Missouri lawmaker introductory letter accusing another of raping her

WashingtonD.C.,Oct3:The Ferguson, Missouri, attorney opened by introducing herself to her soon-to-be colleagues.

“My name is Cora Faith Walker,” she wrote in a letter to Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson and two other House leaders. “I will be in the Capitol in January as the Representative of the 74th District.”

But it was the next two sentences 31-year-old Walker penned that would upend a lawmaking body already embroiled in controversy.

“Earlier this week, I reported a sexual assault to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department,” Walker wrote. “I named my rapist as Steven Roberts, Jr., who hopes to be in the Capitol next year as the Representative of the 77th District.”

The single-page letter, sent by email to Missouri House leadership on Friday and first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, again pointed the spotlight at a Missouri state house previously accused of having a “sexist culture.” Both Walker and Roberts are Democrats who are running unopposed for their seats and are expected to be sworn in in January.

The day after Walker sent the letter, she told Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger that the alleged assault occurred sometime between the night of Aug. 26 and the morning of Aug. 27 after she met Roberts at a St. Louis apartment around 9:30 p.m.

The two of them would soon be the only black lawyers in the Missouri legislature, Walker told Messenger, and they had set up the meeting to discuss how they might work together.

They reportedly had two glasses of wine, Walker told the paper, and she woke up the next morning in a bed at the same apartment, with no memory of what happened after drinking the second glass of wine.

“I had no recollection of why I was still there,” she told Messenger. The following day, she informed her husband, Tim Walker, about the incident, but it took them several weeks to decide to go to police.

Walker confirmed the reported details of the allegations to The Washington Post on Sunday but said she could not speak more about them until a police report was made publicly available.

Neither Roberts nor his attorney responded Sunday to calls and emails for comment. A Facebook page for his campaign, formerly public, was no longer publicly visible as of Sunday.

Roberts’ attorney, Scott Rosenblum, told the Associated Press that he has been in contact with police and confirmed that the allegations are being investigated. Roberts has not been arrested or charged, the AP reported.

“I think that we will be able to basically undermine those allegations pretty quickly,” Rosenblum told the AP. “Whatever happened between these individuals was absolutely consensual and I think we have what I would call objective evidence to support that.”

In her letter, Walker said she initially reported the assault anonymously but “ultimately decided to press charges, in the interest of my own safety and the safety of others.”

The Post typically does not identify rape victims, but Walker came forward and, in her letter to state leaders, said she wanted to speak out against gender violence and rape culture, particularly in light of recent reports of sexual harassment and an unwelcoming work environment for women at the Missouri State Capitol.

The Post-Dispatch reported on those issues:

“The investigation, and the letter from Walker to Richardson, comes during a precarious time in Missouri’s capital city. Richardson took over leadership in the House after the former speaker, Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, resigned in disgrace after sending salacious text messages to an intern. Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, also resigned in 2015 after being accused of sexual harassment by interns. In 2016, after Richardson vowed to clean up the sexist culture of the Capitol, Rep. Don Gosen, R-Wildwood, resigned his position after admitting to an affair.”

“This is definitely just really difficult, coming forward knowing what was going to happen,” Walker told The Post. She said she has received, within the past 48 hours, both encouraging and hateful responses.

“I have really been heartened by the amount of support that I’ve received from a lot of people. I got an email from someone who said that they went through a similar instance in 1980 and never said anything to anyone,” Walker said. “I’ve also gotten some incredibly negative reaction. People that don’t know me have fallen into the same typical sorts of tropes that I knew I risked when I came forward … the sort of things that make it difficult and scary for someone to come forward, the sorts of things that cause women to stay silent.”

Walker said Richardson called her Saturday to assure her that he was taking the letter seriously. In a statement, Richardson said he considered the allegations “extremely serious and disturbing.”

“The kind of conduct alleged cannot be tolerated in our state and will not be tolerated in the House of Representatives,” Richardson said. “While the House has no jurisdiction over non-members, we will monitor the criminal investigation closely and continue to have a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, misconduct and harassment.”

In her letter, Walker also noted that she is not the first woman to accuse Roberts of sexual assault.

In April 2015, St. Louis police arrested Roberts on suspicion of second-degree sodomy after an incident with a student in a downtown bar, according to a Post-Dispatch story. Roberts was not charged; months later, he was fired from his position as the city’s assistant circuit attorney, the paper reported.

Roberts is a fourth-generation St. Louis native, a lawyer and a former prosecutor, according to his campaign website. Among his law school experiences, Roberts listed assisting the Counsel to Secure Justice in New Delhi to help victims of sexual assault.

Walker was born in St. Louis but raised in Alabama, then returned to St. Louis for her bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees. She lives in Ferguson with her husband and said she ran for state office in part to help improve the criminal justice system and community policing after “events that have occurred in Ferguson have made international headlines.”

Walker has a public health background and a formerly was health-care attorney. She is interested in the intersection of mental health and the criminal justice system. In working on “ways to improve the system to prevent all kinds of violence,” she has researched and spoken to a lot of victims of gender violence, she said.

Walker now finds her platform “painfully ironic.”

“But it’s also something that really compelled me to speak out,” she said.