Gene Davis, who has been accused by a Utah Senate intern of “sexual misconduct,” an issue some Democrats say the party has ignored

A former intern and campaign aide for Senator Gene Davis late Wednesday accused the longtime lawmaker of sexual misconduct.

Sonia Weglinski, a 20-year-old University of Utah student, said Davis touched her numerous times during the five months she worked with him, which made her feel uncomfortable.

The former 2022 campaign intern and campaign worker said she resigned in late spring after telling Davis’ campaign manager, former Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Jaramillo, about the alleged wrongdoing. She told the Salt Lake Tribune she waited until after the primary, which Davis lost to Nate Blouin, to make sure her allegation wouldn’t be counted as a political success.

“I had to experience this without any accountability – extend my experience – because I knew I wasn’t going to be heard,” Weglinski told The Tribune.

Following the allegation, current and former Democratic officials said the party is not doing enough to prevent sexual harassment.

In 2021, another employee publicly accused Davis of inappropriate behavior.

Weglinski said she didn’t file a formal complaint because the party had a history of handling sexual harassment investigations and because she didn’t want her story to be “filtered” by the party.

The Utah Democratic Party said because it never received an official complaint, it was unable to pursue institutional processes to investigate the allegation. Davis also claims he never knew there was a problem.

Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chairwoman Eva Lopez told The Tribune in a statement that Davis “has been temporarily suspended … from attending events, committees and all party-related activities of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party.”

“It’s my duty as chairman to consider allegations, especially when there are patterns,” Lopez said in an interview. “I still have the ability and responsibility to create a safe party to participate in.”

Weglinski first made her allegations against Davis public in an Instagram post Wednesday night, claiming that Davis rubbed her bottom with a towel to remove dirt while she was taking photos and videos at his home for his campaign this spring.

Davis, who has served as a Utah Senate Democrat since 1999, told The Tribune that he was “baffled” by the allegations that he didn’t hear Weglinski say she was unwell and that other people were around when the incident occurred.

“As far as I remember … she stood up and I pointed out that she had a lot of dirt and dust on her,” he said. “She was wearing Levi’s and it was grey, the dust was so I went and got a towel. I said, ‘Turn around here,’ and I slapped it with the towel, and then I gave her the towel and I said, ‘You might want to finish cleaning that.'”

When asked by The Tribune if he was given permission to help clean up the dust, Davis said, “I don’t recall anything being said.”

Investigations are discontinued

According to interviews and emails obtained by The Tribune, state and county party officials, including Jaramillo, were not aware of sexual misconduct allegations against Davis until this spring.

Multiple sources, including Davis, told The Tribune that the senator was under investigation in March over a sexual misconduct complaint by the Salt Lake County Democratic Party. It’s unclear if this complaint is related to Weglinski.

Jaramillo said he didn’t have a copy of the complaint to produce, but it was dismissed. Lopez told The Tribune that the investigation is internal and information from it is shared only with those listed in the complaint.

While Davis claims he was unaware of allegations of sexual misconduct by Weglinski, Jaramillo said he told Davis about her grievances, which she shared with him during a Zoom meeting. The former campaign manager added that he gave Davis Weglinkski’s letter of resignation, which also contained allegations of misconduct.

“My sanity has honestly gone from that point on,” Weglinski told The Tribune, referring to her time with Davis. “I really don’t like being vulnerable online and posting that was really hard for me.”

A screenshot of an email from Utah Democratic Party Chairperson Diane Lewis to members of the Executive Committee, saying the party has “talking points” about an Instagram post that included Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, is accused of “sexual misconduct.”

On Thursday morning, about 16 hours after Weglinski’s first Instagram post, Utah Democratic Party Chairperson Diane Lewis emailed members of the party’s “full executive committee,” according to a copy of the email showing the The Tribune has received.

“We have prepared topics for discussion. If this gets to the media,” Lewis wrote in the two-sentence email.

In additional messages shared with The Tribune from the same email thread, Utah County Party Democratic Party leader Katie Adams-Anderton argued that “We, the UDP[Utah Democratic Party]do the same in this regard are complacent like Senator Davis. We have a historical problem with censuring those who commit these crimes.”

Other party leaders in the email chain said the 2019 directive went far enough to address sexual harassment in the party.

Ann Dent, who is an appointed member of the Utah Democratic Party’s executive committee, wrote in the email chain, “To say we have a ‘historic problem’ to blame them is incorrect. We spent so much time implementing a harassment policy and following it to the last detail.”

Lewis later requested members of the Executive Committee to refer all media inquiries to the party’s communications director. Efforts by The Tribune to contact Lewis about the allegations of misconduct and the “talking points” were not reciprocated by the party leader.

A spokesman for the Utah Democratic Party said it “takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously.”

“Due to the nature of our party’s government documents, we cannot investigate claims without an official request to the Judiciary Committee to open an investigation,” the spokesman said, adding that once a complaint was filed, the party would follow its own “policies and procedures related to.” combating harassment.”

“Everyone should feel safe from sexual harassment, and that’s why we believe a fair and thorough process to investigate these allegations is so important,” the statement concludes.

Nadia Mahallati, former vice chair of the Utah Democratic Party, said the Utah Democratic Party’s policies on sexual harassment aren’t the problem — it’s the failure of current party officials to implement them.

“The party is likely to claim that they have no obligation to do anything, particularly because no formal complaint has been made,” Mahallati, who helped write the party’s sexual harassment policy, told The Tribune. “Nothing prevents the party from making a statement, including demanding resignation and denouncing support.”

Mahallati said she has distanced herself from the Utah Democratic Party. She told The Tribune that she felt she was pushed out of party leadership in 2021 for speaking out against how sexual harassment claims were handled.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the Legislature was aware of the allegation, but it was not clear if they had received an official complaint about Davis.

“We learned of this new information from an online post yesterday. These types of comments are taken seriously and we are in the process of reviewing them,” Adams said Thursday.

history of allegations

This latest allegation against Davis comes a year after former lawmaker Elizabeth Converse claimed in a Facebook post that Davis behaved inappropriately in the Utah Capitol and on a parliamentary tour.

In her 2021 Facebook post, Converse claimed that while on a business trip in Chicago, Davis “put his arm around my waist, pulled me close and said, ‘I hear you like body shots. You know, I have a bottle of tequila at home.’”

She said in the Post that she declined to include her experience in a formal grievance against Davis, but did report the behavior to her superiors.

In 2017, seven female Democrats sent a letter to then-Utah Democratic Party leader Peter Corroon alleging that Rob Miller, who was running to be the party’s new leader, had been kissing, hugging, and behaving inappropriately with women. Miller dismissed the allegation as a political attack before the Democratic convention.

Last year, four years after the initial indictment, the Utah Democratic Party apologized for its handling of the complaints.

“The party did not give the women involved an opportunity to comment and therefore failed to complete an investigation,” the party wrote last year.

Weglinski stressed to The Tribune that in disclosing her experience, it was important to her to “raise awareness of the power dynamics that work against interns, especially in these prestigious government positions where we don’t feel comfortable speaking out about abuse.” . More things need to be done.”

Salt Lake Tribune politics editor Jeff Parrott contributed to this story.

Editor’s Note • Salt Lake Tribune reporter Emily Anderson Stern can be reached at Gene Davis, who has been accused by a Utah Senate intern of “sexual misconduct,” an issue some Democrats say the party has ignored

Justin Scacco

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