Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod granted protection against party vice-chair over ‘wholly unsubstantiated’ claims of sexual assault and bullying

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod at her House desk, Friday, Feb. 21, 2024.

Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod has secured a year-long protection order against a woman who has publicly accused her of sexual assault, after a judge found the woman’s claims to be “wholly unsubstantiated.”

The woman is Sheena Kadi, a Democratic state party vice-chair and spokesperson for state Treasurer Dave Young.

For more than a year, Kadi has posted on social media and directly messaged other prominent Democrats and organizations with allegations that Herod is a sexual predator and bully.

However, when the situation landed in Denver county court, a judge concluded Kadi’s sexual assault allegation “had not been proven.” The judge said that Kadi’s testimony and evidence regarding multiple interactions in which she claimed she was subjected to sexual harassment, threats of violence, and intimidation by Herod “just simply defies common sense in so many instances” and was incredible on “100 percent of the facts that were asserted.”

Judge Clarisse Gonzales ordered Kadi to stay away from Herod at all times. She is not allowed to come within 100 yards of the lawmaker, although the judge modified the order to allow closer proximity at work, given that both women work at the state capitol, and at professional events Kadi attends on behalf of the Treasurer’s office or the Democratic party. 

Judge Gonzales also ordered Kadi to stop posting about Herod on social media, including derogatory information and insinuations.

“I am glad that the judge found in my favor a hundred percent,” Herod told CPR News. 

“We now have a restraining order against her for her lies, for her coming near me, and then claiming I've done something to her, but also the people that she has harassed also peripherally around me in this process. There is a lot of collateral damage that's happened.” 

Prompted by the protection order and judge’s decision, Democratic State Party Chair Shad Murib told CPR News he was calling on Kadi to resign from her official role within the party. In April of 2023 she was elected to serve as the Vice Chair for Public Relations and Marketing. Her term is up next year.

“The court’s ruling couldn’t be clearer,” said Murib in a written statement provided to CPR. “Ms. Kadi’s regular attacks against Democrats is a violation of the Colorado Democratic Party’s code of conduct, and is made worse by the fact that the court discredited this specific and serious attack against Rep. Herod on ‘100 percent of the facts,’ and says that it ‘defies common sense.’ I think it’s appropriate that Ms. Kadi resign from her official role in the Democratic Party.”

When reached via text by CPR News on Friday, Kadi said she was out of the country on vacation and declined to communicate further with CPR over text or through other means. 

CPR News also reached out to her boss, Treasurer Young. Deputy Treasurer Eric Rothaus responded with a written statement: “Ms. Kadi has been a member of the department for close to two and a half years. This issue is something she's addressing in her personal capacity and it's not something we can discuss beyond that. We remain focused on the important work we're doing at Treasury.”

Kadi’s most serious accusation originated from an encounter that occurred around four years ago.

In the court proceeding Kadi said she and Herod spent time together at Herod’s home one evening and the two kissed and Herod pressed against her. 

Kadi now describes the interaction as not consensual. 

However, according to evidence presented at the court hearing, after the encounter Kadi told mutual acquaintances that she and Herod had made out, and that she hoped they’d get together again. 

One witness testified that at the time Kadi described the evening as consensual and was “bragging about it.” Another said Kadi told her she enjoyed it and was interested in seeing Herod further. 

Herod also provided the court with text messages between her and Kadi from after the evening in which Kadi called it “making out” and told Herod, “I’m not trying to marry or date you. I simply want to see you.”

In a transcript of the oral ruling provided by Herod’s lawyer, judge Gonzales concluded, “She is clearly trying to, for lack of a better phrase, get together with Ms. Herod in a romantic way.”

“We had one date — one date — and that was it,” Herod told CPR News. “She had been building up to that, asking me to hang out. I did eventually hang out with her — one date — and then subsequently said, ‘I don't want to take this any further.’”

Herod said in the following two years Kadi was friendly and cordial whenever they saw each other and even tried to work on Herod’s behalf to connect her with other people in politics. But in 2022, out of the blue according to Herod, Kadi started contacting mutual acquaintances and making allegations.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
State Rep. and mayoral candidate Leslie Herod collects signatures to make the ballot in Park Hill. Dec. 14, 2022.

It wasn’t until Herod’s bid for mayor of Denver in 2023 that the accusations became more public.  Kadi began posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she had been victimized by someone in Democratic political circles, without naming Herod. She also reached out to mutual acquaintances, sending direct messages alleging that Herod was a sexual predator. 

Herod said Kadi’s accusations continued to escalate and become more specific. Using the initials RLH, for Rep. Leslie Herod, Kadi publicly urged Democratic groups and politicians to distance themselves from her. CPR does not generally name alleged sexual assault victims but is naming Kadi given the public nature of her accusations.

CPR News reviewed multiple messages Kadi sent to Democratic lawmakers when they posted group pictures that included Herod that read, “there’s a sexual predator and bully in your photo.” 

Herod submitted a list of tweets Kadi made about her as part of the documentation supporting her request for a restraining order.

“I believe that Ms. Kadi made her posts and made her statements to hurt me and bring me harm,” wrote Herod. “I don’t believe that she will stop unless she is forced to by having a protection order against her.”

In one instance, Kadi pushed her claims at a high profile event.

Last October Kadi organized a table of guests for the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s annual gala in Denver. Herod was a speaker at the fundraiser.

CPR talked to two Democrats who Kadi invited to the event. They both said at some point in the evening Kadi told them organizers had asked her to leave. 

One of the attendees said he was told by someone high up in the foundation that Kadi had asked that Herod not be allowed to speak, and when that request was refused, said she wanted her money back.

