While a storm of scandal has enveloped Jefferson City over Governor Eric Greitens' felony charge and alleged abuses of campaign finance laws, it would easy to forget that the state legislature has spent recent years wrestling with sexual harassment in its ranks. And the alleged victims didn't just include interns.
In January 2017, Missouri senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City) publicized her own allegations against Representative Josh Peters (D-St. Louis), whom she accused of touching her without her consent and repeatedly calling her a bitch within earshot of other lawmakers.
In a eighteen-minute short film released yesterday — a film produced with funds from her campaign committee — Chappelle-Nadal reflected candidly about her experience with harassment as a lawmaker.
She claims in the film that, before Peters, two other lawmakers had harassed her as a freshman senator. In the first instance, she said former Democratic Representative Ed Wildberger (D-St. Joseph) touched her butt.
The second time, the alleged harassment came from then-representative Don Calloway Jr. (D-St. Louis). In the film, Chappelle-Nadal said that Calloway put his hands on her shoulders and told her, "I should have hooked up with you before I married my wife."
The third time, though, Chappelle-Nadal wasn't willing to let the incident slide. She called out Peters by name on the Senate floor in an exchange with fellow Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis). (In the film, Chapelle-Nadal also claims Nasheed witnessed and overheard Peters calling Chappelle-Nadal a bitch.)
"One of the reps in your district, Josh Peters, referred to me as boo, and then grabbed my arms, and then did a forceful embrace that was unwarranted and unwanted," Chappelle-Nadal told Nasheed, according to a recording of the remarks included in the film. "I& am very angered by this, first being called boo, and I'm very angered that someone thought it would be OK to touch me."
That wasn't enough for Chappelle-Nadal, and she pressed for a formal investigation by the legislature's ethics committee. But that process, too, fell short of her demands. The film features an audio recording of a discussion between& Chappelle-Nadal and a voice identified as the general counsel of the Missouri House of Representatives, David Welch.
In the audio recording, Chappelle-Nadal is told that the committee substantiated only one count of her accusations: that Peters had called her either "a bitch" or "boo." (On the recording, Chappelle-Nadal insisted, "He said both.")
The other two counts — that Peters touched her and, in a separate incident, that he had followed her — were not substantiated. The ethics committee, she was told, had decided not to push for further consequences.
On the recording, Welch told her that in order to punish Peters for sexual harassment, the conduct "must be severe or pervasive, enough for the reasonable person to say that it would create an unfriendly working environment, and that based on a reasonable person, could they work in that environment with that kind of behavior."
Welch continued: "The committee determined that on one account, the use of that word, was not severe or pervasive enough to go further, so they dismissed the complaint."
The result frustrated Chapelle-Nadal. In the film, she says that a later encounter with Peters made her feel powerless and ignored.
"All I'm thinking about is that there's this person who just touched me, who just called me 'boo' repeatedly, who just called me a bitch repeatedly, who is trying to intimidate me by walking behind me, and I had to hear his voice," she said. "I felt totally uncomfortable at that moment."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get the lastest on the news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.
Support Local Journalism. Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.