A Knoxville Democrat has been accued of sexual misconduct, but it's unclear what penalties or scrutiny he faces.
State Rep. Rick Staples says the allegations from an unnamed woman involved in Democratic politics are "politically motivated." The woman claims Staples held onto her waist during a meeting in his office, after making inappropriate comments about her appearance on multiple occasions.
The allegations first appeared late Wednesday in The Tennessean. Staples told reporters Thursday he apologizes if any of his words or actions have been misinterpreted.
“Unfortunately this has been used as a tool and an avenue for political character assassination," Staples said. "I would move forward from this, and once again, I would move forward with the knowledge and understanding that we can be misinterpreted.”
Staples is expected to be removed from the House Ethics Committee, a potential prelude to further sanctions. He says he's not currently being investigated, but House leadership refused to confirm that, citing the legislature’s sexual harassment policy.
"If there was an investigation, it cannot be commented on," House Speaker Glen Casada said on Thursday.
Mike Stewart, Democratic Caucus chairman, also declined to comment about specifics of a potential investigation. According to The Tennessean, Stewart was contacted directly by the woman to complain about Staples' behavior.
Staples is the fourth state lawmaker facing sexual misconduct allegations in the past four years.
The others were Franklin Republican Jeremy Durham, who was expelled from the House in 2016 after investigators substantiated he'd sexually harassed nearly two dozen women; Shelby County Republican Mark Lovell, who resigned in 2017 after being found to have inappropriately touched a woman at a bar; and Waynesboro Republican David Byrd, who's been accused by three women of sexual misconduct when he was their high school basketball coach in the 1980s.
Byrd was re-elected last fall, after the allegations were made.