Kadi later posted on social media, “Supporting and giving a microphone to a known sexual predator and bully like RLH detracts from the vision and mission of the foundation and the life changing work the foundation does.” 

Someone close to the Victory Fund, an organization focused on electing LGBTQ+ politicians, confirmed to CPR that Kadi also attempted, both publicly and privately, to pressure the organization to cut ties with Herod. The source said staff ultimately felt that Kadi’s accusations weren’t credible and continued to feature Herod at its events.

Herod is the first openly gay Black woman elected to the Colorado legislature, and previously chaired the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus. She is term limited after this session.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod on the opening day of the legislature, Jan. 10, 2024.

Kadi’s pressure extended to matters inside the statehouse too.

On December 13, 2023, Democratic House Speaker Julie McCluskie appointed Herod to serve on the House Judiciary Committee. The following morning, Kadi emailed the Speaker, writing that she was disappointed by the decision and repeating her allegations about Herod. 

Kadi’s signature on the email listed official titles with the state Democratic Party and the DNC. 

Later that day, Kadi tweeted her most specific public allegation. 

“I was sexually assaulted by Rep. Leslie Herod,” wrote Kadi. She said Herod “simply won’t own up to her sexual misconduct.” 

Herod said she retained an attorney in December and was considering what legal action to pursue. She weighed filing a defamation lawsuit but it seemed out of reach.  

“The amount of money it costs to clear your name in this process is quite frankly untenable for someone like me who's a public servant who gets paid a little over $40,000 a year,” said Herod.

Ultimately it was Kadi who took the first legal step, leading to the court’s determination, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Kadi’s claims about the alleged sexual assault and Herod’s subsequent actions were “incredible.”

“Not only because the nature of her testimony just simply defies common sense in so many instances, but also because the other exhibits, directly the reliable evidence proves this to be simply not consistent,” wrote the court.

Kadi said the incident that led her to seek a protection order occurred on the first day of the 2024 legislative session.

Kadi filed a temporary restraining order against Herod on January 11, writing that the day before Herod “physically intimidated me by entering my personal space in my place of work, in a way that made me scared for my physical safety” when the lawmaker walked past Kadi just outside the House chamber. 

On the opening day of the session each year, House members are allowed to bring one guest to sit with them on the chamber floor, while additional guests are directed upstairs to the public viewing gallery. 

Kadi went on the House floor with her boss, Treasurer Dave Young. He was there as a guest of his wife, Democratic Rep. Mary Young. House leaders, aware of the concerns Herod and other lawmakers had about Kadi, sent a sergeant to ask her to leave the floor because she was not an invited guest. 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod, left, speaks with Democratic Majority Leader Monica Duran, in the House, Feb. 23, 2024.

“The priority is safety,” Democratic House Majority Leader Monica Duran told CPR News. “I want everyone to feel safe and I want members and guests to feel safe, and part of that is being comfortable. It was a special day,” she said of the start of session. 

“At the end of the day, this behavior is not okay. I don’t care who it’s coming from. It’s unacceptable no matter who you are,” said Duran.

Multiple Democrats said that in the last year they had expressed their concerns about Kadi’s behavior and social media activities to the Treasurer’s office. CPR News asked his office why Young brought Kadi to the House floor without prior approval.

“Regarding the activity on the floor on Opening Day, Ms. Kadi was there in her professional capacity as Treasury Communication Director to take photos of the State Treasurer at the event,” wrote Deputy Treasurer Rothaus.

The following day when Kadi filed a protection order, Herod said she had to respond. 

The result was a two-day hearing, which included evidence, testimony and cross-examination. At the end, judge Gonzales vacated Kadi’s temporary protection order and concluded that Kadi’s allegations were not credible based on the preponderance of the evidence. Instead, the court granted Herod’s request for a year-long protection order.

“For a judge to say, ‘to be 100 percent incredible on the facts,’ that means she didn't believe a word that came out of her mouth,” said attorney Harvey A. Steinberg, who represented Herod in the case. “You very rarely ever see a judge make that decision, because… if Ms. Kadi testifies in any future matter, this is relevant evidence that goes to her credibility.”

CPR News reached out to Kadi’s attorney via email and telephone on Friday and did not hear back at the time of publication. The next step is a hearing on Herod’s motion for Kadi to pay her legal fees, which amount to $20,000. 

The head of the Colorado Democrats says he’s waiting to see if Kadi will resign her leadership post.

Even though Democratic party chair Shad Murib has called for Kadi to step down from her position, he doesn’t have the power to officially remove her. It would require a majority vote at a Democratic Central Committee meeting. 

The chair can create what’s known as a “controversy committee” to recommend removal. The committee could take other actions, such as banning her from participating in party events, suspending access to the voter file, issuing a cease and desist on social media and asking her to not use her state party title on social media. 

One prominent Democrat said it’s not a good look for Democrats to have a cloud over any party officer because it causes a distraction ahead of the election.

As it stands now, the protection order requires the DNC to sign off on Kadi attending party events if Herod will also be there, and if both do end up at the same function, she must remain at least 25 feet away. Treasurer Young must give a similar approval for work events outside the Capitol.

For her part, Herod said she was tormented by this entire situation. She said many people have been  afraid to speak up in her defense “because they know that in the meantime, while they do so, their credibility can be irreparably damaged.”

“Information is out there now that can never be removed,” said Herod. “But what the judge did, I think, shows that I did not act outside of my character, my office, and outside of the law in any way.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to provide more transparency about CPR’s reporting process.