Prosecutor won’t charge ex-lawmaker over sex assault claim

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A prosecutor said Monday he believes a crime occurred but does not plan to charge a former state representative who resigned during an investigation into allegations he sexually assaulted a woman four years ago.

Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo said he agreed with a conclusion in a 14-page grand jury report that charges should not be pursued against former Rep. Brian Ellis.

“The passage of time, diminishing memories, the resulting inability to corroborate the victim, and all the surrounding circumstances of this case make a criminal prosecution of the member impracticable,” the jury wrote, suggesting changes to internal legislative rules and procedures regarding sexual misconduct allegations.

The announcement came seven months after House Republican leaders stripped Ellis of his committee chairmanship and recommended he resign over the allegations, which were spelled out in new detail in the grand jury report.

The grand jury said Ellis exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not testify.

Ellis, a Republican from Butler County, said when he resigned in March that the decision was in the best interests of his family, district residents and his own health.

His lawyer, Erik Anderson, called Chardo’s decision “proper and just” on Monday.

“It has always been our position that a careful and thorough investigation by the Dauphin County district attorney’s office would lead to the very conclusion recommended by the grand jury and adopted by the district attorney today — that Mr. Ellis not be charged with any criminal offense,” Anderson said.

The woman’s lawyer, Christine Wechsler, said her client felt vindicated.

“While far too many people had pieces of the truth but failed to fully cooperate making a prosecution untenable, Rep. Ellis stepped down from his position in the General Assembly when she came forward,” Wechsler said after Chardo’s news conference. “Today, the district attorney stated that my client was credible and that a crime occurred.”

The grand jury said the woman had been a General Assembly staffer since 2013 but had no sexual relationship with Ellis — who was not explicitly named in the report — before the night in fall 2015 when she met a lobbyist friend for drinks after work.

The lobbyist left to attend a fundraising event at another bar, and the two had plans to meet up again later that night.

“The victim explained that she had one additional drink ... and the next thing she remembered was waking up” in Ellis’ bed, the jury wrote. She “felt as though her body had been hit by a car” and claimed Ellis told her they had been highly intoxicated and had sex.

She passed out again, the jury said, and when she awoke Ellis was “touching her in a sexual manner.” She told him to stop, and Ellis allegedly responded that if they were not going to have sex again, she had to leave. She gathered her belongings and got dressed.

“She explained that she kissed the member before she left because she felt he would not let her leave unless she acquiesced to his advance,” the grand jury said.

After two days of feeling so sick she could not get out of bed, the jury said, the woman sought hospital treatment. She declined to have a sexual assault nurse examiner collect potential evidence and told hospital staff she did not want the matter referred to law enforcement.

The state’s victim advocate, Jennifer Storm, who has worked with the woman, said Monday the woman made a complaint to House Republicans about Ellis. The House Ethics Committee then alerted the Dauphin County prosecutor’s office about the matter without the woman’s knowledge or consent. She subsequently met with investigators.

The grand jury recommended that lawmakers establish an office that will investigate work-related misconduct claims against legislators and staff, headed by someone with investigative or prosecutorial experience.