Alford, a 64-year-old medical disability examiner, is suing Florida over an alleged 2014 sexual assault she says Scott ignored for years despite her pleas for action. Alford has long alleged that her boss once harassed and groped her while they were alone in his office. The state found “no cause” for her claims in part because no one else directly witnessed the incident.
“I tried to get the governor’s attention,” Alford, speaking publicly for the first time, told POLITICO in an interview. “I felt like I was out there on a limb by myself and people were not really hearing me. I’m still traumatized.”
A trial for the case, centered on allegations Alford reported to the police shortly after the incident several years ago, is set for Feb. 11 in a Leon County court. Alford’s accused perpetrator, Charles Fete, did not return calls and emails for comment. State counsel John Derr, who by extension is Fete‘s attorney, also did not return calls and emails for comment. In a response to her lawsuit, the state denied Alford’s claims, and like her, demanded a jury trial. Fete is named but is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
The explosive issue of sexual harassment has dogged both political parties nationally and in Florida since Hollywood film producer and Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein was accused by several women of sexual harassment and assault more than a year ago. After him, powerful men across industry and government fell to the swift #MeToo hammer as women felt emboldened, in a cultural movement that prioritized believing victims, to come forward and name the men who have assaulted, harassed and bullied them.
But the latest allegation by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — that she feared then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh intended to “rape” her while they were in high school — showed the limits of that movement. Ford gave emotional Senate testimony that spurred a limited FBI probe into her allegation. President Donald Trump then mocked Ford at a campaign rally; Senate Republicans called into question her motives and her memory, and Kavanaugh was confirmed.
A problem with reporting sexual harassment is that it is generally not considered a crime under Florida law, and while sexual assault is a crime, it's often a private affair that’s tough to prosecute without any supporting eye witnesses.
Alford, a registered independent, reported at the time to the governor’s office, the Florida Commission on Human Relations, local police and a supervisor how Fete allegedly held her in a bear hug in his office behind closed doors that was so tight that she could feel his knee caps, his hip bones against her own; how when she tried to get away, he whispered in her ear that she was “devious” just like he was. But extensive records Politico reviewed show her allegations were initially set aside in part because no one else directly witnessed the incident.
For this story, POLITICO reviewed years of documents relating to a myriad of Alford’s complaints and corresponding state investigations that stem from a basic scenario detailed in her lawsuit: In 2014, Alford said she had a direct supervisor who was intoxicated at work. She reported those concerns to Fete, a state Department of Health program administrator and the boss of both employees. Alford says Fete harassed and assaulted her on March 27, 2014, after they had a disagreement on how to handle her immediate supervisor’s drinking problem. A recent deposition of Fete in Alford’s case shows that same immediate supervisor has also claimed that Fete “touched her improperly” at work.
Most of the documents, including Alford’s 2018 medical records, were unredacted and provided by Alford and her attorney to POLITICO as part of the reporting process.
POLITICO is making available a 2014 state investigation — provided by Alford and her attorney — that dealt primarily with Alford’s sexual assault and harassment allegations; a state investigative memo — also provided by Alford and her attorney — that shows how affidavits by people supporting Alford’s claim were discounted since they were not eye witnesses to event; a 2015 redacted state investigation obtained through a records request that summarizes many of Alford’s complaints and how the state handled them; an April 2014 police report related to the assault and its corresponding supplemental report; a July 2014 request for a stalking injunction Alford filed against Fete that was denied; and three letters — by Alford’s longtime friend, Alford’s colleague and Alford’s supervisor who also accused Fete of unwanted touching — that supported Alford’s allegations against Fete and were provided to POLITICO by Alford and her attorney and included in state investigations.
POLITICO is also providing correspondence Alford and her attorney had with the governor’s chief inspector general and other investigators from 2014 to 2015. Alford’s handwriting is visible at times on her correspondence to the governor’s office and on the testimonies supporting her account. POLITICO has redacted the name of Alford’s immediate supervisor who, documents show, eventually resigned after declining a drug and alcohol test.
Alford’s January 2018 medical records reviewed by POLITICO show that she is suffering from trauma related to a “sexual assault at work in early 2014.” A police report from April 2014 shows an officer contacted a medical professional at the time who described how Alford told her “about being violated at work by Fete” a day after the incident occurred.
The officer sent the case to the state attorney‘s office but was told there was “no probable cause for an arrest; therefore, prosecution was being declined.”
Three people who saw or spoke with Alford on the day of or the day after the incident supported her account, records show, but they did not directly witness the assault, and her allegations were dismissed in 2014 by the Department of Health Equal Opportunity Section with a “no cause finding,” which her lawyer says effectively stalled her from pursuing the harassment case in state court for years.
