Democratic leaders in the House have asked Rep. Jovan Melton of Aurora to resign after it was revealed that he has been arrested twice in the past two decades for domestic violence. Each incident involved a different woman.
In one instance he pled guilty to harassment, but he has denied physically harming anyone. It capped off an intense 24 hour period where Democratic leaders were in deep discussions trying to manage the situation.
“The Denver Post story is deeply disturbing and very serious. We have spoken with Rep. Melton privately and encouraged him to resign,” said an Oct. 10 statement from Speaker Crisanta Duran, Majority Leader KC Becker, and Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett.
“Ultimately it is Rep. Melton’s decision whether to step down,” the statement continued. “We recognize that the criminal justice system has not worked for far too many people of color and survivors. People should not necessarily be precluded from running for office because they have issues in their past. But we urge him to consider the seriousness of the story and the impact on the people of his district and on the public confidence in the legislature.”
In the first arrest, nearly 20 years ago, the Boulder District Attorney’s office confirmed that Melton pled guilty to harassment and shoving, kicking or touching a person. He received a 12 month deferred sentence, which he completed. He was ordered to stay away from the victim and go through domestic violence treatment.
Melton said he was immature and could not properly manage emotional and stressful situations, but he categorically denied being violent. He also highlighted the challenges black men face in the judicial system.
“The odds are stacked against us from the beginning, but as I stand today, I want to remind young men of color that violence or aggression against women is never acceptable,” stated Melton. “As a legislator, I now have an obligation to serve not only young people of color as a role model, but to be an advocate for women who witness or are victims of violence, assault, or aggression.”
Melton is the vice-chair of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus, and the Democratic deputy majority whip in the House. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee, Legislative Council, and State Veterans and Military Affairs.
In the 2008 incident, he was arrested for misdemeanor assault, but the case was dismissed. The woman, who asked for her name to be withheld, still has a relationship with Melton and is concerned about a digital footprint if her name is connected to the incident. She told CPR News that he didn’t hit her: “We’ve never been involved in any violent altercation.”
Other prominent voices in the black community criticized Democratic leaders for their actions and said Melton has paid for his mistake. Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said he personally expressed his own concerns to Speaker Duran. He added that Melton had offered to step down as a leader in the Democratic caucus and agreed to take anger management classes.
“Melton was adjudicated in a court in Boulder, so why are they now attempting to intimidate him for a second judgment since he already went through the first judgment?” Webb said. “Normally in society we give people second and third chances. He already went to court, he already was sentenced.”
Bishop Acen Phillips represents the Colorado Coalition of Clergy. The Democrat worries this could be an example of the #MeToo movement going too far and pushing aside other critical issues like racial inequality and civil rights.
“We’ve got homeless people dying in the streets every day and nothing is being said about that,” Phillips said. “We still have young black men being penalized and targeted in the streets.”
He said it makes no sense that Melton’s party is shooting him in the foot and it “would be different if it was Republicans that were coming after him.” He said he wishes Democrats would stick together like Republicans did with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“The Republicans had enough sense and fight for their own, we don’t have that sense in the Democratic party,” Phillips said. “The FBI investigated [Kavanaugh] and said there was not enough there. At some point we have to agree that the systems we have in place work.”
Both Phillips and Webb said there could potentially be political fallout when Democrats try to mobilize the black vote this November.
“I would be concerned if black pastors start making this an issue in their pulpits,” Webb said.
Melton is up for reelection in 2018 in a safe house district with no political challengers. If he did resign before November, Democrats could select a replacement. Many people who’ve been involved in exposing sexual misconduct at the state capitol over the past year have said they strongly believe Melton should no longer serve as an elected representative.