May 27, 2022

Missouri’s Steven Roberts Settled Groping Allegation Suit for $100,000

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On Monday night, Missouri Democratic congressional candidate and state Sen. Steven Roberts Jr. publicly denied allegations of rape and sexual assault in two separate incidents in an interview with a local CBS affiliate. “If I could have done things differently that night, I would have just gone home by myself,” Roberts said of August 26, 2016: the night Cora Faith Walker, at the time a fellow candidate for the Missouri House of Representatives, alleged that he raped her.

Walker’s allegation has received renewed attention in the past month: She died at 37 of unidentified causes on March 11, and Roberts filed his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives on March 28 — becoming the most formidable challenger in the Democratic primary against Rep. Cori Bush. Comparatively little attention, however, has been paid to a separate allegation made the previous year by Amy Harms, a lawyer in St. Louis, who says that on April 16, 2015, Roberts groped her at a bar.

“I feel immense guilt,” said Harms, who reported the incident to the police on April 22 that year, in an interview with Young Gazzate. Then a student at Saint Louis University School of Law, Harms accused Roberts of touching her genital area over her clothing and putting his hand inside her waistband, attempting to enter her pants, after she rebuffed his advances. (In an ensuing civil suit, a letter to the state legislature, and comments to Young Gazzate, Harms stated that Roberts managed to put his hand into her underwear and touch her genitals, though the police report does not make this clear.) After Harms filed her report — more than a year before Walker’s accusation — Roberts was arrested and became the subject of a criminal case, which was eventually dismissed after the office of the St. Charles County attorney, overseeing the case, decided to defer prosecution. He was fired from his job in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office for “performance issues” and never faced trial.

“The whole reason that I reported what happened to me — it was not for me. It did not make it better for me,” Harms told Young Gazzate. “It was to try to make sure that he didn’t hurt anybody else.”

“I’ve continued to tell the truth that the allegations against me are not true,” Roberts said in the Monday interview with TV station KMOV. Roberts’s spokesperson Ryan Hawkins has previously denied both allegations to Young Gazzate.

The TV interview focused mainly on Walker’s allegation, detailing a settlement between the two parties that forbade either from discussing the case and did not include any financial damages. But Roberts also settled Harms’s case out of court, according to documents reviewed by Young Gazzate, reaching a 2019 agreement for $100,000. The settlement concluded a 2017 civil suit that Harms filed after the criminal case was deferred and stipulates the release of all claims, a full denial of Roberts’s liability, and an agreement of confidentiality. Both parties are prohibited from discussing the allegations. But as Roberts’s star has risen in the House primary, Harms has decided to speak out anyway.

“The local coverage has been generally very supportive of him. Not a lot of mentions of what happened and the allegations against him. And in fact, particularly leaving me out,” Harms told Young Gazzate. Early Tuesday morning, she posted a Twitter thread detailing her allegations against Roberts and included some police documents, which Young Gazzate has obtained and reviewed in full.

“Cori Bush and her supporters keep trying to perpetuate and recycle these false lies, these old stories that have been proven to be false, to distract from an indefensible voting record,” Roberts told KMOV’s Lauren Trager. In a statement to the station, Bush campaign senior adviser Lynese Wallace said, “Steve Roberts is pulling from the usual playbook for abusers, but the fact remains that he has been credibly accused of sexual assault on multiple occasions by multiple women in our community. … We don’t believe anyone is served by Steve Roberts running a campaign built around the idea that every person who has accused him of wrongdoing is a liar.” The Bush campaign declined to comment to Young Gazzate on Roberts’s claim that they had surfaced the allegations as a tactic.

“We sincerely encourage you to report facts and not what ‘you’ve heard,’” Roberts campaign spokesperson Simonne Kimble wrote in response to Young Gazzate’s questions about the case and the settlement. “Nothing you have reported has been factual or balanced. We have no interest in working with an organization that borders on libel in their ‘reporting’ and is dangerously close to tortuous interference. We strongly encourage you to check your facts and sources.”

Of the seven witnesses at the bar who gave statements in the police report, one said she had personally seen Roberts grope Harms in April 2015. Pamela Johnson, also a law student at the time, told police that May that she saw Roberts “rub Harms’s thigh and her vagina on top of her clothing with his hand,” according to a copy of her police report obtained by Young Gazzate, and “aggressively pursuing” other women in the group that night. Johnson and another witness said they saw Roberts and Harms talking to each other, and later that night, Harms told the six witnesses other than Johnson that Roberts had touched her.

In March 2017, Harms filed an ethics complaint against Jillian Anderson, the prosecutor who handled her criminal case, on the grounds that Anderson had misrepresented the testimony of a key eyewitness. According to Harms’s complaint, Anderson told her during the 2015 investigation that Johnson had denied witnessing the incident to the police, but the ethics committee “saw no evidence that Ms. Anderson knowingly misrepresented any facts in her communications” with Harms.

Anderson wrote in an email to Young Gazzate that no other evidence arose after the decision to defer prosecution, and the statute of limitations ran out after a year. “I cannot speak to the facts of the investigation that are not already in the public record,” Anderson wrote. She directed additional questions to the St. Charles County prosecutor’s office, which declined to comment.

Depositions in the civil suit are sealed, but a source with knowledge of the case provided a copy of Johnson’s March 2019 statement to Young Gazzate. According to the deposition, Johnson reiterated her former account, saying she saw Roberts “with his hand on and around [Harms’s] vagina thigh area” and had “no doubt” about what she had witnessed.

