For the first time in state history, Missouri House censures a member

The Missouri House of Representatives has voted 140-3 today in favor of censuring a member for the first time in state history. Eight lawmakers voted “present”.

State Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, is at the center of the public reprimand for allegedly having sex with an intern and trying to cover up the details – accusations he has denied. He says there were discrepancies in a report released by the bipartisan Missouri House Ethics Committee.

Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis (Photo courtesy of Tim Bommel, House Communications)

The committee unanimously recommended last month to censure Price. A report was then released to the public stating that Price shared with his legislative assistant that he had sex with an intern and Price attempted to coerce his assistant into lying to an investigator as well as the committee. He reportedly threatened to fire his assistant if she did not comply and said, “where I come from, people die for doing sh** like this”.

Under oath, Price said the assistant made up the story in retaliation to losing her job, but he did not inform appropriate House staff that he gave notice to the employee.

According to the report, an investigator interviewed Price, who stated he had not called the intern on his cell phone, and that he did not have and has never had her cell phone number.

The committee subpoenaed phone records between Price and the intern between January 22 through January 27, 2020. It found seven phone calls and 26 text messages had been exchanged between them. The last phone call, on January 26, lasted 46 minutes. Details of their text conversations were not included in the report.

According to the report, Price denied four times under oath to the committee that he called or texted the intern. After being shown the subpoenaed phone records, the report says Price changed his story.

Price admitted on the House floor today that he lied to the investigator about having the intern’s phone number. Once the investigator told Price what the probe was about, he said “I probably panicked.”

“At which point, I denied everything because I wanted nothing to do with this. I know what the implications are, especially now in the current climate that we are in when somebody comes on a politician with these kinds of accusations. I knew then that it wasn’t true and so I denied everything. When the lady asked me specifically did I have her (intern’s) number, I said no. And to that, I am wrong,” says Price.

Price says he was not under oath during his deposition.

“It was just a woman asking me questions about my personal life. When I stepped in front of the committee, I told them everything. They then tried to take my deposition and compare it to what I said under oath and say that I lied in my deposition and therefore, it’s perjury. Now whether I panicked in my deposition or not, that’s either here nor there.”

Price says his phone records show the intern texted him. According to Price, he returned the text with a 107-second phone call. Then he says she called him three times that night and he let all three calls go to voicemail.

“These are in the phone records,” he says. “This is not for debate.”

Price did not mention the three other phone calls and 25 other text messages listed in the report.

Price maintains the allegations are unsubstantiated.

“Because of the implications involved with these claims brought against me, I felt that I was under attack. Based on a falsehood and the current political climate, politicians are never given the benefit of the doubt. Even more specific to me, when a white woman brings forth accusations of a black man’s sexual improprieties, historically it doesn’t work in my favor,” he says.

Price stressed his character while serving in the House over the past two years.

“I’ve always kept it above board,” he says. “I’ve always been professional in this building.”

Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic (Photo courtesy of Tim Bommel, House Communications)

According to Trevor Fox in House Communications, the only time the House has ever expelled a member was John Sampson of Callaway County in 1865. Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, led an effort today to have Price expelled. He fought back tears as he said publicly condemning Price does not go far enough.

Taylor says Price committed perjury and charges should be pursued.

“Censure is a slap on the wrist. The representative has disgraced the honor of this great institution,” he says. “This hasn’t been about the left and the right, or Republicans and Democrats. It’s right versus wrong. It’s about holding one of our own accountable when the actions are deplorable. And whether or not you believe there was a sexual relationship with the intern – okay, maybe there wasn’t. But it was the cover up. It was everything else that happened. It was the committing a Class E felony.”

Taylor cited House policy banning inappropriate relationships with interns.

“We should all take into consideration the rules and the House policy that we adopt,” says Taylor. “If we don’t do anything, we should get rid of those rules. They mean nothing. These policies absolutely and unequivocally prohibit these type of relationship. If we merely censure the representative, we are sending a loud and resounding message that nothing has changed in this body. What message does this send to every LA (legislative assistant) in this body? What message does this send to every parent of an intern? What message does this send to every female legislator serving now and that wants to serve in the future?”

He says future victims will not come forward and report such allegations.

“Why would you? Why would you subjugate yourself to this type of public scrutiny if nothing is going to happen – if we are going to sweep it under the rug,” he asks. “In any other realm, any other environment, a person would be immediately terminated for any one of these actions. But because the perpetrator is a prestigious member of the Missouri House of Representatives, you are going to let him get away with this and not expel him. We will be giving him the opportunity to do this again and again and again. But the next time the LA is not going to come forward for fear of retaliation. The intern is not going to say anything for fear of retaliation. From what I understand, the LA still works in this building. We are creating – we are creating a hazardous work environment for that LA and for all other LA’s for that fact.”

Under the terms of the censure:

*Price must be removed from committees he serves on;

*He cannot serve in leadership or have an intern, and

*He must pay $22,500 to cover the investigation’s costs.

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