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Ex-Gov. Wilder says panel clears him of kissing allegation

October 24, 2019 GMT
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Former Virginia Gov. L Douglas Wilder smiles as he arrives for a news conference in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Wilder made an announcement about being cleared of wrongdoing in his appeal of a sexual harassment accusation. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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Former Virginia Gov. L Douglas Wilder smiles as he arrives for a news conference in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Wilder made an announcement about being cleared of wrongdoing in his appeal of a sexual harassment accusation. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder on Thursday said a review panel has cleared him of an allegation he kissed a college student without her consent, but the woman’s lawyer said the panel found some of his interactions with the woman “deeply concerning.”

In a written statement, Virginia Commonwealth University called Wilder’s comments “premature” and said the matter addressed by Wilder “is not complete.”   

Wilder — the nation’s first elected African American governor — held a news conference Thursday to address the complaint made by a former VCU student who said the now 88-year-old Wilder took her to dinner for her 20th birthday, gave her alcohol and kissed her.

An independent investigation commissioned by VCU concluded he had kissed the student, Sydney Black, without her consent in 2017.

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Wilder said Thursday that an internal review panel has rejected the investigator’s finding and determined he was not responsible for nonconsensual sexual contact.

“I am pleased that the panel members confirmed what I have stated from the very beginning of this investigation,” he said.

Black’s attorney, Jason Wolfrey, confirmed that the review panel found Wilder was not responsible for nonconsensual sexual contact. But he said the panel “didn’t exactly clear him altogether” and referred to some of his interactions with the woman as “deeply concerning” in its four-page written report.

Wolfrey said the panel specifically cited facts that were undisputed by Wilder, including that he provided the underage student with alcohol on two occasions and was alone with her in his two homes.

VCU declined to release the written report, citing a school policy against publicly disclosing information about personnel matters “that may be underway.”

In a written statement, the school said that under VCU policy, a review panel makes findings and recommendations that are then forwarded to a senior management executive for further review.

“The senior management executive may affirm or reject the Review Panel’s recommendation on responsibility,” the statement said.

Wilder, a grandson of slaves, was elected governor in 1989. He later served a term as Richmond’s mayor.

Wilder is a distinguished professor at VCU. He held his news conference in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU.

Wolfrey said Black is “disappointed and very upset” about the review panel’s finding. He said she has the option of contesting the finding but has not made a decision on that yet.

In March, The Washington Post reported on Black’s allegations. She said Wilder offered to take her on trips and pay for law school.

Black, who is African American, reported the conduct to police and VCU, where she was working as an office assistant at the Wilder school. She said she struggled with filing a report that could tarnish Wilder’s legacy and attract negative attention to her.

“I had to choose being a woman over being black,” she told the Post.

Wilder denied the allegations. The initial investigation cleared Wilder of sexual exploitation, gender-based discrimination and retaliation, but found him responsible for the unwanted kissing allegation.

Wilder posted a lengthy rebuttal to that finding on his website, saying he was the victim of an “unsound” and “biased” investigation. He also suggested he was the victim of a potential extortion attempt.

During his news conference Thursday, Wilder said he is not concerned that the allegations will tarnish his legacy. He said he told the review panel: “I’ve lived on this earth for 88 years, point to a single thing ... that blemishes my record, and it’s not there.”