Rep. Rod Hamilton removed as Ag Finance Chair, accused of sex assault

ST. PAUL - Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake has been suspended as chairman of the House Agriculture Finance Committee following allegations that he touched a woman without her consent.

The St. Paul Police Department confirmed a sex assault report was filed last Friday by a Bemidji woman who works as an advocate for a sexual violence center.  St. Paul Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster said the case is open and active, but they do not believe there is enough for a criminal case, based on current information.

In an interview Tuesday night with the Star Tribune, Hamilton said the woman misconstrued his actions and that they were not sexual in nature. On Wednesday, Hamilton said he had reported the incident to the human resources department of the state House.

A statement from House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin says they have instructed the House's non-partisan HR department to begin their complaint process per the new House Policy on Discrimination and Harassment. The new policy started Wednesday just after it was adopted by the House Rules Committee. Lawmakers had been looking at the change since two legislators accused of sexual misconduct resigned before the legislative session began.

In a statement Thursday, Hamilton denied accusations of sexual assault, adding, " I intended to offer comfort and compassion to a person who was going through a difficult time. I now understand that my actions, while well-intentioned may be viewed differently by a survivor of sexual assault, and that it may have caused additional pain and hardship."

The advocate said she stayed the night at Hamilton's apartment at his invitation because of blizzard conditions April 13. While there, she says Hamilton asked her to lay her head in his lap, then stroked her ears, arms, face and hands. She said he kissed her cheek several times.

Hamilton said they were watching a movie, when she came over to the couch and laid her head on a pillow next to him. He said he held her hands and kissed the top of her head, but it was not sexual in nature.

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