MN Capitol staffer: Sen. Schoen sent me a sexually explicit image

DFL Rep. Dan Schoen sponsored a bill requiring gun sale background checks.
DFL Rep. Dan Schoen
Brandt Williams | MPR News 2016

A Minnesota Senate staff member filed a formal complaint Tuesday against DFL Sen. Dan Schoen over an uninvited, sexually explicit photo he allegedly sent her in 2015.

The woman, Ellen Anderson, made the complaint to the Senate's human resources department and later spoke to MPR News about the message on Snapchat, a mobile messaging app, that included a photo of a man's genitals. A friend of Anderson, who was present when the message came through, attested to it in a separate interview.

Schoen's attorney Paul Rogesheske denied that his client sent that kind of message to Anderson or any other woman, and said he and Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, will "address the complaint as it comes."

"He never took pictures of his genitals and sent them to anybody. It's perplexing," said Rogesheske.

Anderson coordinates digital communications for the Senate DFL. (She is not the same Ellen Anderson who once served as a DFL senator from St. Paul). She said she did not take any action at the time and said Schoen told her, "No one needs to know about it."

Schoen was a House legislator then but was elected to the Senate in 2016.

"When I got to the picture from now-Sen. Schoen it didn't hurt me, it didn't make me feel unsafe at the time. Now it's becoming clear that it sounds like that's a pattern," Anderson said, referring to allegations first published Wednesday by MinnPost about text messages, sexual remarks and other unwelcome behavior by Schoen against two women who were DFL House candidates at the time.

A third unidentified woman told MinnPost about a genital photo she received via Snapchat; Anderson said she didn't share her account with the publication and was speaking about it for the first time Tuesday.

Anderson said those accounts drove her to file the complaint and go public.

"One mistake is one thing," she said. "A history of doing something like this is something very different."

Schoen has denied any wrongdoing and said he will not resign.

Anderson added, "I don't think Sen. Schoen is a monster or a horrible human. I think he has, from my perspective, some bad judgment. But bad judgment once is really different than bad judgment over and over and over again."

Anderson said she had known Schoen since 2014 because they both moved in DFL political circles. They became friends away from the Capitol, but it didn't move into a romantic realm.

She said she was unwinding after a Memorial Day weekend golf event in 2015 when the Snapchat message came through. She was at a party in a friend's garage with several other people present.

"I know I had never sent him a picture of me and don't believe I have ever led him to believe I was asking for a picture like that," she said, describing herself as surprised by its contents.

Anderson's friend, Lyssa Leitner, said she was peeking at the messages on Anderson's phone. She said she asked Anderson who she was communicating with and Schoen was the answer. Leitner said she heard Anderson make a sound of surprise and when she looked over she saw an image of a penis.

"I said, 'Were you expecting that? Had that happened before?' She said, 'Nope, that was unexpected.'" Leitner said. "Clearly I do remember her yelping in an 'oh my gosh' type moment."

She added, "I thought it was a bit odd, but it was also not my place to judge the context."

Leitner, who has interacted with Schoen as a Washington County government employee, said the image remained with her whenever they came in contact. Besides his Senate service, Schoen is a Cottage Grove police officer, though he has been removed from patrol duties while his conduct is under scrutiny.

The previous disclosures against Schoen have led to broad calls for his resignation by people in both political parties. He has denied that his behavior was meant as an inappropriate advance or led to inappropriate contact. He apologized in a statement last week to women made to "feel uncomfortable or harassed" but has not spoken publicly.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, stepped up his call for Schoen to resign for the sake of the Senate and his constituents.

"I just don't see that the environment is going to be one in which he is going to be comfortable, that others are going to be comfortable," said Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Schoen's refusal to resign will likely move the issue to the ethics subcommittee. Once a formal ethics complaint is lodged against a senator, the panel made up of two Republicans and two Democrats has 30 days to meet and determine whether there is probable cause to move forward.

"I think we have a good process in place," he said.

In the House, leaders hired an outside firm Tuesday to investigate sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center. The St. Paul firm NeuVest specializes in workplace allegations and has done prior training for the Legislature. The House will pay NeuVest $275 an hour for the inquiry with no cap on the total cost, according to a signed contract.

Patrick McCormack, director of the nonpartisan House Research Department, provided only limited details about how that investigation would occur while calling it "neutral and thorough."

"A team of nonpartisan House Research Department attorneys has been designated as point persons for this investigation," McCormack said in a written statement. "To preserve the integrity of the investigation, my department will have no further comment."

Gazelka said that type of investigation is also an option for the Senate.

"Yes, I have contemplated whether it makes sense to get outside resources involved. I really want to make sure I know where Sen. Schoen is at and what his course of action is going to be. Then from there we'll move forward. Hopefully by the end of this week we'll have a clearer path," Gazelka said.

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, was among those who called last week for Schoen to resign. She said she's disappointed he hasn't done so.

Kent expects an ethics complaint against Schoen to move forward. She also expects a lot of work in the coming months to improve sexual harassment policies at the Capitol.

"It's going to be a complex conversation," Kent said. "But it's important, because we need to make sure we have policies that victims feel they can come forward and report safely and without fear of retribution, and that we have accountability."

MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire contributed to this report.

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