In one text message, he complimented her on her haircut: “loved the short doo. You made it hard on a brotha to keep it correct everyday.:)”
In another, he said he had spotted her on TV during a game: “You look sexy in all that black! LOL!”
And in another, he asked whether she had ever taken a pole-dancing class or had thought about doing so. She didn’t respond, but he kept texting: “Be careful! I’m curious;)!”
The recipient of those text messages was Leslie Branch-Wise, a detective with the Denver Police Department. The sender was Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
The text messages from 2012, when Branch-Wise was a member of Hancock’s security detail, surfaced this week after the detective talked to a Denver TV station and provided a reporter with images of the old conversations. Branch-Wise told ABC affiliate KMGH-TV in an interview that aired Tuesday that Hancock’s messages made her feel uncomfortable but that she didn’t feel she could talk to anyone about them. She came forward after the TV station and other local media outlets received an anonymous letter claiming that Hancock had sexually harassed the detective. She said that she “didn’t want to hide it anymore” and that the #MeToo movement had inspired her to come forward.
“I just want people to know that I’m a woman, I have children, and I’m a victim of sexual harassment. It made me physically sick. It was extremely scary. And I dealt with it at that time the best way that I could,” Branch-Wise told KMGH-TV.
Branch-Wise, who is still a detective with the Denver Police Department, did not respond to a call and email from The Washington Post on Wednesday. Hancock, a Democrat, was not immediately available for comment. In a Facebook video posted Tuesday, he acknowledged that his text messages were inappropriate, but he said his behavior did not involve sexual advances and unwanted physical contact.
“I’m here to apologize for my own words from that time. Text messages that were far too familiar and unprofessional. … During Detective Branch-Wise’s time on the security team, we became friends, but my text messages in 2012 blurred the lines between being a friend and being a boss,” Hancock said.
The mayor added: “I sincerely apologize to Detective Branch-Wise, to my wife and family and to the people of Denver. I trust that those who know me will recognize that this is not the full measure of my character, of who I am as a husband, a father, a son or mayor of this great city. I have learned from this mistake, and today, I assure you that my words and actions will continue to support all women in the workplace.”
Hancock was not the only person Branch-Wise had accused of sexual misconduct. She told KMGH-TV that a former member of Hancock’s staff also had sexually harassed her around the same time. In May 2012, Hancock recalled in his video, Branch-Wise told him that one of his aides had been making sexually explicit comments to her and that she had requested to be moved out of the security team. Branch-Wise was on Hancock’s security detail for less than a year.
“I listened, and what I heard greatly disturbed me. I apologized that this had happened,” Hancock said. “We reviewed the matter and took immediate action. The employee was fired within days.”
The city paid Branch-Wise $75,000 as part of a settlement. The employee, Wayne McDonald, vehemently denied the sexual harassment accusations and sued Branch-Wise, Hancock and the city for defamation and breach of contract. McDonald, who was Hancock’s special assistant, alleged in court records that he and Branch-Wise had become friends, that they often talked on the phone before and after work hours, and that his comments to her were not unwelcome. The lawsuit dragged on for nearly four years before the city decided to settle in 2016 and pay McDonald $200,000.
McDonald’s attorney, William Sulton, added that his client was not fired over the sexual harassment allegations. Sulton also criticized Hancock for dragging McDonald’s name back into the public arena “when he’s supposed to be apologizing for his own conduct.”
Today I want to issue an apology to a former member of my security detail. I also want to apologize to my wife and family, and to the people of Denver. I hope you’ll watch this video and allow me the opportunity to offer my sincere apology.
Posted by Michael B. Hancock on Tuesday, February 27, 2018
In his video, Hancock praised Branch-Wise for coming forward in 2012 and for doing so again this week.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t know until just a few days ago that she felt our text exchanges were unwelcome and contributed to the pain and disrespect she was already feeling,” he said. “But it’s obvious now that she did feel that way.”
Hancock was elected in 2011 and plans to seek a third term next year.
The allegations against Hancock surfaced not long after the birth of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and violence.