PHOENIX — A legislative leader at the Arizona State Capitol said he stands by an independent investigation involving allegations of sexual harassment, despite new controversial and explicit details released this week in a lawsuit.
Arizona State Senator J.D. Mesnard said he has no plans to call for a new investigation at this time.
The lawsuit was filed by Don Shooter against the state of Arizona. Shooter was expelled from the state legislature in 2018 following an independent investigation finding he sexually harassed Michelle Ugenti-Rita and others. He now claims his civil rights were violated and is suing the state for defamation.
In Shooter's lawsuit, a sworn deposition from an unnamed former lobbyist shows that the lobbyist felt she was a victim of sexual harassment by Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Ugenti-Rita's boyfriend at the time, Brian Townsend – and that her claims were not fully investigated.
The lobbyist stated in the deposition that after she read the independent investigative report, “I was surprised that my entire story wasn’t more fully investigated, so that part was upsetting.”
She alleged that Ugenti-Rita and Townsend were pressuring her into a sexual relationship with them. Ugenti-Rita and Townsend are now married. She said Townsend sent her explicit photos on multiple occasions.
The lobbyist further claimed Ugenti-Rita confronted her after the independent investigation was closed.
In her deposition, she said that in December 2018, Ugenti-Rita approached her in a bathroom. She said that Ugenti-Rita "stopped me and got in my face, and said everyone was going to find out what a liar I was."
The 2018 investigation at the capitol found that Townsend sent the lobbyist unwanted sexually explicit photos. Townsend told investigators that he acted alone and Ugenti-Rita was unaware of the text messages.
The investigation concluded Ugenti-Rita was unaware the images were sent and therefore did not violate harassment policy.
“We found her testimony in this regard credible,” the report stated in part, adding Ugenti-Rita “expressed genuine surprise and shock, and conveyed sincere sympathy” for the lobbyist.
“The independent, credible evidence supports only a finding that Mr. Townsend acted alone and without Ms. Ugenti-Rita’s knowledge or participation when committing the egregious and potentially unlawful acts at issue,” the report concluded in part.
Mesnard, who was the Speaker of the House at the time, commissioned the investigation and told 12 News on Wednesday he trusts the process. It was carried out by a private law firm and overseen by a bipartisan group of attorneys.
“I had an investigation done independently so it would be free from politics,” Mesnard said. “I don’t have reason to believe, at least at this moment, that anything was hidden or neglected.”
Mesnard is a defendant in Shooter’s lawsuit against the state.
Attorneys for Shooter could not be reached for comment. 12 News spoke with a representative of Ugenti-Rita’s staff, who did not immediately provide comment for this story.