Accusers Turn Up the Heat on Usie

Feb. 16, 2005 – Sen. Usie Richards Tuesday was named once again in a sexual harassment claim.
Dee Dee Byas, through her attorney Karin Bentz, filed the complaint with V.I. Labor Department. Another Legislature employee, the woman who first brought charges against Richards, filed a similar complaint earlier this month.
Following Labor Department policy, the complaint is being forwarded to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Bentz said Wednesday that the complaints would be investigated by the Puerto Rico office.
The commission can refer it to federal attorneys for civil action, or it can provide the complainant with a letter authorizing her to file a lawsuit. Sexual harassment suits are usually filed through District Court where the judge can consider violations of either federal or territorial law. The Puerto Rico office investigator was not available for comment Wednesday.
After receiving what both women claimed was an inadequate response from the Legislative committee investigating the complaints last December, the women decided to use other venues.
They both filed "first-degree unlawful sexual contact" charges against Richards with the V.I. Police Department on Jan. 17. Territorial Police Chief Novelle Francis said at the time that "sexual harassment is a crime." He said he thought the case would move "expeditiously," since all the parties involved are accessible.
Police Sgt. Thomas Hannah, department spokesman, said Wednesday that the investigation has been completed, except for one statement, and will be handed over to the Attorney General's office soon by Lt. Randolph De Suza, Police Department criminal investigation bureau commander.
Assistant Attorney General Ernest Bason, chief of the St. Thomas and St. John criminal division, said Wednesday that once he receives the file and a prosecutorial opinion is reached, the office will file the appropriate charges.
The complaints are the latest development in a sexual harassment case which became public last September when a female Senate employee wrote then Senate President David Jones alleging Richards had made sexual advances toward her.
A Senate Ethics Committee was formed and several more women brought complaints against Richards. When the committee issued its findings in December, the employee who brought the first complaint was disappointed with the committee's decision, a letter of reprimand, which one of the women called a "slap on the wrist." Since that time, both women have lost their jobs at the Legislature. (See "Two Women Who Reported Sexual Harassment are Without Jobs").
Meantime Richards filed suit against members of the Legislature. On Dec. 30 attorney Jeffery Moorhead filed a lawsuit, on behalf of Richards, in Territorial Court on St. Croix against Senate President David Jones and members of the Senate Ethical Conduct Committee, who investigated the case, asking the judge to rule the Ethics Committee decision invalid. (See "Richards Files Lawsuit Against his Colleagues"). Moorhead's office said Wednesday that no court date has yet been set for the hearing.
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