Politics & Government

GOP lawmaker Matt Manweller placed on leave from CWU due to investigation into conduct

Republican Rep. Matt Manweller speaks on the House floor against a bill to raise Washington state's minimum wage, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. The lawmaker has faced renewed scrutiny over allegations of sexual misconduct recently. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Republican Rep. Matt Manweller speaks on the House floor against a bill to raise Washington state's minimum wage, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. The lawmaker has faced renewed scrutiny over allegations of sexual misconduct recently. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte) AP

State Rep. Matt Manweller has been placed on administrative leave by Central Washington University, where he teaches political science, because of a new investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct.

The university confirmed the investigation Monday but would not disclose details about it.

“No further information can be disclosed at this time, except to confirm that the investigation will be thorough, objective and fair,” Kremiere Jackson, the school’s vice president of public affairs, said in a statement.

The school’s decision comes as the Republican from Ellensburg has faced scrutiny over past allegations of sexual harassment at CWU, along with new reports of women who have told the Legislature interactions with Manweller made them uncomfortable. Manweller has denied those allegations and said he hasn’t behaved inappropriately.

In an interview, Manweller said he learned he was on paid leave when he showed up to work Monday and his computer was gone. He said he received a letter from the university notifying him of the school’s investigation.

Manweller later told The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network in a text message that CWU received “a handful of emails and phone calls from ex-students over the weekend” that prompted the university to investigate.

“At this point I do not know anything about the people who called or the messages they left,” he said. “I do know that I will have a chance to defend myself as the process proceeds. I think everyone should wait until the results of the investigation are made public before jumping to a conclusion.”

Central Washington has investigated Manweller twice for allegations of sexual harassment — once in 2012 and again in 2013. The most recent investigation by CWU, first made public by The Seattle Times last week, included accusations that Manweller propositioned two students for a threesome at a bar in Ellensburg in the summer of 2006.

In a letter to school officials at the time of the investigation, Manweller said he did not proposition the women but “probably said something that was taken poorly or out of context and caused offense.”

The university never determined allegations made against Manweller to be substantiated. School officials noted no formal complaints were ever filed and most of the allegations originated around 2006.

Manweller was not disciplined, was later promoted to full professor and also won $15,000 in attorneys fees and other concessions from the school in a settlement related to the investigations.

School officials formally reprimanded Manweller at least once, saying he had problems maintaining boundaries with students. Investigators also concluded in both reports that there was evidence Manweller broke CWU’s sexual harassment rules.

Other women have recently come forward to speak about experiences with Manweller.

On Friday, Manweller’s ex-wife OraLynn Reeve told The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network their marriage in 2000 was “inappropriate.” The two met when Manweller, then 28, taught her high school geometry class. They married two years later, after he had left the school, when she was 18.

“What happened between us was inappropriate,” she said. “You took advantage of me.”

Manweller told the three news outlets this weekend his relationship with his wife was not immoral and was “perfectly legal.”

“It was never abusive and there was never anything that was inappropriate, either in our dating time or our marriage time,” Manweller said over the weekend.

He has since remarried.

The Seattle Times reported Monday a former legislative staff member complained this year to House GOP leadership after she said a meeting with Manweller turned into what felt like a date. The woman said she figured they were going to meet to discuss her career, but ended up at a restaurant where she said he was flirtatious.

Manweller told the newspaper he didn’t do anything inappropriate and was only trying to help her with future job prospects. He said he’s had similar dinners with men to help with their careers.

In an interview with The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network on Monday, Manweller was distraught.

“Right now I’m just thinking about my two kids, that’s what I’m focused on,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was reported in collaboration with Austin Jenkins at public radio's Northwest News Network.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein

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