Monroe County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell is facing new allegations, this time from a woman who claims he sexually harassed her after she asked for his assistance on a county Child Protective Services matter.
The woman, whose name CITY is withholding, filed her complaint with the state Division of Human Rights on June 8. In it, she alleged that between August and October 2020, Flagler-Mitchell made unwanted sexual advances toward her.
The Monroe County District Attorney's Office is also investigating the allegations, said spokesperson Calli Marianetti. Monroe County Legislators were provided with copies of the complaint Thursday. County Attorney John Bringewatt also sent a memo to Legislature President Joe Carbone notifying that if the County Legislature is sued over the matter, it will have to retain outside counsel to defend itself. He noted that the memo does not constitute authorization for Flagler-Mitchell to be “defended or indemnified at county expense.”
In her complaint, the woman stated that she called Flagler-Mitchell on Aug. 27, 2020, regarding an unspecified Child Protective Services matter that was causing her difficulty. Flagler-Mitchell said he could help with the problem and, after they talked for about 10 minutes, told the woman he’d need to call her later. He called back at 10 p.m. and the woman told him it was too late in the evening to call but still decided to hear him out.
“Instead of discussing my CPS case he immediately went into detail about his genital parts...and described what he was capable of doing sexually to me,” read the complaint.
The woman stated that she cut him off, said she felt uncomfortable, and told Flagler-Mitchell that he needed to stop. He laughed and kept using language that made her feel uncomfortable so she hung up, she wrote in the complaint.
“The next day, he called me around 2 p.m. EST and stated over the phone if I would consider being sexually active with him if he were to facilitate my children being returned to me,” read the woman’s account. “I said no.”
The woman added that in the following weeks and months she continued receiving multiple texts, Facebook messages, and phone calls from Flagler-Mitchell “using the same language that was unwanted and offensive.”
Sometime in October 2020, Flagler-Mitchell told the woman to come to his office to discuss having her children returned to her. She met him at his office and he closed the door and began speaking sexually to her, read the complaint. The woman stated that during the encounter Flagler-Mitchell refused several of her requests to keep the door of his office open. She also stated that he asked if she’d have sex with him, to which she replied “no.”
In the complaint, the woman said she recorded the interaction and that she still has emails, texts, calls, and Facebook messages they exchanged.
Members of the Legislature’s Democratic caucus held a news conference Thursday during which they called on Flagler-Mitchell to resign and chided the Republican majority for blocking legislation that would amend the county ethics code to expressly prohibit sexual harassment by county employees, including legislators.
“His continued presence in a position of power and influence revictimizes, scares, and intimidates his victims daily,” Legislator Yversha Roman, leader of the Democratic caucus, said during the news conference.
Several prominent Democratic office holders, including County Executive Adam Bello, Assembly member Harry Bronson, and House Rep. Joe Morelle, have already called on Flagler-Mitchell to resign.
“He should not be in office one more day,” Democratic County Legislator Rachel Barnhart said during Thursday’s news conference. “This latest allegation that was filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights alleges what I believe is a crime.”
Flagler-Mitchell, a Democrat, was elected in 2014 to represent the county’s 29th District, which covers portions of northeast Rochester. He is facing a Democratic primary challenge this month from social worker William Burgess.
The new complaint emerged one day after the county released files prepared by the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office during its investigation into a previous complaint against Flagler-Mitchell, 43, made by another woman, 20-year-old LaKaya Sinclair.
Sinclair claimed that Flagler-Mitchell sexually harassed her by sending her a lewd photo and suggestive messages after they met in September 2020, when she was 19. He has said that the photo he sent to Sinclair was meant for his wife, with whom he’s stated he was simultaneously messaging when he sent the photo.
The DA’s Office didn’t charge Flagler-Mitchell with a crime, but in the report investigators stated that he used his standing as a lawmaker, a pastor, and a retired firefighter to “continually seek out women on social media platforms” and engage in conversations on “sexually related topics.”
Investigators spoke to 11 women, most of whom wanted to remain anonymous, who said their experiences with Flagler-Mitchell ranged from consensual sexual relationships to unwanted solicitations. Some said the encounters took place years ago, while others said they were first contacted by Flagler-Mitchell within the last year.
The accounts contained in the District Attorney’s Office revealed that investigators found evidence that Flagler-Mitchell was brazen in his approach — contacting women he didn’t know or barely knew, striking up conversations, and quickly turning the tone of their chats into one of a flirtatious or sexual nature, including sending unsolicited images or videos of his genitalia.
One of the women described flirting with Flagler-Mitchell through Facebook messages after he commented on her appearance in a photo. According to the files, she said she eventually had sexual relations with him and that their relationship was built around her providing sexual favors for money and food.
The DA’s Office provided its files to the county’s Ethics Board, with which Sinclair had also filed a complaint.
The board last week ruled that Flagler-Mitchell’s exchanges with Sinclair violated the county’s ethics code, which states in part that an official should “pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his trust.”
The county’s ethics code states that a legislator found to have violated the code can be fined, suspended, or removed from office, though it doesn’t say how any of those penalties could be enforced.
Legislature Democrats introduced a measure to censure Flagler-Mitchell, but the Republican majority and members of the breakaway Black and Asian Democratic Caucus, of which Flagler-Mitchell is the leader, voted it down during a meeting Tuesday.
“There is simply no excuse for behavior like this from anyone, much less an elected official,” read a statement released Thursday by Burgess, Flagler-Mitchell’s primary opponent. “As a husband and father, I am sickened to think that Ernest, who has the privilege of holding a position or power and leadership in our community, is behaving so inappropriately towards multiple young women. This has to stop.”
Flagler-Mitchell released a statement on the allegations against him Thursday. The statement in full reads:
“These allegations against me are not true. I have always been one to help people who call on me and I attempted to do so in this instance. Unfortunately, we were unable to resolve this individual’s situation favorably and now she has launched false allegations against me. I have always been one to admit my shortcomings and today will be no different." "As in any marriage, I have experienced ups and downs. Regretfully, I have had moments of infidelity. These are personal matters that my wife and I continue to work through. I have never promised anything in return for favors nor used my position for anything other than serving the people of my district and that’s what I will continue to do. I request that you respect my family’s privacy during this difficult time.”
Joe Carbone, president of the County Legislature, Steve Brew, Republican Majority Leader, and the Republican members of the Monroe County Legislature, called for the resignation of Flagler-Mitchell on Thursday.
Their full statement reads:
“We worked behind the scenes to encourage Legislator Flagler-Mitchell to resign in an effort to not further politicize the accounts of the brave individuals who came forward in this matter. After being unsuccessful in our attempts, we are today publicly calling for his resignation. Sexual harassment of any form should not be tolerated. These most recent allegations involving misconduct on county property are especially troubling and warrant resignation.”
Republican legislators said that they only became aware of this most recent complaint and the District Attorney’s report on Wednesday, and said that, "despite the advice of legal counsel, are today publicly calling for the resignation of Legislator Flagler-Mitchell."
Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.