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Kentucky Statehouse Staffers Accuse Rep. John Arnold of Sexual Harassment, Assault

Two longtime Kentucky statehouse employees have filed ethics complaints against Democratic state Rep. John A. Arnold Jr., alleging a pattern of sexual assault and harassment dating back to early 2010.

Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, in separate complaints, allege Arnold inappropriately touched them and made lewd and vulgar comments in numerous incidents over several years. Arnold  is a veteran legislator from Sturgis.

Cooper and Costner  filed their complaints Friday with the Legislative Ethics Commission. They are employed by the state Legislative Research Commission—a nonpartisan agency that provides the legislature with staff and research support. Cooper is assigned as an aide to  House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins.  Costner is assigned as an adviser to House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson.

The complaints were obtained by WFPL and The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Both Cooper and Costner declined to comment for this story and referred questions to their attorney, Thomas Clay. He acknowledged the complaints but declined to comment. Both women agreed to be identified in connection with this report.

Arnold, 68, is a retired western Kentucky chiropractor who has served in the House since 1995. When reached for comment on Wednesday, Arnold said: "I've been advised not to comment."

In her complaint, Cooper alleges that "people responsible for establishing the laws" failed to take her sexual harassment claims against Arnold seriously.

"I feel like the people that I put my trust in to provide me a safe work environment have let me down and they continue let me down," she wrote in the complaint.

The women said they brought these allegations to members of the Legislative Research Commission, high-ranking Democratic representatives and a member of the Kentucky State Police.

The first alleged incident occurred in March 2010, according to the complaints. Subsequent alleged encounters include name-calling, inappropriate touching and cursing.

In March 2010, Arnold allegedly grabbed Costner's underwear while they walked up the steps of the state Capitol's Annex, according to the complaint. She claims state Rep. Reginald Meeks witnessed the incident and intervened.

Her complaint states:
"Rep. Arnold laughed and told Yolanda 'I just could not resist grabbing those fancy red lace panties.' Rep. Reginald Meeks became upset that Rep. Arnold had grabbed Yolanda's underwear and told him 'You don't every (sic) touch a sister! Yolanda is a married woman and somebody's mother. You never grab or touch another man's wife!! You better not let me catch you disrespecting Yolanda or any other sister again!!' Rep. Meeks was very upset that this happened to Yolanda. Rep. Arnold response to Rep. Meeks by saying 'Oh shut up! I do whatever I want to Yolanda. Because I have known her for a long time and longer than you!' Rep. Meeks told him 'I don't care you long you have known Yolanda! You better not ever disrespect her again!!'"
Meeks declined to comment on the matter Tuesday evening.

“The alleged complaint that you have is apparently going through a process,” he said. “I would prefer not to abridge that process, and for it go through that process as it is supposed to do.”

Another alleged encounter took place this year on Feb. 14—Valentine's Day. Cooper claims she was in Thompson’s office and bent over to pick up a package of bottled water when Arnold allegedly hit her on her buttocks.

Other legislative leaders either witnessed or were told of various alleged incidents of harassment, according to the ethics complaints.

In her complaint, Cooper said Susan Klimchak, communications director for House Floor Leader Adkins, told Arnold to leave Cooper alone. Klimchak declined to comment Tuesday.

The women also claim they met with Roy Collins, personnel director of the Legislative Research Commission, multiple times beginning on Feb. 14. They say they sought advice about about Arnold.

The complaints state that Collins, LRC Executive Director Robert Sherman and LRC attorney Laura Hendricks met with the women.

The women claim LRC staffers promised them Arnold’s actions “would not be tolerated" and that Arnold was told to stay away from their work areas when he did not have any business with their respective bosses. Cooper and Costner allege they were told that Arnold was advised to not contact them.

But the women say Arnold ignored the request.

By law, the Legislative Ethics Commission now has 10 days to provide Arnold with copies of the complaints. Within 20 days the commission must initiate a preliminary inquiry.

If the commission determines the facts are insufficient to constitute a violation, the case is closed.

If the commission finds probable cause to believe that a violation of the state ethics code has occurred, it can vote to either issue a private reprimand or else initiate an "adjudicatory proceeding" to determine whether there has been a violation.

This story was reported by WFPL and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. Both are part of Louisville Public Media.

R.G. Dunlop is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms. Email R.G. at rdunlop@lpm.org.

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