ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Democratic legislators and candidates held a press conference Thursday to discuss ethics reform in the wake of the district attorney’s report on Monroe County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell (D-29).
Thursday’s press conference follows renewed calls for Flagler-Mitchell to resign Wednesday after more documents were released, with more details of an investigation that concluded the legislator did violate the code of ethics.
The investigation uncovered accounts from 12 different women and detailed numerous conversations, which were sexual in nature with Flagler-Mitchell. Some women reported unwanted sexual advances, and others reporting consensual relations where the legislator provided money or paid bills.
“Several months ago, a brave woman decided to share the reality that a current legislator abused his position to coerce conversation and inappropriately send pictures of his genitalia,” said Monroe County Legislature Democratic Caucus leader Yversha Roman. “Yesterday we all read the horrifying account of many other women who had similar encounters with this legislator. During the district attorney’s investigation, some women shared they received similar unsolicited pictures with others and sharing stories of sexual activities in exchange for money or other types of favors or finanical support.”
Last month, the Monroe County District Attorney’s office announced they would not file criminal charges regarding the inappropriate photo investigation.
The independent report filed last week called on Monroe County Legislature to pass a proposed ethics law and re-evaluate existing policies around sexual misconduct.
“We know this patterned behavior to be in violation of the code of ethics yet I stand before you today knowing that sadly the voices of 12 women sharing predatory behavior conducted by Ernest has not been enough to compel the super majority of the legislature to censure him, or to even discuss the matter at hand,” Roman said. “We are here to say that is simply unacceptable. This should not be a conversation of one man, or the fact that many people are describing it as an act of tearing him down. What this should be is about uplifting the voice of 12 women.”
During the press conference, the legislators announced that another woman had come forward with accusations.
Full press conference
“I thought I was here to only talk about this today, but I am sad to report that we have just received notice from another victim,” Roman said. “Through a complaint, from a verified complaint filed with the division of human rights, a 13th woman has come to share her story.
“She states that there are claims for sexual harassment and being harassed and intimidated by Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, in a written statement, she says that ‘Ernest Flagler-Mitchell deliberately made sexual advances at me that were unwarranted,'” Roman said. “On or about August 27, 2020 Ernest received a phone call from this constituent who was looking for support pertaining to a CPS case. They talked about the case and, according to this particular allegation, the phone call ended about 10 min later. The complaint continues to state that around 10 p.m. that night she received a phone call from Ernest and the conversation quickly changed from their concern in regards to her matter to sexual in nature.
“Think of a woman who is afraid about the loss of her children, reaching out to a legislator who invites her to these offices at 39 West Main Street,” Roman said. “And when she was invited here, she was put behind closed doors and told that in order for her to receive the support that sexual favors were in turn necessary. This is unacceptable. Legislators in our community hold a responsibility, they should uphold their office and the community should, at bare minimum, trust that when they call a legislator that a legislator will not take advantage of that role.”
The Monroe County Democratic Caucus called on Flagler-Mitchell to resign.
“We ask for the immediate resignation of Ernest Flagler-Mitchell,” Roman said. “His continued presence in a position of power and influence will re-victimize, scare, and intimidate his victims daily.”
“I think we have to be really clear about what’s happening and we have to use plain language,” said Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart (D-21). “Ernest-Flagler Mitchell is a sexual predator. He should not be in office one more day. This latest allegation that was filed with New York State Division of Human Rights alleged what I believe is a crime. He barricaded a women inside a Monroe County office, demanding sex in exchange for helping her? That’s a crime and it should be investigated as such.”
“He abused his power in the most vile ways,” said Monroe County Legislator Linda Hasman (D-23). Ernest Flagler-Mitchell must resign immediately. Not another day in office. In any other workplace he would have been already fired. Which is why I’m called on Joe Carbone to do the right thing. We need ethics reform that will bring the current code into the 21st century and include language on sexual harassment.”
Although the district attorney’s office didn’t press charges on the previous claims, Barnhart said this new complaint should be re-investigated by prosecutors.
“Sending dirty photos unsolicited to your constituents is not acceptable,” Barnhart said. “Sexual harassing constituents and members of the public is not acceptable. Paying vulnerable women for sex is not acceptable as a legislator and blocking a women in your office, demanding sex in exchanged for helping her is not acceptable. What will it take for the rest of the legislature to say ‘this is not acceptable.’ The least that we can do is pass ethics reform and a resolution censuring this lawmaker.”
On Wednesday, Monroe County Legislature President Joe Carbone release a statement saying the voters will have a chance to decide.
“Today is the first time Legislators have seen this report. Ultimately, the voters will have the chance to decide Legislator Flagler-Mitchell’s future in the County Legislature. Voting for the Democratic Primary begins Saturday, as the residents of this district, Democratic voters will have the responsibility of determining their legislative representative.”
