Ore. Senator Files Harassment Charge

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- An Oregon state senator filed a formal complaint Wednesday against another senator involving accounts of sexual harassment and asked for his expulsion from the legislative body in a letter that contained detailed descriptions of the alleged behavior.

In the five-page complaint, Sen. Sara Gelser says Sen. Jeff Kruse touched her breasts, put his hand on her thigh during a committee hearing, slipped his fingers under the hem of her skirt, kissed her on the cheek and whispered in her ear so closely that it left her ear and cheek wet.

An investigation completed this week after Gelser made an informal complaint turned up evidence that the Republican senator from Roseburg had behaved inappropriately toward other women, Gelser wrote.

At least 15 other women have reported problems with Kruse, including another female senator, Gelser, a Democrat, wrote.

Kruse did not respond to an email or return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

He has previously denied the allegations and said he was being denied due process.

Senate President Peter Courtney previously removed Kruse from his committee assignments and warned him to stop touching women in a blunt letter that read, "Women in the Capitol do NOT want you to touch them."

On Wednesday, in response to Gelser's formal complaint, Courtney said the Senate would launch an independent investigation.

"The Senate takes the filing of a formal complaint very seriously. Senate rules require that we provide 'a safe and respectful workplace that is free of harassment,'" he wrote in a statement.

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Republican, called the allegations "extensive and disturbing" and said Kruse should resign if they are found to be true.

Gelser first posted on Twitter last month that she had been the subject of inappropriate touching by a Republican senator, but didn't name Kruse. She later identified him as the senator in question.

Her complaint Wednesday provides her first detailed account of harassment she says stretches back to at least 2013.

The Corvallis, Oregon, senator first began working with Kruse when she was a member of the Oregon House of Representatives.

Elected to the state Senate in 2015, Gelser shared three of her four committee assignments with Kruse and it was hard to avoid him, she wrote. She requested not to be seated next to him during meetings and at one point switched name plates before a meeting to avoid sitting near him, she said.

As the harassment continued, she wrote, Gelser took the stairs instead of the elevator to avoid being in a confined space with Kruse. She also instructed her staff to avoid meetings with Kruse and told staff never to send young interns to meet with him.

Other senators intervened on two occasions after witnessing Kruse's behavior toward Gelser, she wrote.

Other women who say they have been harassed by Kruse "do not experience the privilege or safety I do in filing a formal complaint," she wrote.

"I am unwilling to force any of these other individuals to risk their careers or reputations in order to experience the safe and harassment-free workplace that we are obligated to provide."

Kruse, a farmer who was first elected to the Oregon House in 1996 and the Senate in 2004, faced fines last year for smoking cigarettes in his office despite being told not to do so by state regulators.

Gelser was elected to the Oregon House in 2005 and served nine years there before being elected to the state Senate.