DENVER (CBS4) – Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has publicly apologized for the text messages he sent to a woman who once served as a member of his security team.
The text messages were sent to Detective Leslie Branch-Wise in 2012.
Hancock says Branch-Wise called him to say she requested to leave the team because she was sexually harassed by a member of Hancock’s staff.
That employee was later fired.
Hancock says he sent “unprofessional” text messages to Branch-Wise, but his “behavior did not involve sexual advances or inappropriate physical contact.”
The numerous texts were provided by the mayor’s office to CBS4 under an open records request.
One reads, “You look sexy in all that black.” It appeared on a cellphone with Hancock’s name as the sender.
Another text apparently from the mayor said, “Ok, so I just watched this story on women taking pole dancing classes. Have you every (sic) taking one and why do women take the course? If not, have you ever considered taking one and why? Thoughts? Be careful! I’m curious;)!”
Branch-Wise did not reply directly to that part of the text.
In an interview with CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger Hancock acknowledged he stepped over a line.
“It became too familiar, too casual. They certainly are not meant to be sexual in nature,” he said.
Another text attributed to the mayor says, “Loved the short doo. You made it hard on a brotha (sic) to keep it correct everyday. :)”
Hancock says the messages were inappropriate for a boss to send to his employee. He says it wasn’t until just days ago when he realized the messages were unwanted and the texts were as far as it went.
Allegations that the mayor had sexually harassed Branch-Wise first came to CBS4 in an anonymous letter to Sallinger. It stated, “Denver Mayor Michael Hancock sexually harassed police officer Leslie Branch-Wise when she was assigned to his security detail after his election in 2011.
The letter also contained a number of other allegations the mayor called “defamatory” and “untrue”.
“There are no sexual advances, and never at any time in the six years had I known that she took offense to these text messages. Had I known, I would have apologized then as I am now, and taken responsibility for them, as I am now,” he said.
In another text message the mayor apparently asks, “What are you doing tonight?”
Branch-Wise responded, “Nothing just watching TV.”
Hancock replied, “Just giving you a hard time. I have to keep you balanced. All I hear
from my friends is how fine you are.”
The mayor in his interview with CBS4 stated, “You know what, I’m apologizing and taking responsibility, and I hope that I get the opportunity to apologize to Detective Branch-Wise face to face, if she will allow me. I hope that happens. That’s where I’m going to leave that right now. At this point in time, I think what’s important now that it’s been brought to my attention that she found our exchanges offensive that I apologize.”
He said there were no legal matters or payments involved with the text messaging matter and he did not realize she considered them offensive.
“Because I was not aware that she felt that they were offensive, and she was hurt by them. I’m learning that last week after six years, she felt they were offensive and she was hurt by them, and so I’m apologizing for that,” Hancock said.
He added that this was an isolated incident and that this behavior did not go on with others.
“I sincerely apologize to Detective Branch-Wise. I apologize to my wife and family and to the people of Denver,” he said.
Hancock added he supports all women in the workplace, and Branch-Wise is a valued officer.
The Denver Sheriff Fraternal Order of Police responded to the incident saying, “On behalf of Denver Sheriff FOP we back you 100%. No female officer should ever have to endure such egregious behavior from a so called trusted official.”
CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.