ST. PAUL — A sexual assault survivor has told a former senior Minnesota corrections official accused of leaking her identity to stop talking — or risk being sued.
A letter from the woman’s attorney is directed at Sarah Walker, a former deputy commissioner of corrections who resigned last month while under investigation for allegedly leaking the survivor’s identity to the media; she’s also suspected of improperly lobbying for her husband’s charity. The letter was sent to Walker’s attorney.
It looks like it worked. Within hours of the letter going out, Walker canceled interviews and issued a statement saying she wouldn’t be issuing any more statements.
Walker denied that she lobbied, although internal Department of Corrections documents suggest otherwise. As for leaking information about the survivor, Walker responded earlier this week not by denying it, but by saying that the woman’s identity was “well known amongst the victims’ rights advocates community, as well as employees within the DOC’s Victim Services and Restorative Justice Unit.” Walker oversaw that unit. The survivor is a DOC employee.
The survivor’s attorney, Sheila Engelmeier, called the alleged leaking “reprehensible” and Walker’s response “alarming and inaccurate,” according to the letter. It suggests Walker may have violated the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by divulging private data, as well as another statute that protects DOC employees specifically, and may constitute a claim of privacy invasion.
“Forcing a sexual assault victim to address issues of the past results in a revictimization and retraumatization of the individual,” the letter reads. “Accordingly, we demand Walker cease and desist in her actions.”
The letter, addressed to Scott Flaherty of the Briggs and Morgan firm, notes that Walker has planned media appearances this week to tell her side of the story. “We insist that Ms. Walker immediately stop making any public statements,” the letter reads.
Walker issued a statement Thursday after afternoon that reads, in part: “I received a letter from attorneys for the woman who gave an interview (to) MPR News, published July 10, 2019. That letter threatened me with litigation if I speak publicly. This letter was not shared by either myself or my attorney. As stated in my earlier statement, ‘I cannot respond with more detail without the consent of the victim of the assault.’ “
After the woman and several others with direct knowledge of related events were contacted by Minnesota Public Radio News, she decided to go on the record with her story.
However, the woman’s letter states, that wasn’t how she wanted it.
“As we understand the situation, our client’s former and current work colleagues were called by the media to comment on her sexual assault and other matters over a two-week period, primarily as a result of Ms. Walker’s leaking of private information,” the letter reads. “This caused extreme anxiety, humiliation and distress to our client. She did not want her identity public but decided to go on the record to avoid further media contact of the people in her life about this traumatic event.”
Walker herself was the subject of #MeToo publicity in 2017, when she came forward with sexual harassment allegations against Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish, who soon after resigned. In that case, Walker appears to have come forward entirely on her own accord.
Auditor to probe lobbying
The lobbying-on-state-time allegation has led Legislative Auditor James Nobles — a nonpartisan watchdog of the Legislature — to open a “special review” of both Walker’s conduct and of the charity, the Veterans Defense Project, Nobles said Thursday.
In her statement Thursday, Walker also addressed that issue.
“I welcome a fair investigation from a neutral, respected, non-partisan office,” the statement reads. “One of my greatest frustrations since resigning from the MN DOC has been that the investigation into the complaints against me ceased upon my departure, leaving me no alternative but to speak publicly. I look forward to cooperating with a thorough and neutral investigation, and am choosing to make no further public statement about my time at the DOC at this time.”
Walker, a longtime lobbyist who was appointed to the DOC in January, never clearly articulated why she resigned, although she blamed political rivals for aspects of her current situation.