ST. PAUL -- A state representative, who often fights for agriculture and people with disabilities, stands accused of inappropriate behavior.
Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, was stripped of his committee chairmanship shortly after the incident became public on Thursday, April 26.
St. Paul police are investigating, but a prosecutor said that so far there is not enough evidence for criminal charges
Police said a Bemidji woman reported last Friday an incident in Hamilton's apartment that she said occurred a week earlier.
Hamilton issued a statement saying he would cooperate with police, who he said had not contacted him.
"As someone who has worked for years with at-risk men and women, including survivors of sexual assault, I deeply regret the effect (of) my actions..." 50-year-old Hamilton said. "During my interactions with (her), I intended to offer comfort and compassion to a person who was going through a difficult time. I now understand that my actions, while well-intentioned, may be viewed differently by a survivor of sexual assault, and that it may have caused additional pain and hardship."
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis, which first reported the story, says the woman told a reporter she was “deeply hurt but also extremely disappointed. I first want to point out that Hamilton did not sexually assault me in the act of rape or penetration, but he touched me in unwanted ways without my consent."
She said the incident occurred when Hamilton invited her to stay on a couch in his St. Paul apartment overnight so she did not have to drive through a blizzard back to Bemidji.
While there, he had stroked her hair, traced the outline of her ear with his finger, kissed her on the cheek, touched her hands and hugged her “against her wishes,” St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike Ernster said.
The woman said she told Hamilton about her experience in her hometown of Willmar, when in 2015, authorities did not charge a person who she said raped her.
Hamilton said he apologizes, but denied accusations of sexual assault.
"In the interest of full transparency and cooperation, I have reported this incident to the House Human Resources Department," Hamilton said.
House leaders revoked Hamilton's chairmanship of the Agriculture Finance Committee.
A statement from the House Republican leadership said, "We are suspending his chairmanship and have instructed the House's non-partisan HR department to begin their complaint process per the new House Policy on Discrimination and Harassment."
Hamilton refused to answer reporters' questions Thursday, saying he had released his statement, and his attorney suggested he not answer any other question.
The Bemidji woman went to St. Paul police headquarters, accompanied by a sexual assault victim advocate, to file a report. She said she believed she had been sexually assaulted, according to Ernster.
The woman met with an investigator from the department’s family and sexual violence unit who interviewed her.
The St. Paul investigator consulted with the Ramsey County attorney’s office about the case, Ernster said.
“The attorney informed the investigator that, based on the facts we had at the time, it did not appear the elements of criminal sexual conduct were present,” Ernster said.
As of Thursday, the case remained open.
A new state House sexual misconduct policy started Wednesday. Lawmakers had been looking at the change since two legislators accused of sexual misconduct resigned before the legislative session began.
The new House sexual misconduct policy covers legislators, lobbyists and members of the general public.
Hamilton, a Republican, is known for passionate floor speeches, sometimes sprinkled with tears.
Reporters Mara Gottfried and Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this story.