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Charlotte Area News

Staffer 'credible and consistent' in sexual harassment allegations against Turner

An outside investigator has found that Charlotte City Council Member Warren Turner likely sexually harassed a city employee on two separate occasions. The investigator presented her findings to city council last night. They included accounts from three other staffers of inappropriate behavior by Turner. City Council members settled in last night for an unprecedented and highly uncomfortable meeting. Valecia McDowell, an attorney with the law firm Moore and Van Allen, spent 30 minutes detailing the accusations against Turner. She told council it appears Turner sexually harassed an employee. "It is the opinion of the investigators that sufficient evidence exists to conclude that council member Turner likely directed sexually inappropriate comments to Employee A," said McDowell. "While there are certain conflicting factual accounts we find employee A's statements to our investigation team to be credible and consistent." The report did not mention the name of the city employee. According to the report, the employee said Turner sexually harassed her on three separate occasions dating back to February 2008. In the first incident, the employee said Turner stopped by her office and asked about a picture of an actor on her coffee mug. "Council member Turner pointed to the picture of Shemar Moore and asked, 'Who's that?' To which employee A responded, 'That's my motivation,' McDowell told council. "Employee A stated that Council member Turner then smiled and said, 'You don't need that. I should be your motivation. You need a real man to be your motivation.'" The employee reported another incident in September 2008 after her fiance' picked her up from a community meeting that Turner also attended. The next day, the employee says Turner told her he wanted to speak to her fiance' and give him advice on how to deal with her. She said the last incident took place this past December. This is the allegation that spurred McDowell's investigation. According to McDowell's report, the employee stopped by council member James Mitchell's office to drop off some papers. She said Turner, who had been looking for her earlier in the day, was also there. Turner told her he had "just wanted to make sure you were doing your job," according to the report. Then, as she turned the leave, the employoe says Turner tugged on her sweater at waist level. She says Mitchell called her the next day and told her Turner acted inappropriately. But Mitchell told the investigator he couldn't recall ever having the employee and Turner in his office at the same time. Furthermore, he said he never saw Turner touch her. The report notes Mitchell and Turner are friends. As investigator Valecia McDowell delivered her findings, Turner sat across the room beside other city council members. Early on, he looked straight at McDowell. As the night wore on, Turner often looked down as McDowell spoke of three other employees who accused him of making sexually inappropriate comments to them. "We discerned no indication that any of the witnesses making such disclosures had reason to be anything other than truthful," McDowell told council. She said all the employees were hesitant to come forward. They feared doing so would strain workplace relations. "By contrast it appears that at times council member Turner was less than fully truthful when responding to questions from the investigation team," McDowell said. McDowell gave several examples. For one, she said Turner told her he resigned from the Charlotte Mecklenburg police department when he was a cadet in the late 80s. However, McDowell says personnel records show he was fired. The investigation concludes it was likely Turner sexually harassed the city staffer dubbed Employee A twice in 2008. But McDowell said they couldn't come to a conclusion with the most recent allegation because Mitchell could not recall that happening. Turner denies all the allegations, but wouldn't say much last night. "I did not commit these acts and that's where we are. We'll make comments at a later time," Turner said. So what do the report's findings mean for Turner? While the allegations might be embarrassing there's no formal action beyond censure that can be taken against him because there's no sexual harassment policy for members of city council. Council is now setting up a committee to develop a policy.