“I’m not surprised that this hasn’t come out and there have been no consequences for Steve Roberts,” Johnson told Young Gazzate, confirming that her statements were accurate. She said she had no contact with Anderson during the case and had not been aware of Harms’s charge of misrepresentation.

Scott Rosenblum, a well-known St. Louis attorney who represented Roberts in the criminal case, told Young Gazzate that in his understanding, Harms had been seated across the table from Roberts, making her allegations “physically impossible.” He claimed that Harms’s testimony was not credible and said of Roberts: “He doesn’t have 12-foot arms.” (In statements to the police, two witnesses said that Roberts had moved around while at the bar, and Harms said that at one point he sat directly in front of her.)

Harms’s civil attorney Matt Ghio declined to comment on the record due to ethical confidentiality requirements. Roberts’s civil attorney Jeremy Hollingshead did not respond to a request for comment. Rosenblum said he was not involved in the civil case or the settlement, “but people settle for all sorts of reasons. I don’t think there was any admission of liability, that’s for sure.”

“We have an ethical duty not to publicly comment or share private and sensitive information that is not already and necessarily in the public domain,” Anderson wrote in a subsequent email to Young Gazzate. “The individuals involved are, of course, free to speak to whomever they choose and equally free to maintain their privacy if they choose. I have worked on criminal case [sic] involving witnesses who go on to write books about their experience, and those who choose not even to tell their families, and I have respect for both decisions.”

In August 2020, Roberts won the Democratic state Senate primary for the office he currently holds. Shortly after the election, an interview with Roberts was broadcast on Facebook; Harms reacted to comments with a “crying face” emoji. Accusing her of violating the terms of the settlement, Hollingshead sent Harms a cease-and-desist letter.

In the fall of 2016, Rosenblum again represented Roberts in a criminal case, this time stemming from Cora Faith Walker’s rape allegation. Once again, according to an October 2016 decision by Prosecuting Attorney of St. Charles County Tim Lohmar, Roberts would not be tried.

A medical chart from Walker’s sexual assault kit collected at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis indicated that her pelvic exam showed “signs of injury,” according to a copy of her police report obtained by Young Gazzate, but the special prosecutor said there was not enough evidence to indicate that her encounter with Roberts was nonconsensual. Rosenblum told Young Gazzate the note on Walker’s pelvic exam was a “meaningless observation” and “doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not the encounter was forcible or consensual.” He said Roberts’s interaction with Walker was “obviously consensual,” as evidenced by a nude photograph of her in Roberts’s possession. According to the police file, Walker told the police that the photo was taken without her consent.

Roberts filed a civil suit against Walker for defamation in 2016, and Walker countersued. Like with Harms’s suit, both parties dismissed the case in 2019. Lawyers for Walker and Roberts said at the time that no money was paid in exchange for dismissal of the claims, which Roberts maintained in his interview on Monday.

Two weeks before Walker reported the alleged incident to law enforcement, on September 27, 2016, according to the police report, Rosenblum had been communicating with vendors at locations she and Roberts had visited to request that they “retain any surveillance footage for potential future litigation purposes.” Rosenblum provided police with evidence of those letters, dated as early as September 13, 2016, “indicating that Rosenblum’s law firm had been investigating this matter at least 14 days before it was reported to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.”

Asked why he would have been investigating the incident before Walker told police about it, Rosenblum said he didn’t think that timeline was “accurate,” but that “whether [or not] she notified the police, we may have had information that she was making those allegations. … Oftentimes we get information that those allegations are being made through other sources. And you want to start being proactive.”

Eugenia Gardner, a spokesperson for Walker’s family, said they had no comment and would not discuss matters related to Roberts. Walker’s cause of death has not been reported.

In the seven years since Harms made her allegations against Roberts, he has been elected as a Missouri House representative, state senator, chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, and minority whip for the state Senate Democratic Caucus. Last month, he launched his campaign to challenge Bush in Missouri’s Democratic primary, which will take place August 2. He is considered her most prominent challenger.

“I suppose it’s not entirely surprising given how much money and power his family holds in this area, but it’s still extremely disappointing,” said Harms of Roberts’s continued success. His family is well-known in St. Louis: In November 2021, it was announced that his father, a real estate developer and former alderman serving as chief of staff to St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts, was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission’s Equity and Diversity Council. In addition to his elected positions, Roberts Jr. is a member of the Missouri Air National Guard and a commissioned U.S. Air Force officer.

Several days before Roberts launched his Democratic congressional primary campaign last month, the St. Louis Business Journal published a column titled “A Steve Roberts challenge to Cori Bush may prove irresistible.” The piece did not mention either allegation. Roberts previously claimed that Bush was trying to distract voters with the allegations in an article about his campaign launch published late last month, which mentioned the allegation from Walker but not from Harms.

In the month leading up to Roberts’s announcement, someone using an IP address in a Missouri government office building located across the street from the state Capitol repeatedly deleted information about both assault allegations from Roberts’s Wikipedia page, Young Gazzate reported last month. A spokesperson for Roberts said they did not know who made the edits and declined to comment on either allegation.

“This type of shit is exactly why these crimes go unreported, why people don’t sue,” Harms said. “I may well be the only one who can speak, so I must. I just hope he’s never able to harm anyone else.”



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