We will be talking with state lawyers and the attorney general's office as well."
A former county employee who once worked directly for Leopold has said that he physically and verbally harassed her about her hair and that last year he once grabbed her by the arms to yell at her about her appearance. Karla Hamner said in an interview that she transferred out of Leopold's office and later lost her job. She plans to file a formal complaint against him.
The women's allegations come three months after county police investigated a 911 call of people having sex in a car at a mall parking lot. Investigating officers found Leopold in the car but ruled the report "unfounded." Leopold has not explained what he was doing in the car.