Two Colorado lawmakers revealed Friday that they have been wearing bulletproof vests to work in the Capitol, saying they fear retaliation for speaking out on behalf of accusers in the sexual harassment scandal gripping the statehouse.
Rep. Alec Garnett, the assistant House majority leader from Denver, and Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, told the House chamber about the precaution they have taken during Friday's hearing before Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled on a 52-9 vote.
Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat, is accused of sexually harassing several women. His Democratic colleagues were pushing for his ejection.
Garnett, a Democrat, said he was specifically concerned about violence from Lebsock. "He threatened to ‘take me down,' " Garnett told The Denver Post.
Garnett has stood up for one of Lebsock's accusers - Rep. Faith Winter. Gray, a fellow Democrat, earlier in the session called for Lebsock's expulsion.
"I'm sick of wearing my bulletproof vest," an emotional Garnett said on the House floor. "I'm sick of doing it."
He added: "I fear for retaliation. I am in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and I’m wearing a bulletproof vest because I fear retaliation for telling the truth and standing up for victims of sexual harassment. I’ve been wearing it for three weeks.”
Garnett has been involved in the harassment scandal since it started. Winter called on him for help during a party after the 2016 legislative session ended where Lebsock allegedly used explicit and suggestive language with her and then became angry when she turned him down. According to Winter's account, she asked Garnett to get Lebsock a ride home, saying he was intoxicated. When Garnett offered to call a ride-sharing service, Lebsock allegedly cursed at him and walked away.
“Members,” a crying Lebsock said in response to the lawmakers wearing bulletproof vests. "I am an honorably discharged Marine Corps veteran. And if someone walked in here — members, you would have had me here to protect you. Even the ones that don’t like me. I’m just hoping you know that.”
Garnett said he doesn't button his shirt or tie his tie before coming to work each day because he puts the vest on in his Capitol office. He said his wife doesn't like to see him donning it.
"I put mine on in the parking garage so my kids don't have to see it," Gray said on the House floor after joining Garnett. "I don't have to explain to them what it is."
The Colorado State Patrol, which provides security for the Capitol, said it had received no reports of specific threats made against lawmakers related to the sexual harassment scandal or expulsion vote.
However, House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, informed the patrol a few weeks ago that tumultuous times were ahead, Sgt. Rob Madden said Friday.
Security levels at the Capitol fluctuate depending on the day's activities and the patrol does not discuss those, he said. "The Colorado State Patrol is aware of everything that is happening at the Capitol today, as we always are," Madden said.
The patrol heightened its presence earlier this week for a bill signing on law enforcement equipment, leading some in the building to falsely speculate that the increased security was due to the impending Lebsock vote, Madden said.
Winter said the concerns of Garnett and Gray - “men that stood up with me, men that said they believe me” - was another difficult thing to carry on top of the harassment she suffered.
“It’s an incredible weight on my shoulders,” Winter said, explaining that she was also incredibly grateful.