Former Gov. Douglas Wilder responds to sexual harassment investigation results

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. CT file photo

Hannah Eason, News Editor

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder responded Monday to the findings of an independent investigator hired by VCU, who concluded he kissed a student more than 60 years his junior without her consent.

Attorney Jody Shipper, the investigator hired by the school, was in charge of determining Wilder’s responsibility in four allegations: non-consensual sexual conduct, sexual exploitation, sex-gender based discrimination and retaliation. The investigation cleared Wilder of the latter three.

Wilder, who served as governor of Virginia from 1990-1994, states there are inconsistencies in the evidence referenced in the investigation, and denies several aspects of former VCU student Sydney Black’s allegations.

Black, 22, who formerly worked with Wilder at VCU, reported to both the university and Richmond police that Wilder kissed her without her consent after the two had dinner together on her 20th birthday. 

Black told The Washington Post in March that Wilder gave her alcohol, kissed her and on a different occasion suggested she could live at his home. He also offered to pay for her schooling at Howard University School of Law, Black says.

“We are pleased the investigation has validated Sydney’s report to VCU about Mr. Wilder’s conduct,” Black’s attorney, Jason Wolfrey, said in a statement to The Post earlier this month.

Wilder, the first African American governor in the U.S., responded to the report in a blog post, stating the evidence used in the investigation was “false, lacks credibility and reflects glaring inconsistencies.” 

The VCU professor, whose contract was renewed during the investigation, contested several of Black’s statements, and said some of his exchanges with her may have been misinterpreted.

“Wilder’s use of the ‘baby girl’ moniker was not unique to Complainant [Black] and more importantly, was never intended as a personal term of endearment,” Wilder’s response stated.

Yesterday, Wilder released a copy of his statement contesting the investigation’s findings in the post “Due Process at VCU? Make it Real.” A blog post on Monday titled, “The Truth Is Out,” cited the investigation’s results and included several emails from Black to Wilder. 

VCU spokesperson Michael Porter stated in an email that the university could not release the report on the investigation into the allegations against Wilder due to privacy concerns.

“VCU takes seriously any allegations of misconduct and all parties’ rights to a fair and impartial process that provides a full opportunity to be heard,” Porter stated. “VCU policy contemplates both an investigation and an opportunity for parties to contest the findings of an investigation before the process is complete.”

Shipper reviewed evidence including Black’s allegation that Wilder invited her to dinner in February 2017, as well as phone calls between the two.

“It would be unreasonable to suggest that [Wilder] would have called Complainant [Black] if there had not been some kind of precipitating event he felt required further discussion with Complainant,” the investigation’s report states, according to Wilder.

“This conclusion is factually and legally untenable,” Wilder’s response states.

Wilder’s response also analyzes a series of what he calls “inconsistencies” in Black’s statement and behavior. 

Wilder says there were inconsistencies in Black’s statements to her roommate and mother about the reported incident in 2017. 

According to excerpts of the report cited by Wilder, Black told her mother that Wilder “tried” to touch her leg, with no mention of physical touching between the two, and that this information was not disclosed in the external investigation, nor reported to Wilder. The report does not state how the information was obtained. 

In his response, Wilder outlines seven accounts of the events with Black. 

Wilder states he did not invite Black to dinner on February 16, 2017, nor did he induce Black to become intoxicated at dinner, stating there was no intent to make Black more vulnerable to his advances.

Wilder stated he did not touch or attempt to touch Black’s leg, nor did he kiss or attempt to kiss Black at any time. 

In his recollection of events, Wilder says he did not exchange calls with Black immediately after dinner, but always in response to outreach initiated by Black. He states he “did not engage in these exchanges with any motive, specific or otherwise.”

 

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