State Representative Paul McMurtry was cleared Wednesday by an ad hoc committee of state lawmakers that investigated allegations that he grabbed the backside of an incoming legislator during a legislative gathering late last year, concluding that if any contact occurred, it was not intentional.
The findings, detailed in a 17-page executive summary House officials made public Wednesday, wrapped up a months-long investigation into the Dedham Democrat that included an outside consultant, House Counsel James Kennedy, and a committee of state representatives whose names were not made public.
The committee found “insufficient evidence” showing McMurtry violated House rules against sexual harassment, and it voted unanimously that there should be “no action” against McMurtry.
McMurtry, 53, was facing allegations he grabbed an incoming legislator during a Dec. 13 cocktail hour at the Old Chapel on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus, where the school had organized a three-day orientation for incoming senators and representatives. He denied the claims when they surfaced after the event.
The committee met for the first time on Jan. 16, the same day the Globe first reported the allegations. The Globe spoke to three legislators, two of whom said the alleged victim told them that McMurtry grabbed her and a third who said she witnessed it directly. That person, a state representative, said she saw McMurtry grab the woman’s “behind.”
According to the report, the investigation included 19 in-person interviews and video footage of a cocktail hour, which showed a single interaction between McMurtry and the legislator during a group conversation but “no visible contact” as he later walked by her.
The legislator who was allegedly grabbed — and was identified in the report as the “Alleged Recipient” — declined to be interviewed by the consultant, Cynthia Farquhar, and no lawmaker or staff member told Farquhar, that they witnessed the alleged incident “first-hand,” according to the report.
Some House members also refused to cooperate or “resisted cooperation” with the investigation, with one arguing the process was flawed, according to the report.
“On balance, the totality of the evidence before the Committee supports a finding that, if any contact occurred between Representative McMurtry and the Alleged Recipient, that contact was accidental or incidental rather than intentional,” the report reads.
Shortly after the summary was made public, House Democrats met in a brief, closed-door caucus, where House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo appointed McMurtry as chair of the Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development — a position DeLeo had left vacant when he first announced committee assignments because the investigation was ongoing.
DeLeo said the investigation was “thorough” and noted that members gave a “sustained applause” during the caucus, pointing to what he called “an unanimous decision of the committee finding no evidence of any wrongdoing” by McMurtry.
“You heard the support that Representative McMurtry had,” DeLeo told reporters Wednesday evening. “The reason you probably heard such an applause was the fact that he’s been such a gentleman that many of us have known for many, many years. Quite frankly, I think we always found him to be a great advocate for his district, a gentleman, and someone I think that we were very pleased to be able to call a colleague.”
Asked whether he was relieved that the investigation was done, DeLeo said, “I’m glad we did what we did,” before aides ushered him into an open elevator.
In a statement, McMurtry said he was falsely accused, and added that he was “completely exonerated” by the probe, during which he was interviewed three times.
“I do not know, and may never know, why the false public statements were made about me, but I am grateful I had the opportunity to participate in a process that uncovered the truth,” said McMurtry, who also thanked “those who stood by me and supported me during this most difficult time while my character was called into question.”
“Sexual misconduct is a serious matter,” he added, “and one that requires our daily vigilance to eradicate from our workplaces and culture.”
The legislator McMurtry allegedly grabbed has declined to comment publicly, and an attorney representing her did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
The Globe reported in January that during a “Made in Massachusetts” cocktail reception, several legislators gathered in one corner of the room to take a photo. As the female lawmaker walked toward the group, McMurtry grabbed her backside, according to two lawmakers who said the woman told them afterward.
The report said four lawmakers said they received a “contemporaneous” report of an incident that occurred at the reception, though details varied.
“She told us immediately upon joining the group gathering to take the photo,” one legislator said, according to the Globe’s January report.
The report focused on an interaction during a group conversation that involved McMurtry, the legislator, and others. Citing the video, the report said that McMurtry left the conversation and that as he walked behind the legislator “his right arm and shoulder move back and down in his stride.”
At that point, the video footage “skips a fraction of one second,” according to the report, after which McMurtry is then visible just past the legislator, where “his arm moves back up in stride as he continues to walk.”
The legislator made “slight movements,” which the consultant initially found to be “consistent with an accidental touch” but later argued was not unusual or an “indication of distress.”
The report said that all of the lawmakers in a photo of the group denied witnessing the alleged incident. Furthermore, the report noted that the footage did not appear to have been edited.
McMurtry denied making any intentional contact and that he did not believe he even brushed or accidently touched the legislator because “he would have apologized.”
One state representative reported that she heard the legislator say, “I think someone touched my butt . . . I really think he touched my butt,” according to the report.
That a panel of lawmakers would decide whether to discipline McMurtry has drawn criticism from a lawmaker and from a group, Young Democrats of Massachusetts, which questioned whether it would have the necessary “objectivity to investigate.”
Some witnesses were also reluctant to come forward, according to a person involved, because they didn’t feel the investigation was independent. The report notes that one representative who made an initial report to DeLeo, refused to do in an interview with Farquhar or allow her to ask questions.
“He instead read from a prepared statement in which he informed [Farquhar] that he believed the investigatory process was flawed,” the report reads.
The committee said that it did not find the representative to be a “credible” witness, citing what it called conflicting statements between what he told DeLeo and what he wrote in a follow-up e-mail to Farquhar. Neither the representative, or other witnesses, were identified in the report.
Another House member, who the report said made the “most detailed initial report” to DeLeo, also did an interview, but she refused to provide Farquhar with redacted copies of a Facebook message thread between herself, the legislator who was allegedly grabbed, and a third representative, in which the three discussed both the alleged incident and “the Alleged Recipient’s desire not to proceed with a complaint.”
The third representative ultimately produced what the report called “heavily redacted copies of the Facebook messages.”Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.