An investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, financial misconduct, and bullying by King County Democratic Party chairman Bailey Stober has found several of the charges to be “substantiated,” while others remain “inconclusive,” according to the a report summarizing the conclusions of an investigation that went out to members of the organization’s executive board on Tuesday.
The report, by labor negotiator and executive board member Afton Larsen, is based on interviews with 14 witnesses, plus Stober and Natalia Koss Vallejo, the former King County Democrats executive director who says Stober harassed her, pressured her to drink, put her in physical danger, and required her to make expenditures that were not approved by the executive board or the party treasurer. (Koss Vallejo did not file the initial complaint against Stober and has said she had no intention of filing a complaint herself; she was fired by Stober, supposedly for throwing a cup of ice on the hood of a car, shortly after the complaint was filed by a third-party witness to Stober’s alleged behavior.)
Larsen’s report will be among the materials the executive board will consider at a “trial” on the workplace misconduct and harassment charges this coming weekend. The trial, at which both representatives for Stober and Koss Vallejo will present evidence, will be the prelude to an April 15 vote by the county party’s precinct committee officers on whether to remove Stober from his position.
In her report. Larsen restricted her findings to the allegations about workplace misconduct; in a separate investigation, the group’s five-member finance committee found Stober guilty of misspending party funds and called for his removal.
The workplace misconduct allegations against Stober included:
1. Violation of KCDCC Code of Conduct anti-harassment policy as follows. i) Offensive verbal or written comments related to gender and physical appearance. ii) Sexist or otherwise discriminatory jokes and language. iii) Posting without permission [on social media], without permission from that individual, other people’s personally identifying information (also known as “doxing”) in any public forum. 2. Additional allegations, not relevant to the KCDCC code of conduct, set forth by KCDCC Vice Chairs recommendations and findings report of January 8, 2018. i) Pressuring staff to drink alcohol. ii) Creating a hostile work environment of fear of retaliation. iii) Creating a dangerous work environment. iv) Evidence of physical assault.
Among other allegations, the original complaint against Stober claimed:
– That Stober had pressured Koss Vallejo constantly “to engage in excessive drinking”;
– That Koss Vallejo had told numerous people that she was afraid Stober would retaliate against her if she brought up her concerns, and showed them screen shots and text messages confirming some of her allegations;
– That Stober fired Koss Vallejo without consulting with the board’s vice chairwoman or the treasurer of the group;
– That Stober statement alleged that Stober made derogatory comments about someone’s, perhaps Koss Vallejo’s, physical appearance and relationship status;
– That Stober called her a “bitch” and a “cunt” while they were out drinking;
– That Stober sprayed Koss Vallejo with Silly String while she was driving; and
– That Stober had grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone while she was in the restroom and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook timeline without her knowledge.
Ultimately, Larsen only found the allegations that could be directly verified through physical evidence such as videos and text to be “substantiated.” That included the allegation that Stober made derogatory comments about Koss Vallejo’s appearance, the allegation that he made sexist comments, the allegation that he used her Facebook account to post an embarrassing update without her knowledge or consent, and the allegation that he had created a dangerous work environment by spraying her with Silly String while she was driving, an incident that Stober himself filmed and posted to Instagram.
The allegations that couldn’t be verified by documentary evidence, or which Larsen determined took place in murky circumstances (e.g., when both Stober and Koss Vallejo had been drinking “and were at varying degrees of sobriety”) were all deemed “inconclusive.” No one directly witnessed Stober calling Koss Vallejo a “bitch” in a derogatory manner, for example, and Koss Vallejo herself said Stober was using the term in a gender-neutral way when he called her a “bitch” in multiple texts. (Theoretically, certain language is always considered inappropriate in certain contexts, such as a boss calling a subordinate a “bitch” and a “lying sack of shit” in late-night texts. In practice, a victim’s statement that an inappropriate behavior didn’t really bother her that much can be used to weaken her larger case.) Similarly, although four people said Koss Vallejo approached them about her fear of retaliation, “no direct threats were ever observed or witnessed”—and Stober “received [the allegations] with surprise.” (In a video posted back in February, and in 8,800-word self-defense posted to his website, Stober made a similar claim. “Nobody was as shocked as I was,” he said in February.) In any case, Larsen apparently weighed testimony by multiple women against Stober’s denial and called it a tie.
Texts and photos and video proof are obviously rock-solid evidence compared to witness testimony after the fact. But the flip side of this approach is that it draws no distinction between the motivation of an accused harasser to deny he did anything wrong and the motivation of a victim and multiple witnesses to lie. Believing women, in this case, means listening to the testimony from all the women who say they witnessed Stober harassing, bullying, and pressuring Koss Vallejo and others and considering that testimony in the context of the evidence that is irrefutable—the texts, the Facebook “prank,” the video showing a terrified Koss Vallejo behind the wheel, screaming as Stober covers her in Silly String. Not believing women means choosing to dismiss all that evidence, the testimony of multiple witnesses, and statements from the reluctant accuser herself, and taking the accused man at his word. Either Stober is lying, or all the people who have given statements against him, including the organization’s longtime treasurer and a former vice-chairwoman who is no longer associated with the group, are. Given that Stober is the one who is on record mocking Koss Vallejo’s appearance, joking about crowning the man who allegedly sexually assaulted an underage volunteer at a Democratic Party function “party rapist of the year,” and pressuring Koss Vallejo to come out for drinks even after she demurred again and again, I’d say the former scenario is more plausible.
If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.