Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Embattled Washington Lawmaker Ordered To Stay Away From Students During Sexual Harassment Probe

Washington House Republicans -
Washington state Rep. Matt Manweller

Public records released by Central Washington University this week show professor and GOP state Rep. Matt Manweller is barred from contacting past or present students while the school investigates allegations of sexual harassment against him.

University officials previously said they were looking into accusations of “inappropriate conduct” against Manweller but did not offer further details of why they placed the tenured political science professor on paid administrative leave in early December.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is published with permission from The News Tribune and The Olympian. Austin Jenkins contributed to the reporting.

A December 8 letter to Manweller from Tim Englund, dean of the College of the Sciences at CWU, clarifies the investigation, saying the school is examining “allegations of sexual harassment and unprofessional conduct.” The letter was obtained by The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network through a public records request.

As part of being on leave, Englund wrote Manweller is not allowed to contact current or former CWU students, recruit students to apply to internships at the state Capitol or supervise interns in student government and the university’s government relations arm.

Kremiere Jackson, the university’s vice president of public affairs, said the restrictions are not specific to Manweller. All professors under investigation are not allowed to contact students or participate in recruiting for internships or other school programs, Jackson said.

Manweller said in a text message Friday to The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network that the records obtained by the news outlets didn’t have enough detail of the complaints for him to comment on.

“I have no comment,” he said. “I have no information to comment on.”

The latest investigation comes as Manweller faces a backlash over previous allegations of inappropriate behavior and accusations of sexual harassment from students and young women leading back to 2000.

He was removed as the top Republican on the House’s Labor and Workplace Standards Committee earlier this month, and he resigned as the party’s assistant floor leader upon request from GOP officials.

Manweller has been investigated twice by CWU—once in 2012, then again in 2013—over allegations of sexual harassment. The 2013 investigation, first made public by The Seattle Times in early December, included claims Manweller propositioned two female students at an Ellensburg bar in 2006 to have a threesome.

The legislator said he hasn’t done anything inappropriate and has said he did not proposition the women. In a written rebuttal he sent to the school after the investigation, Manweller admitted he “probably said something that was taken poorly or out of context and caused offense.”

Neither investigation determined the claims against Manweller to be substantiated, but investigators said there was evidence to suggest he broke the school’s sexual-harassment policy in both cases.

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

School officials also formally reprimanded Manweller at least once, saying he had problems maintaining boundaries with students.

After the 2013 investigation became public, other women have come forward to speak about experiences with Manweller.

One former legislative staffer told The Seattle Times she complained to House GOP leadership after a meeting with Manweller turned into what felt like a date.

The woman said she figured they were going to discuss her career, but ended up at a restaurant where she said he was flirtatious. She said Manweller later asked her to dinner again to talk about a lead for a job.

Manweller has said he didn’t do anything inappropriate and would go out on similar dinners with men.

OraLynn Reeve, Manweller’s ex-wife, told The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network in December that she believes Manweller leveraged his age and status as her former high school teacher to marry her when she was 18 and he was 30.

Manweller maintains their relationship was appropriate.

They first met when she was 16 and Manweller taught her high school geometry class in Hurricane, Utah. Reeve said Manweller recruited her to manage the boys’ soccer team he coached and sometimes flirted with her on the bus to and from games. Manweller denies this.

Reeve said Manweller first kissed her after he had left the school, but when she was 17. Manweller said the kiss took place when Reeve was 18. The pair married roughly two years after Manweller had left the school, but before she graduated, according to Reeve.

As for the latest investigation, Manweller had previously said CWU received “a handful of emails and phone calls from ex-students” that prompted the university to investigate.

He said he didn’t know the details of the allegations but said “everyone should wait until the results of the investigation are made public before jumping to a conclusion.”

Records reviewed by The News Tribune, The Olympian and Northwest News Network don’t shed much light on the current investigation as most of the documents are heavily redacted. What appears to be the complaints that sparked the new investigation into Manweller’s conduct are redacted.

Yet some information available appears to match with Manweller’s descriptions.

They include notes taken by university officials from conversations on four separate dates between Dec. 7 and Dec. 18 and a comment section from a Facebook post.

Emails also were sent to administration officials with titles related to Manweller and sexual harassment such as “Matt Manweller Sexual Allegations.” The body of those emails also are redacted.

Manweller said Friday the only “complaints” he saw in records he received were from a student in his class who “didn’t like” how he answered questions about the state’s proposed birth certificate policy—which would allow people to change the gender designation on their birth certificates to one that is neither male nor female—as well as questions about transgender bathroom access debate in Virginia.

He said it’s difficult to respond to the records obtained by the three news outlets because they have “no details.”

“I have no comment,” he said. “I have no information to comment on.”

Jackson said there is no timetable for CWU to complete the investigation, but the school has hired investigator Trish K. Murphy of Northwest Workplace Law in Seattle. The 2012 and 2013 CWU investigations were conducted by Wenatchee attorney Ernest Radillo.