Patrick Frank, Alford’s attorney, calls the state probes into her complaints a drawn-out exercise in “willful ignorance ... They claim they’re investigating, but they usually don’t,” Frank said. “You’re basically doomed to fail.”
Frank says he and Alford communicated with the governor’s office at least four times about her allegations and that Scott’s office was “absolutely aware” of her complaints as well as concerns for how the state was handling her case. He says Alford outlined her case in a four-page single-spaced letter sent to Scott's chief inspector general — who is hired and fired by the governor — in 2015. That letter was reviewed by POLITICO.
The governor’s office initially directed POLITICO to state Department of Health spokesman Nick Van Der Linden for comment, who said: “While we cannot comment on specific cases, the department has zero tolerance for harassment of any kind and investigates any claim thoroughly.”
“Governor Scott takes allegations of sexual assault and harassment very seriously. He has zero tolerance for any sort of behavior like this,” Scott spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said Thursday in a statement. “That’s why he has proposed, fought for and signed legislation, along with signing an executive order, to protect state employees who have been victims of sexual harassment. Governor Scott does not know this employee, nor does she work in the Governor’s Office. She contacted the Governor’s Inspector General’s Office, a statutorily independent entity, and the allegations were immediately routed to her agency’s Inspector General at the Florida Department of Health, which swiftly investigated her claims.”
Gambineri pointed to an executive order Scott issued last year requiring state agencies to adopt uniform sexual harassment reporting and investigation practices in an effort to improve the system.
In addition to writing a detailed letter to Scott’s chief inspector general in 2015, Alford says she also emailed Scott’s office directly in April 2014, trying to alert the governor to how her case was being handled and how she believed she was now in a hostile work environment at a Florida health agency, but Scott’s office redirected her to the Department of Health. When Alford was recently invited to attend a reception on behalf of the governor honoring her 15 years in state service, she says she declined to go because she didn’t want “to be in the same room with [Scott] or his office because my concerns from 2014 were still not addressed.”
Scott’s campaign declined to comment and instead pointed to how Nelson has taken campaign donations from political committees associated with senators accused of sexual harassment, including Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who stepped down from his Senate seat earlier this year after reports of sexual harassment.
Nelson campaign spokesman Dan McLaughlin said the campaign has given all the money Nelson received from Franken’s committee to charity and that Scott’s “campaign is doing is what Scott does: He blames others and points the finger at others for anything he’s done or anything that he should take responsibility for.”
The Senate debate wasn’t the first time Alford has been incredulous at Scott’s comments on harassment. She first contacted POLITICO in July — initially waffling about whether she wanted to speak out through the press — after Scott called the allegations that Sen. Jack Latvala harassed and groped Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers “absolutely disgusting.”
After the state’s upper chamber was rocked by Latvala’s case, state Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) — a survivor of child sexual abuse — filed a bill, FL SB1628 (18R), that sought to reform the state government’s sexual harassment policy. It dramatically died at the very end of session, leading Book to rail against the “old boys’ club” mentality in the state Capitol. She told POLITICO on Wednesday that she intends to file another sexual harassment bill for the upcoming legislative session.
“That was a galvanizing moment for me,” said Alford, who had been intently following the sexual-harassment session debate, about how the measure died and how it impacted her ultimate decision to publicly speak out.
While Alford’s attempts to get Scott’s attention about her case appear to have failed, the governor has been more attuned to the national headlines of both Kavanaugh’s travails and the allegations against Franken, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), both of whom have been accused of sexual harassment or assault.
In the Oct. 2 Telemundo debate, Scott turned the tables on Nelson’s criticism of Kavanaugh by noting Nelson’s alliances with fellow Democratic members of Congress who had also been accused of harassment.
“Now, Sen. Nelson says he’s concerned about sexual harassment claims. So, his close friend, Congressman Alcee Hastings, settled a sexual assault claim for over $200,000, paid for by the taxpayers,” Scott said in the televised debate. “Never once did the senator come out and say anything about it.”
Alford’s lawyer says her own case could leave Florida taxpayers on the hook for at least $250,000. Since 1987, the state has shelled out more than $11 million to settle over 300 sex-harassment claims by state workers, the AP reported last year.
After Scott at the debate called the subsequent Senate hearing into Ford’s allegations a “Jerry Springer show” and a “circus,” Alford questioned his fundamental understanding of the issue and whether it affected how he handled her own complaint.
“When a person [says they’ve] been battered or assaulted or traumatized by another person, that’s a statement of a crime,” Alford said. “I thought I would be taken seriously.”
Marc Caputo contributed to this report.