For the second year in a row Colorado’s Democratic statehouse leaders will begin the legislative session in an unprecedented way, having asked one of their own to step down. Yet, unlike the case of former Rep. Steve Lebsock, there are no efforts underway to hold an expulsion vote when lawmakers return to the capitol in January.
Calls for Democratic Representative Jovan Melton of Aurora to resign stem from news that he was arrested twice for domestic violence in the last two decades. Caucus members are divided on whether they think Democratic leaders have handled the issue appropriately or were too quick to rush to judgement, adding one more dynamic the majority party will have to navigate in the upcoming legislative session.
The accuser in one of Melton’s cases is now releasing more information about their relationship because she feels he has not been honest with the public about his past actions since the incident first came to light in The Denver Post.
Melton maintains his innocence. He completed a deferred sentence for harassment and went to domestic violence classes. “I was never convicted ... And I completed what the court asked of me 19 years ago and that charge was dismissed,” he said. A second arrest nearly a decade later, for misdemeanor assault against a different woman, also ended with the charge being dismissed.
Melton sees his overwhelming reelection in November as vindication.
“It’s a testament that a person’s past shouldn’t determine their future,” he said. “That’s what I heard over and over again as I talked to voters in the district.”
Melton represents a solidly blue district and his Republican opponent dropped out of the race too late to be removed from the ballot. Votes for her were credited to a stand-in candidate.
The 1999 arrest was first revealed in October when The Denver Post conducted background checks on state lawmakers. The woman said the incident becoming public has taken a significant toll on her day-to-day life.
“I was sad to hear the remarks made by Jovan,” said the woman, whose name CPR News is not releasing due to the nature of the allegations. “It is unfortunate that he doesn’t recognize that his past behaviors were unacceptable, hurtful, and simply disrespectful.”
The woman is allowing CPR to publish a letter he wrote in 1999 after she ended their engagement. She believes it shows contradictions between what he did then and his current statements. In the letter, he acknowledged he was “not healthy” for her and wrote “I would rather see you safe and alive and myself unhappy, than force you to be with me.”
The woman said that Melton, “needs to be honest with himself, take responsibility for his actions, and face his mistakes if he wants to move forward and show the people that voted for him that he does have the capacity to see his faults and the courage to shift his perspective.”
While at the University of Colorado Boulder in the late ‘90s, the two dated for a year and a half and were engaged at one point. The woman said when the relationship began it was lighthearted and fun, but as they got more serious it became volatile and violent.
In a 1999 police report, after a neighbor called 911, the woman told police Melton verbally and physically abused her on a weekly basis. Her roommate told police she had heard Melton hit the woman before. The officer wrote, “She could recall at least three to five prior episodes.”
On Dec. 21, 1999 the Boulder County Court granted Melton’s girlfriend a permanent restraining order. The order alleged that on two separate occasions he forced her to have intercourse. After one incident she said she was upset and they were fighting, and he allegedly pushed her down on the ground and broke her tailbone in two places.
“She told me that she had it X-rayed by staff at CU Wardenburg Medical Center and is due for an MRI Wednesday with the possibility of surgery to fuse the bones together,” stated CU police officer Steven Cast in the police report.
Melton said he signed off on the permanent restraining order because he didn’t want to see the woman again but he didn’t agree to her reasons for requesting it. The judge granted it without finding. “I absolutely deny doing the allegations she alleged in that report. I denied those in that court process and continue to deny that those accounts ever happened. Toward the last couple months we became more argumentative for whatever reason. I think the relationship was just coming to an end. But our arguments never escalated to physical violence. I’m not that kind of individual.”
When asked recently about the letter, Melton said he doesn’t feel his apology for breaking her tailbone contradicts anything he’s already stated.
“I admit I broke her tailbone,” he said. “I know the truth and that it happened through a consensual act.” He added that he was “embarrassed reading this letter and seeing how immature I was when I was 19 and 20 years old. Even the language in the letter is not the person I am now.”
The woman said she took Melton back after the letter but that they split up permanently after the incident that led to the restraining order. She never pursued criminal sexual assault charges against him.
Amy Pohl, associate director at Violence Free Colorado, the state’s domestic violence coalition, couldn’t comment on the specifics of Melton’s case but said it’s extremely difficult to leave an abusive situation, and even then the control and violence may not end. “There are a lot of reasons that survivors of domestic violence don’t speak up for days, for months, for years, for decades. Really good reasons.”
And when it comes to Melton’s re-election, Pohl said voting is too complicated a process to draw any conclusions from it.
“There are other reasons they may have voted for him or chosen not to vote for him. So I don’t think his re-election really has anything to do with whether or not she was believable or whether or not his constituents had even heard about this story prior to voting,” Pohl said.
Melton’s defenders, which include former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, see a double standard and racial bias in how Melton has been treated for a long-settled domestic violence case. Many lawmakers feel the Aurora representative has been an effective legislator for his district. He is well liked in the Democratic caucus, although last session a male colleague accused him of harassment and bullying after they got into a dispute over a bill.
Melton is serving his last term in the House and is not ruling out a run for future political office, including a possible state Senate bid. After the arrest came to light he stepped down as deputy majority whip and ended his effort to be elected assistant majority leader.
House leaders say they don’t regret asking him to leave office, and said their position hasn’t changed since the election.
“Given the gravity of the situation and the impact on his constituents, as well as public confidence in the state legislature, we encouraged him to resign. Ultimately we made it clear that it was his decision whether to step down from his position,” wrote incoming Speaker KC Becker and Majority Leader Alec Garnett in a statement.