Monroe County Republican leaders took that one step further Thursday, saying:
“We worked behind the scenes to encourage Legislator Flagler-Mitchell to resign in an effort to not further politicize the accounts of the brave individuals who came forward in this matter. After being unsuccessful in our attempts, we are today publicly calling for his resignation. Sexual harassment of any form should not be tolerated. These most recent allegations involving misconduct on county property are especially troubling and warrant resignation.”
The legislators called on the county legislature’s super-majority to take up ethics reform.
“We need to build better accountability structures in the government and that’s why our caucus, along with the county executive, proposed ethics reform,” Barnhart said. “It would specifically bar sexual harassment by elected officials. It would provide a path to investigate those complaints. It would mandate that the findings of those investigations be public and it would provide a path to the legislature to censure officials who violate the ethics code.”
Barnhart said the current super-majority, made up of Republicans and Democrats of the Black and Asian Caucus, are blocking efforts to advance ethics reform.
“I would ask the 20 legislators who are blocking this reform, why?” Barnhart said. “Why are they protecting Ernest Flagler-Mitchell? Why are they standing by him?”
Flagler-Mitchell is facing primary challenger William Burgess on June 22.
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.
He released a statement Thursday, calling the latest accuser’s allegations “false.” He did not address the 12 other accusers’ allegations.
Flagler-Mitchell’s full statement reads:
“These allegations against me are not true. I have always been one to help people who call on me and I attempted to do so in this instance. Unfortunately, we were unable to resolve this individual’s situation favorably and now she has launched false allegations against me. I have always been one to admit my shortcomings and today will be no different.
As in any marriage, I have experienced ups and downs. Regretfully, I have had moments of infidelity. These are personal matters that my wife and I continue to work through. I have never promised anything in return for favors nor used my position for anything other than serving the people of my district and that’s what I will continue to do. I request that you respect my family’s privacy during this difficult time.”
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said he was disgusted at the report, and called for the legislator’s immediate resignation. In a Wednesday statement Bello said:
“The District Attorney’s report tells the story of women in our community who turned to an elected official for help, but were instead subjected to revolting and terrorizing behavior. I’m disgusted.
Ernest Flagler-Mitchell violated the public’s trust, and must resign from public office immediately.
The women who came forward have shown incredible courage in the face of public scrutiny – scrutiny that far too many women in their position face. When public officials dismiss their truth, run for cover, and refuse to act, their trauma is only deepened.
The County Legislature has a responsibility to act, and they must do so today. I am calling on Joe Carbone and the Republican Majority to stop covering for Ernest Flagler-Mitchell. It is past time for them to drop their opposition to the ethics reform and censure resolutions, and immediately hold a special meeting of the County Legislature to adopt measures that will hold Flagler-Mitchell accountable for his behavior. Failing to do so only serves to empower Flagler-Mitchell and provide him with a platform to continue to prey upon unwitting constituents.”
A statement Wednesday from Monroe County Clerk Jamie Romeo:
“Ernest Flagler-Mitchell has used his power as an elected official, a pastor, and trusted community leader – to create a culture of abuse that victimized women and took advantage of them in a time of need.
When Ms. Sinclair came forward with her truth, we as a community, whether elected or not, should have come forward to support her, myself included. What happened to Layaka was not an accident, it was wrong. We cannot say we stand up against sexual harassment when we allow fear and partisanship to dominate the conversation. Every woman has their own stories in the workplace, in a social setting, where we have encounter unwarranted sexual behavior. When we stay silent, it continues the normalizing of this conduct.
Ernest Flagler-Mitchell cannot continue to serve in a public office when he has refused to take responsibility for his own conduct.
Monroe County is better than this, we must stand up to support Lakaya and every victim of sexual harassment that steps forward.”
Congressman Joe Morelle (D-25) released a statement Wednesday evening, also calling for Flagler-Mitchell’s resignation:
“The results of the District Attorney’s investigation into County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell show a clear, repeated pattern of alarming and indefensible behavior that has no place in public service. There can be no tolerance for abusing a position of power and betraying the public’s trust. In order to preserve the integrity of public office, he must resign immediately.
I commend Lakaya Sinclair and the many women who have bravely come forward to share their stories. We stand with you.”
New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D-138) too called for Flagler-Mitchell’s resignation in a Thursday statement:
“I have read the report issued by the District Attorney and the determination by the Monroe County Board of Ethics that he violated county ethics policy. Ernest Flagler-Mitchell’s abuse of power and his position as an elected official and otherwise is shocking. I stand with Lakaya Sinclair and support her. Ernest Flagler-Mitchell must do what is right for the families of Rochester and resign from public office immediately. He has violated the trust of the Rochester Community. Flagler-Mitchel’s actions demonstrate a pattern of harassment using his various positions of power as a County Legislator, a firefighter and pastor that should not be tolerated. He violated the trust of Ms. Sinclair as well as other women and is no longer worthy of the public’s trust.”
Flagler-Mitchell has not immediately replied to a request for comment.