Four sentences in a letter to Speaker of the House Todd Richardson are about to turn the Missouri political world upside down.
“My name is Cora Faith Walker. I will be in the Capitol in January as the Representative of the 74th District. Earlier this week, I reported a sexual assault to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. I named my rapist as Steven Roberts, Jr., who hopes to be in the Capitol in January as the Representative of the 77th District.”
On Friday night, Walker, 31, a Ferguson attorney who won the Democratic primary for her seat in August, sent the letter containing those four sentences and more to Richardson, Minority Floor Leader Jake Hummel and assistant minority floor leader Gail McCann-Beatty.
She is asking the leadership of a Missouri Legislature that has been rocked by sexual scandals over the past couple of years to not allow Roberts, a Democrat, to take his seat until “this investigation is complete.”
Both Walker and Roberts are running unopposed in November.
On Saturday, after this column appeared on stltoday.com, each of the three legislative leaders issued statements responding to Walker’s letter. Richardson called the allegations “disturbing” and said he would monitor the criminal investigation. The Democratic leaders suggested Roberts should consider dropping out of the election.
In an interview at the home of her husband’s parents, Walker asked me to tell her story, including using her name, to give courage to women who are victims of rape, and to encourage a change to the Jefferson City environment that “perpetuates gender violence and rape culture.”
“I felt a moral responsibility to speak out,” Walker said. “The idea or the thought of me trying to just bury it is one I could not live with.”
Walker said the alleged assault took place either the evening of Aug. 26 or the early morning of Aug. 27 at an apartment in the city of St. Louis. She had gone there to meet Roberts to discuss how they might work together in the upcoming legislative session, Walker says. The two will be the only black lawyers in the Legislature.
Walker said she met Roberts at the apartment about 9:30 p.m. She woke up in a bed there the next morning.
“I had no recollection of why I was still there,” she said. Walker said she had two glasses of wine and remembers nothing after the second glass.
She told her husband, Tim, the next day about what happened, she said, but it took the couple several weeks to decide whether to go to police.
Two highly placed law enforcement sources confirmed to the Post-Dispatch that there is an active investigation into Walker’s report to police and that Roberts is the person being investigated. He has not been arrested nor charged with a crime.
The investigation, and the letter from Walker to Richardson, comes during a precarious time in Missouri’s capital city. Richardson took over leadership in the House after the former speaker, Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, resigned in disgrace after sending salacious text messages to an intern. Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, also resigned in 2015 after being accused of sexual harassment by interns. In 2016, after Richardson vowed to clean up the sexist culture of the Capitol, Rep. Don Gosen, R-Wildwood, resigned his position after admitting to an affair.
Walker says she’s concerned that sending Roberts into the Capitol atmosphere will put her and other women at risk.
“I want him to do everything in his power to prevent this from happening to someone else,” she said of the speaker of the House. “Whatever that is.”
In a phone interview Friday, Roberts said he was “not aware” that he was under investigation. When asked about the events of Aug. 26 and 27 he said he’d have to call back, and hung up. Roberts’ attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said he was aware that an allegation had been made.
“Whatever encounter occurred was completely consensual,” Rosenblum said. “I have viewed documentary evidence to support that.”
Roberts is a former assistant prosecuting attorney in the office of Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce. He was fired from his position in October 2015. Earlier that year, he had been investigated but not charged for an alleged incident at a bar involving a female college student. Roberts denied any wrongdoing.
Like many women, Walker waited awhile to call police to report the alleged crime against her. She said she and her husband and family talked about what they expect will be a very difficult road ahead. “I’m proud that she’s here now, being able to speak up about it,” said Tim Walker.
In January, one way or another, Walker plans to walk the halls of the Capitol representing her Ferguson constituents. The city has been through a lot in the past couple of years, and she plans to fight for an agenda that will help improve community-police relations.
In the meantime, she’s dealing with police on a level she wishes she didn’t have to. Walker hopes other women will gain confidence by her public battle.
“The odds are against me,” Walker says. “But I know what happened to me. And I know I don’t want it to happen to anybody else. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But it’s OK to speak up. It’s OK to be afraid.”