A Bemidji woman who works as an advocate for a sexual violence center has filed a sex assault report with St. Paul police accusing state Rep. Rod Hamilton of touching her without her consent at his apartment.
The St. Paul Police Department confirmed the report was filed last Friday against Hamilton, a Republican from Mountain Lake in southwestern Minnesota, and that an investigation is ongoing. A spokesman for the Ramsey County Attorney said the office spoke informally to a St. Paul police investigator regarding the allegations, and advised the investigator that more information was necessary before charges could be considered.
“The case is still open and active, but based on the information we currently have we do not feel that there is enough for a criminal case,” St. Paul Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster said.
State law says it’s a crime for anyone to engage in “nonconsensual sexual contact” that includes touching of a victim’s “intimate parts.” Emily Schlecht, 23, who filed the police report, told the Star Tribune in an interview that Hamilton did not touch her intimate body parts on the night of April 13, when she stayed at his St. Paul apartment at his invitation.
In an interview Tuesday night with the Star Tribune, Hamilton said the woman misconstrued his actions and that they were not sexual in nature. On Wednesday, Hamilton said he had reported the incident to the human resources department of the state House.
“I will be completely transparent and forthcoming,” said Hamilton, 50.
Hamilton released a statement to the media on Thursday in which he said that “I categorically deny accusations of sexual assault.” It also said: “I deeply regret the effect my actions had on Ms. Schlecht,” saying he now recognized “that it may have caused additional pain and hardship.”
In her own statement after the story went public, Schlecht called herself “deeply hurt but also extremely disappointed. I first want to point out that Rep. Hamilton did not sexually assault me in the act of rape or penetration, but he touched me in unwanted ways without my consent.” She added that “consent is not just an issue in sexual assault cases, consent is an issue in any form of touch and it was not asked for nor was it granted.”
Hamilton said Thursday that to date, he had not been contacted by law enforcement.
Shortly after the Star Tribune reported the allegations on Thursday, House Republican leaders suspended Hamilton as chairman of the House Agriculture Finance Committee and “instructed the House’s non-partisan HR department to begin their complaint process per the new House Policy on Discrimination and Harassment,” according to the statement from Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin.
The House recently adopted new discrimination and harassment policies in response to allegations last year against Rep. Tony Cornish, who has resigned.
Schlecht told the Star Tribune that she met Hamilton through her work as an advocate for Support Within Reach, a sexual violence center in Bemidji. Schlecht said she spoke with Hamilton about her experience reporting a rape in her hometown of Willmar in 2015, which authorities declined to charge. He agreed to meet with her at the Capitol to talk about the case.
“He said he wanted to help however he could,” Schlecht said.
Schlecht and Hamilton agree on key details: after an initial meeting at the Capitol, they met a second time at the Capitol later in the day on April 13. The weather was bad that night, and Schlecht said Hamilton insisted she not drive home to northwestern Minnesota due to heavy snow and sleet, inviting her to stay at his apartment near the Capitol.
“I said, ‘You can’t drive tonight.’ I said, ‘My family would be fine with it,’ ” said Hamilton, who is married. “I said, ‘I have a couch but you have to be comfortable with it.’ ”
Once at the apartment, Schlecht said she and Hamilton were in the living room when he asked her to lay her head down on his lap. Over the next hour, she said, she froze as Hamilton stroked her ears, arms, face and hands. In the course of her visit, Schlecht said, Hamilton asked her four times to lie down next to him and kissed her three times on the cheek.
“He knew that I did not like to be touched after my assault,” Schlecht said. “It was extremely uncomfortable for me.”
She said she never consented to the touching. When Hamilton went to bed, she said, “I cried myself to sleep. I felt like I couldn’t leave.”
Hamilton’s version differs. He said he and Schlecht were watching a movie, she on a recliner and he on a sofa. He said she came over to the couch and laid her head on a pillow next to him.
“We were talking about some of the things we had been through,” Hamilton said. “She said it was emotional for her. I said, ‘You can get through this.’ ”
Hamilton said he put his hand on Schlecht’s head, held her hands and kissed the top of her head, but he said it was not sexual.
“I kissed her on the top of the head and said, ‘You’re strong.’ On the top of the head. On the top of her head,” Hamilton said. He said he offered her the apartment’s bedroom to herself, but said she responded that she preferred the couch.
After denying Tuesday night that he asked Schlecht to lie down with him, Hamilton said on Wednesday that he did invite Schlecht to lie on the couch, but not with him.
The next morning, Hamilton drove Schlecht back to her car at the Capitol. She said he told her that even though he had only known her for a short time that he loved her, then kissed her cheek. Hamilton said he gave her a hug. “Did I kiss her on the cheek? Maybe,” he said.
“We did hug and I said be safe and know that I love you kid,” he said. He sent the Star Tribune photos of Schlecht smiling, holding an oven mitt as she tried to scrape snow and ice from her car on the day of the April 14 blizzard.
Hamilton shared a number of text messages, including one he sent Schlecht on her birthday, after the night at his apartment. She replied, “Thank you thank you!”
“She told me that night I was like a father to her. That’s why I’m absolutely floored these accusations are coming up,” Hamilton said.
Schlecht reported the incident to St. Paul police on April 20. Ernster said an investigator with the family and sexual violence unit met with Schlecht and an advocate late Friday afternoon.
“The victim stated that the suspect stroked her hair, traced her ear with his fingers and rubbed his hands over hers, and also hugged her,” Ernster said.
A Ramsey County attorney told the St. Paul police investigator that there was not enough evidence to charge and did not meet the elements of criminal sexual conduct, Ernster said. Dennis Gerhardstein, a spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney, said that “we advised the investigator that more information was necessary before we could even consider possible charges.”
On Monday, April 23, Schlecht communicated discomfort to Hamilton about what happened. Both Schlecht and Hamilton shared a string of text messages between them.
Schlecht texted Hamilton that she felt “extremely violated and it’s been affecting me pretty badly.”
“Unfortunately nothing can be done to take it back, but I just also wanted to let you know because it is something that has affected me immensely in my everyday life,” Schlecht wrote to Hamilton.
They went back and forth a few more times; in one message, Hamilton wrote that his touching were “signs of affect but not sexual in nature.” Schlecht responded that it made her angry that he didn’t realize that he had violated her. Hamilton responded that he was “sincerely remorseful and sorry for coming across anyway other than kind.”
In 2015, Schlecht reported to Willmar police that she was assaulted during a New Year’s Eve party. After prosecutors declined to charge the case, Schlecht publicly criticized the department for failing to adequately investigate the case. Police again investigated her report, but prosecutors declined to charge a second time.
Hamilton was first elected to the state House in 2004, representing a Worthington-area district. He is a longtime employee of Christensen Farms, a pork products company, and is a past president of Minnesota Pork Producers.
At the Legislature, Hamilton has been most known for his work on agricultural issues, and has a reputation for bipartisanship. He has been an advocate for people with disabilities; Hamilton was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis over two decades ago, and in recent years has increasingly used a wheelchair.