In a video on his campaign website, the Ellensburg Republican accused CWU of twisting “trivial” allegations, such as standing too close to a student at a reception, into an excuse to fire him. A CWU vice president said the school is committed to a fair investigation.
State Rep. Matt Manweller is offering a pre-emptive defense of his behavior as a Central Washington University professor and attacking the school ahead of the findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct, set to be released soon.
In a four-minute video posted this past week on his campaign website, the Ellensburg Republican accused CWU of twisting what he called “trivial” allegations, such as standing too close to a student at a reception, into an excuse to fire him.
While he is on paid administrative leave, Manweller is still employed at the school, and notes on the video that he’s been recommended by higher-ups for a promotion and a raise. It’s unclear if that has happened.
He said the Seattle investigator who CWU hired — Seattle attorney Trish K. Murphy — was pressuring students into making statements against him and “manufacturing” allegations. The motivation, he said, is largely political.
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“Central Washington University is a liberal island in conservative Kittitas County,” Manweller said in the campaign video. “Most of the staff are uncomfortable having a high-profile Republican on faculty, let alone representing them politically in Olympia.”
Manweller’s statements were presented largely without evidence, and he said that, while he has seen the 91-page investigative report given to CWU, he won’t release it to allow people to verify the information because it has not been through a legal process of redaction for public disclosure.
But his video, and a smattering of radio appearances, offer a glimpse of what might be in the inquiry, which began in December 2017.
Manweller said some allegations stem from him looking at a student in his class, sitting down at a cafeteria table with a student, giving his 23-year-old baby-sitter a glass of wine at his home, offering his personal email address to a student rather than a work one for political purposes and standing too close to a student at a reception.
Manweller said based on those events, Murphy, the independent attorney, asserts he has a “pattern of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior,” which the Republican denied.
“Sexual harassment should be taken seriously, but we do a disservice to the ‘Me Too’ movement if the actions I just described are labeled as harassment,” Manweller said. “What’s happening here is nothing more than selective prosecution.”
After posting the video, Manweller sent reporters a declaration from Isa Holsclaw, a former CWU student who said she felt Murphy tried to lead her into making false statements about Manweller.
Holsclaw said she once declined a ride home from Manweller in 2006 after a benefit dinner in Seattle for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee because he had a drink. She said Manweller was not inebriated but she has a personal policy against riding in a car “with anyone who has had anything at all to drink.”
Holsclaw felt “pressured by Ms. Murphy to say that Professor Manweller was driving while intoxicated, which I would not do, because I had no evidence of this,” the declaration states.
Murphy did not return a call from The News Tribune, The Olympian and public radio’s Northwest News Network on Thursday. Kremiere Jackson, the vice president of public affairs at CWU, said in a statement that the university “has been committed to conducting an objective, thorough and fair investigation — and we are doing that.”
This is the third time the school has hired an outside investigator to scrutinize Manweller’s behavior. The earlier inquiries came in 2012 and 2013.
The 2013 investigation includes accusations that Manweller propositioned two students for a threesome at a bar in Ellensburg in 2006.
He said in a letter to school officials at the time that he didn’t proposition the women, but “probably said something that was taken poorly or out of context and caused offense.”
That report was first publicized by The Seattle Times last year in the midst of the #MeToo movement, leading Manweller to step down from a leadership position with House Republicans and for the caucus to remove him as the top Republican on the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.
In the first two CWU investigations, the university never determined allegations made against Manweller to be substantiated and the lawmaker was not disciplined. But school officials formally reprimanded him at least once, saying he had issues maintaining boundaries with students.
Investigators in both reviews concluded there was evidence Manweller broke CWU’s rules on sexual harassment.
Separately, Manweller’s ex-wife, OraLynn Reeve, told The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network in December that she believes it was “inappropriate” for them to have gotten married, given that they met when she was 16 and the 28-year-old Manweller was her teacher in high school.
They married two years later when she was 18 and he had left the school. Manweller has maintained the relationship was legal and morally sound.
House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox said he has not seen the latest CWU investigative report and declined to comment without knowing the full details. But he did emphasize that Manweller has not been reinstated to his leadership positions.
“There was a serious reaction, and there has been a price for Matt,” he said.
The video rebuttal from Manweller comes less than a week before the primary election. Democrat Sylvia Hammond is challenging Manweller for his seat in the GOP-friendly 13th Legislative District. No other Republicans filed for the race.