PHOENIX — Arizona lawmaker state Rep. Don Shooter was suspended from a leadership role Friday after several women accused of him sexual harassment.
Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard suspended Shooter from his role as chairman of the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful posts in the House outside of majority GOP leadership.
“He will not be taking any budgetary meetings, chairing hearings, or engaging in any budget discussion or any duties related to appropriations until the investigation has concluded,” Mesnard said in a statement.
Shooter will continue to serve in other legislative capacities. There were no immediate details on the length of the suspension.
Mesnard also said, because of the number of allegations against Shooter, the House decided to hire outside investigators to complete the investigation.
Mesnard announced Wednesday that the House hired Craig Morgan of the law firm Sherman & Howard to handle the inquiry.
“I agree with the decision of the House’s sexual harassment investigative team to retain Craig Morgan to conduct the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment at the Legislature,” said Mesnard. “I have confidence that Mr. Morgan will fairly and thoroughly investigate this matter in a timely manner.”
In his own statement, Gov. Doug Ducey said he supported the idea to hire outside investigators.
State Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita was the first to accuse Shooter of behaving inappropriately. At least three other female lawmakers also claimed this week that he harassed them.
Shooter initially apologized for his behavior, but shot back at Ugenti-Rita’s allegations and took back his apology after seeing specifics of her claims.
“Ms. Ugenti is lying about me and I have asked [House Speaker J.D. Mesnard] to have the entire matter investigated by the House Ethics Committee/Counsel,” Shooter said. “At the conclusion of their work, I will consider taking further legal action in this matter.”
In an interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM, Mesnard said he was not made aware of any claims in the past, but said he will be taking them at “face value” while conducting the investigation.
“It certainly helps when allegations come directly to me, because we can begin with a little more specificity, but given the public comments that some have made, we are taking that at face value and taking them as they come out,” he said.
State Rep. Kelly Townsend, who said she experienced unwanted sexual advances from someone other than Shooter, called Thursday for new procedures put in place to address harassment claims.
Townsend told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos that she wants to see House leadership implement a statute to track allegations of harassment or inappropriate behavior that occurs between lawmakers.
“Before the offense is committed, the person thinks, ‘This could go in the news [so] I’ll behave myself,’” she said.
Townsend said one of the problems with reporting claims of harassment or inappropriate behavior at the hands of Arizona lawmakers is that the process is very public and can be problematic if the suspect is someone in power.
“If you bring that to leadership and say this person won’t leave me alone and they won’t stop, what if that person is the chair of the Ethics Committee? What do you do?” she said.
“If your claim is not successful, you could face retaliation, public scrutiny,” she said. “It makes it very difficult to deal with these problems.”
KTAR News’ Corbin Carson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.