A special committee investigating whether Rep. Paul McMurtry violated the House sexual harassment policy concluded in a report Wednesday that there was "insufficient evidence" to support allegations that he inappropriately touched an incoming lawmaker at an orientation for freshmen legislators in December.
The public report, a 15-page executive summary filed by House counsel early Wednesday evening, documents how a special committee of House Democrats and Republicans investigated the allegations against McMurtry and voted unanimously to recommend that no action be taken against the veteran Democrat from Dedham.
McMurtry was subsequently appointed by his fellow Democrats to chair the Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, a position that was being held open for him pending the results of the investigation.
The Special Committee on the Professional Conduct had been appointed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Minority Leader Brad Jones to investigate the allegations that McMurtry "inappropriately touched the backside of a female Representative-elect" at a cocktail party at UMass Amherst during a training for new House lawmakers in December.
The report filed with the House clerk and released publicly Wednesday evening concluded that it was "more likely than not" that there was contact between McMurtry and the alleged victim, but that if it did occur it was "accidental or incidental rather than intentional."
Earlier in the day, McMurtry said he was glad the eight-week investigation was coming to a conclusion, and continued to deny the allegations. He did not comment on his way into a short Democratic caucus following the release of the report, but a long round of applause and several whistles were audible outside the caucus room.
"I don't know the last time we got a sustained applause like that from our membership relative to a caucus," House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters afterwards. He said no one objected to the appointment.
"I think the reason you probably heard such an applause was the fact that he's been a gentleman and someone I think that many of us have known for many, many years," the speaker said. "Quite frankly, I think we always found him to be a great advocate for his district, you know, a gentleman and someone I think that we're very pleased to be able to call a colleague."
Asked if he was relieved the investigation was over, DeLeo said, "I'm glad that we did what we did."
DeLeo's office confirmed in January that four representatives told him or his team about "inappropriate conduct" at the orientation in December, and that all relevant information had been turned over to the House's contracted Equal Employment Opportunity Officer, who determined the allegation was plausible and warranted a full investigation.
Under new rules to handle sexual harassment complaints adopted last session, allegations were then referred to a Special Committee on Professional Conduct, comprised of seven House members, including five appointed by the speaker and two by the House minority leader. The members of the committee were not publicly identified.
The special committee contracted with Equal Employment Opportunity Officer Cynthia Farquhar to conduct the investigation, which included 19 in-person interviews and a review of video footage of the alleged incident.
The interviews were conducted with 11 House members and one staff person. Two members were interviewed twice and McMurtry sat for three separate interviews, and the investigator received relevant information from six of those people.
The investigator also reviewed security footage from the event and other "relevant materials" provided by UMass, as well as Facebook messages between the alleged victim and other members discussing the alleged incident and a written statement from an anonymous "Senate source."
The 40-hours of security tape obtained by subpeona included just one exchange between McMurtry and the alleged victim in a group conversation. The committee reported that the video footage showed a group of lawmakers "in seemingly uneventful conversation" until McMurtry briefly exits the conversation and walks behind the alleged victim.
The report state that McMurtry's right arm and shoulder "move back and down in his stride" before the footage skips a fraction of a second. Then McMurtry is visible on tape "just past the recipient" and his arm "moves back up in stride as he continues to walk."
"There is no visible contact," the report states. The committee also reported that the alleged victim "makes slight movements that the EEO Office found to be consistent with an accidental touch, and further found that the movement was not unusual or an indication of distress."
McMurtry "adamantly denied" grabbing another lawmaker in interviews with the investigator, and told her that while he remembered talking to a number of people at the cocktail reception, he did not recall taking part in the group conversation and did not think it was possible that he even brushed or accidentally touched the other lawmaker in question.
All members who were observed participating in the group conversation were interviewed by Farquhar and none remembered the alleged victim expressing any "surprise or concern."
One House member recalled the alleged victim say," I think someone touched my butt...I really think he touched my butt," which the committee and the investigator considered to be consistent with the alleged victim's reaction and accidental contract.
The initial allegations against McMurtry, which were later reported by the Boston Globe, were made to the speaker's office by three representatives-elect of the House, all of which had "varying degrees of detail" of the alleged incident, according to the report. Those three either didn't have the consent of the alleged victim to identify her or didn't even know her identity, the report states.
According to the report, the alleged victim of the unwanted contact did not make a formal complaint and would not participate in the investigation. She was elected for the first time to the Legislature in November, part of a freshman class that included 22 new Democrats and 3 Republicans.
One member in January told the investigator that while riding on an elevator with a group on the night of the cocktail party the alleged victim told him that her "ass was grabbed" by a member of House leadership that night, but she asked the member not to discuss it.
Some members of the House "resisted" cooperation with the investigation, according to the report, and one of the three representatives who reported a "story" about the allegations to the speaker's office refused to be interviewed, instead reading from a prepared statement "in which he informed the EEO Office that he believed the investigatory process to be flawed."
Another House lawmaker refused to provide redacted copies of a Facebook message between herself, the alleged victim and a third member in which the trio discuss the alleged incident and the alleged victim's desire not to go forward with a complaint.
The investigator also requested to interview five senators and one person who made an initial report to Senate counsel, but all declined to participate in live interviews.
Senate counsel in early February then notified the investigator that none of the senators identified were aware of having witnessed an incident.
Katie Lannan contributed reporting.