Update 4:46 p.m.: Democratic leaders have asked Jovan Melton to resign, but ultimately left the decision up to him. You can read that story here. Our original story continues below.
A leading Democrat in the Colorado statehouse has been arrested twice in the past two decades for domestic violence. The Denver Post first reported on Aurora Rep. Jovan Melton‘s arrests with two ex-girlfriends. Through a spokesman, Democratic leaders declined to comment for this story.
In one instance, nearly 20 years ago, the Boulder District Attorney’s office confirmed that Melton pled guilty to harassment under a section of law that reads, “A person commits harassment if, with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she:(a) Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise touches a person or subjects him to physical contact.”
Melton received a 12 month deferred sentence, which he completed. He was ordered to stay away from the victim and go through domestic violence treatment.
In a 2008 incident, he was arrested for misdemeanor assault against a different girlfriend, but the case was dismissed. In a written statement, Melton said the arrests show that he could not properly manage emotional and stressful situations, but he maintains that he wasn’t physically violent.
“While I categorically deny any allegations that suggest any violence against the women involved, I am both embarrassed and heartbroken to be reminded of my immaturity all those years ago,” Melton stated. “As both a victim of childhood violence and to have caused pain and anguish for these women is horrible and for that I am sorry. I hope that both women can forgive me for the emotional pain that I’ve caused them.”
Melton is the vice-chair of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus, and the Democratic majority deputy whip in the House. In 2016, he voted for a bipartisan bill to make strangulation a felony, this comes after one of Melton’s arrests in which his ex-girlfriend alleges that he put his hands around her neck.
“The behaviors detailed in the police report are incredibly troubling,” said Amy Pohl with Violence Free Colorado, the statewide domestic violence coalition. “We do really believe people can change, but first they have to take responsibility for their behavior. That’s the first step. Admitting that you did something wrong.”
She added that Melton may be avoiding accountability when he said no violence occurred. “Can people really change their behavior if they’re not willing to take really responsibility for what actually happened?”
Melton voted to expel former Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock from office, after an outside investigation found it credible that Lebsock sexually harassed five women and retaliated against them for coming forward. Former lobbyist Holly Tarry, one of Lebsock’s accusers, was glad members in both parties voted to oust Lebsock. She also believes Melton should no longer serve as a state lawmaker.
“Knocking around your girlfriend is NOT OK and choking is a particularly dangerous form of domestic abuse,” Tarry said. “It sounds like Jovan did those things — you don’t end up with two police reports with multiple witnesses when there’s no problem. We need to shine the light on all of it — we need to know who our elected officials are. It’s not politics, it’s life.”
The top Republican in the House sent out a tweet calling Democrats hypocritical and asking whether they covered up Melton’s arrests. “Democrats like to throw stones in glass houses,” stated House Minority leader Patrick Neville.
The House Minority Leader also bashed Melton for signing a letter earlier in the fall that called for Neville to take sexual harassment and diversity training. Neville posted a satirical story about Justice Brett Kavanaugh and trivial childhood transgressions opponents might dig up on him.
Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton shares an office with Melton at the Capitol and they work together frequently. He said he found out about Melton’s arrests Monday and disputes that anything was hidden.
“These were issues that took place in his past, if anybody did any type of investigation they could have found this out a long time ago.”
No one in the media appeared to investigate it. Lynn Bartels, a former political reporter for The Denver Post, wrote a story about criminal police reports in 2010.
“I did the story in 2010 based on criminal records handed to my editors by someone else. It was a bunch of criminal records mostly on Republican candidates handed to my editors, and then handed to me. Melton was not a candidate.”
Bartels said she didn’t pull police records on any candidates in 2012, the year Rep. Melton first ran for the statehouse. “The big focus was [then-President] Obama,” she said.
Bartels now works for the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. She said if Melton did step down, Democrats could select a replacement to receive votes on the November ballot. Melton is up for reelection in 2018 in a safe house district with no political challengers.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct Rep. Jovan Melton's title. He is the Democratic majority deputy whip.