ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell (D-29) violated the county’s code of ethics by sending a lewd photo to a young woman last year, according to an investigative report released Thursday.
Earlier this year, Flagler-Mitchell admitted he sent an inappropriate photo to a then 19-year-old woman last November. The county legislator said it was meant for his wife, and was sent to the woman on accident.
The young woman said the photo was “just the lower half of himself — nude.” She then went on to call for his resignation.
According to the ethics investigation (full report below), the young woman received a photo over Facebook Messenger of “an erect penis” last November.
According to the report, Flagler-Mitchell did not respond to efforts from the investigating team, so the report relied on interview summaries and materials from the Monroe County District Attorney’s office. Last month, officials from the district attorney’s office announced they would not file criminal charges in regards to the inappropriate photo.
The Monroe County Ethics Board resumed its own investigation into the incident, to which they concluded Thursday that Flagler-Mitchell did violate the county’s ethics code. Specifically, the board found that Flagler-Mitchell violated section 45-13 of the code in regards to Course of Conduct, which states:
“Every officer or employee should endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his trust. He should not use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or others. He should not by his conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties or that he is affected by the kinship, position or influence of any party or person.”
According to the investigative report, other woman reported receiving inappropriate photos from the county legislator:
“The District Attorney’s investigative file revealed that approximately 11 other women have reported receiving inappropriate or explicit messages and photos from Mr. Flagler-Mitchell. The majority of these third-parties requested anonymity, and although some women identified themselves to the investigators, none will be identified by name in this report.“
According to the ethics code, Flagler-Mitchell could be fined, suspended, or removed from office. From section 45-23 of the ethics code on Penalties for Offenses:
“Any contract willfully entered into by or with Monroe County or any agency thereof in which there is an interest prohibited by this chapter shall be null and void and wholly unenforceable. In addition to any penalty contained in any other provision of law, any person who shall knowingly and intentionally violate any of the provisions of this code may be fined, suspended or removed from office or employment, as the case may be, in the manner provided by law.“
Recommendations made from the investigative report found that:
- “The Code of Ethics should expressly prohibit sexual harassment and sexual overtures.”
- “The Code of Ethics should mandate truthfulness in connection with all legitimate investigations conducted by or on behalf of the County of Monroe.”
Flagler-Mitchell is currently the leader of the Black and Asian Caucus in the Monroe County Legislature, a Democratic coalition that has splintered from its own party to align with Republicans, causing a schism in the legislature.
Flagler-Mitchell has not immediately returned a request for comment.
Statement from Monroe County Democratic Committee
On June 3, 2021, the Monroe County Board of Ethics found that County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell was in violation of the County Code of Ethics when he messaged an explicit photo to 19-year-old city resident Lakaya Sinclair last November. Ms. Sinclair’s bravery in coming forward with her story emboldened other women to share similar experiences with Flagler-Mitchell.
Specifically, the Ethics Board found that Flagler-Mitchell violated § 45-13 of the Course of Conduct, which states: “Every officer or employee should endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his trust. He should not use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself or others. He should not by his conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties or that he is affected by the kinship, position or influence of any party or person.”
Earlier this year, Flagler-Mitchell was removed from his position as president of the Rochester branch of the NAACP as a result of the allegations against him. If Mr. Flagler-Mitchell was unfit to serve in that capacity, then he is equally unfit to serve as an elected official.
“In situations concerning allegations of sexual harassment, it is of the utmost importance that all survivors’ stories are heard and respected, including black women,” said Monroe County Democratic Committee chair Zach King. “Accusations of sexual harassment against elected officials are especially egregious. This exploitation of power and destruction of public trust has no place within our party, within our governments, or within our society.
King continued, “Mr. Ernest Flagler-Mitchell should do the right thing for the women he hurt and the constituents he serves and immediately resign from all public and Democratic party positions. This includes his seat on the Monroe County Legislature, his seat on the New York State Democratic Committee, his position as Leader of the LD 29 Democratic Committee, and his seat on the Monroe County Democratic Committee.”
This situation also serves as an example of why the Monroe County Legislature must pass a stronger Code of Ethics. Mr. Flagler-Mitchell was found by the Ethics Board to be in violation of the code, yet the Board does not have the authority to impose sanctions or enact accountability. “I call on Legislature President Carbone and the Republican conference to immediately pass ethics reform. Their vote to table this important legislation is a clear disregard for accountability of elected officials,” said Chairman King.
Statement from Monroe County Executive Adam Bello
Lakaya Sinclair and the other women who came forward with allegations of unwanted, inappropriate and sexually explicit communications against Legislator Flagler-Mitchell showed tremendous courage. Incidents like this break the public’s trust in our government.
Elected officials and community leaders must be held to a higher standard and must be held accountable for their actions. That the victim’s credible and corroborated accounts resulted in a violation of an ethics policy with no consequences shows a shameful lack of accountability built into our current system. I call upon Monroe County Legislature President Joe Carbone and the Republican Majority to pass the ethics reform measures I have put forth and that were recommended by the independent investigation.
Board of Ethics report
Monroe County Ethics Code: Standards of Conduct
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.