ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An attorney for a Democratic state senator resigning over sexual harassment allegations raised questions Wednesday about two key accusers and suggested they may have wanted to sabotage the senator’s campaign for higher office.
Sen. Dan Schoen, of St. Paul Park, didn’t appear at a news conference two weeks after he was first accused of misconduct ranging from groping to unwanted advances.
His attorney, Paul Rogosheske, said Schoen stands by his denials of any wrongdoing aside from sending a photo of male genitalia to a female Senate staffer, which he said was accidentally sent to the wrong person. Rogosheske said two women who have alleged sexual harassment, Lindsey Port and state Rep. Erin Maye Quade, have been “misrepresenting” their encounters with Schoen.
Port was a Democratic legislative candidate in 2015 when, she said, Schoen repeatedly complimented her bottom and later groped her buttocks at a campaign event. Maye Quade, also a Democrat, said Schoen made unwanted sexual advances to her by text.
Rogosheske said several witnesses at the same event as Port and Schoen in 2015 said they didn’t witness any groping, including at the specific time Port said it occurred. Rogosheske said the supposed witnesses were unwilling to come forward and declined to identify them.
He also said Maye Quade misinterpreted a text from Schoen that was intended for someone else. He disputed her account that Schoen was making unwanted advances, handing out more than a dozen pages of screenshots from Schoen’s phone that do not include repeated invitations to Maye Quade to have a drink with him that she initially recounted.
The texts centered around weeks of unrest in north Minneapolis in November 2015 after a black man was shot and killed by police after what onlookers described as a scuffle. The alleged screenshots show Maye Quade initially reached out for advice, and the pair exchanged messages as protesters surrounded a local police precinct in the days after Jamar Clark’s death.
A third claim against Schoen – by a female Senate staffer who said he sent her a photo of male genitalia – was simply a mistake by Schoen with a picture intended for someone else, Rogosheske said. He had previously told Minnesota Public Radio News that Schoen had never sent explicit photos to any woman.
Asked if his client ever harassed anyone, Rogosheske responded: “Never meant to sexually harass anybody.”
“I sincerely wish that I had known at the time that I was making friends uncomfortable,” Schoen wrote in his resignation letter. His resignation is effective Dec. 15.
Rogosheske also noted that Port’s business partner is running for state auditor and suggested the accusations may have been intended to derail a competing bid by Schoen. Port was traveling Wednesday and didn’t respond to messages.
Maye Quade referred a request for comment to her statement Tuesday night on Schoen’s resignation, highlighting one portion that said: “Unless systematic and widespread changes are enacted, these behaviors and subsequent attempts to cover up instances of harassment will continue.”
Hours after Schoen said he would quit on Tuesday, GOP state Rep. Tony Cornish also announced he would resign following several accusations of improper conduct. Cornish apologized for his actions, including a specific apology to a lobbyist who accused him of repeated unwanted attention and trying to force a kiss.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he hoped the resignations would help clean up a problem of sexual harassment in the Capitol.
“These are very important first steps,” Dayton said.
Since the allegations surfaced earlier in November, Dayton launched a review of the executive branch’s training and reporting procedures for sexual harassment.
Schoen still works as a police officer for the Cottage Grove Police Department, which assigned him to administrative duties when allegations against him surfaced earlier this month. Schoen remains on administrative duties and no complaints of misconduct have been reported to the department, city administrator Charlene Stevens said Wednesday, and Rogosheske says he sees no reason for his resignation to affect his employment.
Both men will be replaced in special elections. Dayton said he hoped to schedule those in time to fill the seats before the Legislature returns Feb. 20.