WDEV's Mark Johnson interviews Gov. Peter Shumlin at the Statehouse Friday morning.
Updated at 4:36 p.m.
Members of the Vermont Senate expressed shock Friday morning at the news that one of their own had been arrested. As they took the floor to debate an education governance bill, Sen. Norm McAllister (R-Franklin) was due in court to answer to sexual assault and other charges.
"I think my reaction is the same as everybody else in the Senate: just kind of confused," said Sen. Dustin Degree (R-Franklin), who shares a district with McAllister and campaigned with him in 2012 and 2014.
"Everybody's sad and concerned, and we're trying to withhold any judgment," said Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), the Senate minority leader.
Police officers approached McAllister Thursday evening at the Statehouse during a break between Senate debates, according to two senators and a police affidavit signed by Vermont State Police Sgt. Benjamin Katz.
"I was outside having a cigarette and I saw him walk with two gentlemen and just hollered out, 'Everything OK?'" recalled Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland). "And he said, 'Yup, be right back.' And he kept walking, and my instincts bothered me, so I went up and saw him."
According to Katz’s affidavit, McAllister initially told the police he would answer any questions they had.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong,” he told them as he sat in a police cruiser in a Statehouse parking lot.
Flory, an attorney, then approached the police and told them she was McAllister’s lawyer. The two walked to a corner of the parking lot and spoke for roughly 10 minutes.
Flory then notified Benning, a criminal defense attorney, about the situation. He arrived shortly thereafter and spoke with McAllister for several minutes. McAllister then refused to speak further the police, according to the affidavit.
Citing attorney-client privilege, Benning would only say that he approached McAllister and had a brief conversation with him.
Flory said she was "shocked" and "upset" by the matter.
In response to news of the senator's arrest, one former state representative alleged she had been sexually harassed by McAllister in 2007 when both were serving in the House. Writing on Facebook, former Burlington representative Rachel Weston called McAllister a "pervert" and said he had directed a lewd comment at her on her first day in the House. She was 25 years old at the time.
Speaking from her home in Istanbul, Weston said that when she was introduced to McAllister, he said, "It's nice to meet you, but it would be better to meet you with your clothes off."
"I'll never forget it," she said. "It was completely inappropriate."
Weston said she never officially reported the comment to legislative leaders, but it was referred to in Madeleine Kunin's book Women in Politics.
"Some people said he was probably joking," Weston said. "I saw it as perverted and inappropriate. I steered clear of him for my entire legislative career."
Weston resigned from the House in January 2012 to take a job overseas.
Speaking on WDEV's "The Mark Johnson Show" Friday morning, Gov. Peter Shumlin called the allegations against McAllister "extremely troubling."
"I'm sure justice will be served," he said.
Shumlin said he "had been made aware of the possible charges" on Tuesday afternoon.
"I think the Vermont State Police did a excellent job trying to deal with it without, you know, lots of fanfare," Shumlin said.
"Really?" Johnson responded. "Everybody's talking about it in the building here this morning. Do you really think it was necessary to do it here and on the grounds?"
"Well, you know, I'm gonna leave the judgment to the State Police about how they deal with arrests, but when you have charges and they're ready to be ... acted upon, you have to go where the person is," Shumlin said.
After his radio appearance, the governor said he could not recall any similar incidents occurring during his tenure in public life.
Senate Secretary John Bloomer said there is nothing in the Vermont Constitution or the Senate rules preventing a lawmaker accused of a crime from continuing to serve.
According to the Constitution, “The Senate shall have the like powers to decide on the election and qualifications of, and to expel any of, its members, make its own rules, and appoint its own officers, as are incident to, or are possessed by, the House of Representatives.”
Senate President John Campbell (D-Windsor) declined to comment on the situation Friday morning. Later in the day, he released a written statement.
“These allegations are serious and my concern lies with any victims of the alleged conduct,” Campbell said in the statement. “At this time it is premature to make further comment as the public has not been provided with all the facts. The place for judgment is in the court system and I have confidence that our justice system will provide an appropriate response to any proven wrongdoing.”