Report: Sen. Kruse engaged in pattern of sexual harassment; Gov. calls for resignation

FILE- In this Feb. 14, 2012, file photo, Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, speaks at the Capitol in Salem, Ore.  (Timothy J. Gonzalez/Statesman-Journal via AP, File)

Sen. Jeff Kruse engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment toward two female state senators as well as other women at the Oregon state Capitol, a report from an independent investigator released Tuesday found.

Additionally, the report found that even after Kruse was warned about his behavior, he escalated it.

The findings of the report prompted Gov. Kate Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek to call on the senator to resign.

“Senator Kruse’s behavior is not acceptable in the Capitol or any workplace, and he should step down," Brown said in a statement. "The legislature must immediately take steps to ensure that every person who walks into Oregon’s Capitol is safe and respected, allowing the focus in the capitol to be where it should: on serving the people of Oregon.”

“The third-party investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Senator Jeff Kruse was thorough and fair," Kotek said in her statement. "It showed a pervasive and persistent pattern of inappropriate and unacceptable behavior that is not permissible for anyone, let alone an elected official."

She said if Kruse doesn't resign, the Senate should expel him.

Oregon state Sens. Sara Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward filed complaints about Kruse’s conduct toward them at the Capitol.

Gelser accused Kruse of touching her breasts, putting his hand on her thigh, kissing her on the cheek and whispering in her ear so closely it left it wet.

The investigation, conducted by Dian Rubanoff, Peck Rubanoff & Hatfield PC, found “a longstanding pattern of Senator Kruse engaging in unwelcome physical contact toward females in the workplace, including Senator Gelser and Senator Steiner Hayward, and that he stubbornly refused to change that behavior after being warned about it in March 2016.”

The report does not recommend sanctions but concluded that without specific conditions to follow and serious consequences for violating those conditions, Kruse “may fall back into his old patterns.”

The accusations of Kruse's unwanted touching went beyond Gelser and Steiner. According to the report, in 2017 Kruse sexually harassed two law students who were working in his office as well as a young lobbyist.

During interviews with Kruse, the independent investigator said the senator didn't deny most of the accusations but said he "had no recollection" of them. Kruse admitted to the investigator that he didn't take the warnings made toward him seriously until December 2017 when he attended an hour of counseling.

In response to the allegations, Senate President Peter Courtney stripped Kruse of all his committee assignments. In an October 2017 letter, Courtney told Kruse that in March 2016 he was warned "not to touch women at work. Period."

The report now heads to the Senate Committee on Conduct, which will review it during a public hearing Thursday, Feb. 22 at 5 p.m. in Hearing Room A.

KATU News has reached out to Kruse and Gelser for statements.

Steiner Hayward said the report speaks for itself.

Several lawmakers have asked Kruse to resign.

Read the report here.

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