Leslie Branch-Wise is a Colorado police detective who is accusing the mayor of Denver of sexual harassment for text messages he allegedly sent to her six years before.
Branch-Wise, a veteran investigator, was part of the security detail for Mayor Michael Hancock when she says the mayor sent her inappropriate text messages. Mayor Hancock has admitted sending the texts. The story exploded on Denver television screens when Branch-Wise came forward to Denver 7.
The mayor told Denver7, though, that he doesn’t consider the text messages to be sexual harassment, saying, “I’m saying I did not sexually harass her. My text exchanges with her blurred the line between being a friend and a boss.”
Michael Hancock’s wife is Mary Louise Lee, an actress who met her husband in middle school.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Branch-Wise Released the Text Messages to Denver Media
Denver news reporters found out about the text messages because Branch-Wise came forward and shared them with a local television station, Denver 7. In the exclusive interview with Denver 7, Branch-Wise, defined as a veteran police detective, said the mayor complimented her hairstyle and texted, “You made it hard on a brotha to keep it correct every day.”
He also wrote, according to the TV station, “Enjoy! You better bring them some luck! You look sexy in all that black,” after seeing her on television at a Denver Nuggets game.
In another text message, according to Denver 7, the mayor wrote, “So I just watched this story on women taking pole dancing classes. Have you ever taken one? Why do women take the course? If not have you ever considered taking one and why? Your thoughts?”
The mayor is also accused of texting, “Just giving you a hard time. I have to keep you balanced. All I hear from my friends is how fine you are.”
Branch-Wise said the text messages upset her. “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.
2. The Mayor Released an Apology Over the Texts, Calling Them ‘Too Familiar’ & ‘Unprofessional’
Mayor Hancock released a lengthy video statement on Facebook apologizing for the texts. He said:
Six years ago, Denver Police Detective Leslie Branch-Wise was a member of my security team. In May of 2012, she called me. She let me know she had requested a transfer out of the unit because a member of my staff had sexually harassed her. I listened and what I heard greatly disturbed me. I apologized that this had happened. We reviewed the matter and took immediate action. The employee was fired within days.
While those facts have been public for years, I am here today to apologize for my own words from that time – text messages that were too familiar and unprofessional. But let me be clear – my behavior did not involve sexual advances or inappropriate physical contact. 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.
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. But it is obvious now that she did feel that way. 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 a full measure of my character – of who I am as a husband, a father, a son or the 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.
I have the utmost respect for Detective Branch-Wise. She showed courage in 2012, and again by coming forward now. She is a valued and dedicated police officer who has served and continues to serve this city well.
The status with the Facebook video read, “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.”
3. Branch-Wise Says She Was Proud of Herself for Coming Forward
After watching the television story on herself, Branch-Wise referred to herself in the third person. “I was proud of that woman that I watched,” she said of the story on Denver7. “Leading up to it, I was so nervous. But I actually was proud of watching that woman.”
The Denver Career Service Authority defines sexual harassment as “any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature when: 1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; or 2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or 3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.”
Branch-Wise told Denver7 that the mayor started texting her during what already a tough time in her life, saying, “It was a hard time in my life,” Branch-Wise said. “I didn’t have anyone to tell, I didn’t have anyone to talk to. That’s my boss.”
4. Branch-Wise Received a Settlement From the City in Another Case & Came Forward After the Television Station Received an Anonymous Letter
The mayor’s statement refers to sexual harassment allegations that Branch-Wise lodged against a member of his staff. According to the Denver7 report, that staff member, an aide, Wayne McDonald, settled with the city for $200,000 in a wrongful termination case.
“The employee, Wayne McDonald, vehemently denied the accusations and sued Branch-Wise, Hancock and the city for defamation and breach of contract,” The Washington Post reported.
In 2016, The Denver Post reported of Branch-Wise, “The Denver City Council…greed to pay $75,000 in liability claims in a move to settle with a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against a former staffer.”
The television station reports that “Branch-Wise settled with the city for $75,000 in 2013. As part of that settlement, Branch-Wise agreed not to file claims against anyone else in the city” and came forward to the television station after it received the anonymous letter that made allegations against the mayor. The letter has not been published because the television station can’t prove all of the claims in it.
5. A Rally Is Being Held to Call For Hancock’s Resignation
According to Westword, some people in Colorado think the mayor should resign as a result of the scandal. “A rally calling for Mayor Michael Hancock’s resignation using the hashtag #TimesUPHancock” was scheduled for March 7, 2018, the site reported.
Lisa Calderón is part of the group organizing the rally, the Colorado Latino Forum.
“We were really disturbed because of the fact that he did not take full accountability for his actions,” says Calderón to Westword. “For him to say that it wasn’t sexual harassment because he didn’t touch her means that he doesn’t know the meaning of sexual harassment.”