UPDATED: House panel to issue warning letter to Coleman


(Updated to include more reporting with edits throughout)

A special House committee on Friday decided to send an informal warning letter to Democratic state Rep. Aaron Coleman for a pattern of abusive behavior toward women.

The panel – made up of three Democrats and three Republicans – agreed to dismiss a complaint seeking his ouster from the House on the condition of a warning letter sent to the freshman lawmaker from Kansas City.

The letter, which will be drafted by Democratic Rep. Boog Highberger and Republican Rep. Susan Humphries, will set behavior standards that Coleman would be expected to meet or risk facing disciplinary action again.

Coleman declined comment after he left the hearing with his attorney.

At the start of Friday’s hearing, Coleman apologized for his actions.

“I understand that my words and my actions do not meet my own ideals that I have publicly set forth today,” Coleman said.

The chairman of the investigative commiteee, Republican Rep. John Barker, said he would ask the House speaker to assign Coleman a mentor to work with him in the Legislature.

“People’s eyes are upon you and your conduct going forward should be the best freshman out there,” Barker said.

“I would hope that you would take this letter of warning seriously.”

The informal warning letter is something less than a censure, reprimand or expulsion that would have been decided by the full House.

“There has to be something done,” said Democratic state Rep. Cindy Neighbor, a member of the special panel investigating the complaint against Coleman.

“Otherwise this is a slap in the face to all those people who are his victims,” Neighbor said. “They are truly victims.

“Whatever we do has to have a strong accountability measure and that the defendant knows that this is not game time. There are no more chances.

“You’ve had your second, third, fouth and fifth. This has to be taken seriously.”

The complaint is the latest in a string of events involving Coleman, some of which surfaced after he narrowly upset Rep. Stan Frownfelter in the Democrat primary last summer.

Coleman has been under fire from his own party after he acknowledged allegations of online bullying, blackmail and revenge porn when he was in middle school.

A former girlfriend also accused Coleman of slapping and choking her last year.

And later he was accused stalking the former campaign manager of state Rep. Stan Frownfelter and abusive behavior toward the House minority leader’s chief of staff.

Last October, The Kansas City Star reported that Coleman was arrested for threatening to shoot a student at a school in the Turner School District when he was 14 years old. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge.

A Coleman tweet from November sparked more talk about his removal.

Coleman went on Twitter and used the term “hit” in the context of criticizing Gov. Laura Kelly for not supporting Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

There was some reluctance among Republican members on the committee for holding Coleman accountable for actions that occurrred before he was elected.

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer said that Coleman posed a current threat to lawmakers and legislative staffers.

Sawyer pointed to how Coleman treated the minority leader’s former chief of staff last year when he was running for office.

Heather Scanlon, now a lobbyist, submitted written testimony that said Coleman became belligerent with her when the House Democrats posted a tweet condemning his actions.

Scanlon said that Coleman called and threatened to “kick Tom Sawyer’s ass.”

“This was the ranting of a person without the capability of self-control. It occurred on more than one occasion,” she wrote.

Coleman told the committee he didn’t make that threat about Sawyer.

Sawyer said the accusations made against him didn’t occur all that long ago, including the one involving a former girlfriend.

“The constitution and our rules leave it up to us to decide who’s fit for office and who isn’t,” Sawyer said.

“If there is a concern that this person is dangerous and this person hasn’t changed, that’s an ongoing thing,” he said.

Barker compared Sawyer’s comments to some kind of preemptive move to stop Coleman.

“Is that fair?” Barker asked.

Sawyer said some of the members of the Democratic caucus who signed onto the complaint against Coleman are worried about their safety.

“As long as I’ve been here, there have been a few members on my side of the House that I’ve worried about, but I didn’t file complaint to remove them,” Barker responded.

Humphries asked Sawyer whether it was the job of voters to decide who’s fit for office.

Sawyer said a lot of the information that surfaced about Coleman didn’t happen until after he defeated Frownfelter in the primary campaign.

Sawyer said the legislative process provided a “fail-safe” method for addressing concerns about lawmakers after they get elected.

Humphries questioned whether that was the purpose of the rule that allowed for expelling a member of the Legislature.

“Most definitely if there’s something that comes up after they’re elected, I thought that was really why these rules are in place,” she said.

“If someone might need to be removed, it’s because of something they’ve done as a representative,” she said