The Kansas Labor Department has banned state Rep. Aaron Coleman from its buildings because it says the lawmaker intimidated and berated agency employees in an effort to gain unauthorized access to its offices.
Labor Secretary Amber Shultz sent a letter to Coleman on Oct. 12 warning him that he could be arrested and prosecuted for trespassing after a confrontation with a law enforcement officer at the agency’s offices in the afternoon of Sept. 30.
The letter described Coleman’s demeanor as “disruptive, intimidating and berating.”
“To be clear, you are not allowed to return to any Department of Labor property or premises and doing so will be a violation of the criminal trespass statute,” Shultz wrote in the letter.
The ban applies to Coleman personally and in his professional capacity as a lawmaker.
Coleman emailed out a copy of the letter at about 11 p.m. Saturday, saying that the secretary was threatening him for “the simple crime of attempting to be helpful in resolving constituent issues.”
“It appears Secretary Amber Shultz is too busy threatening state representatives with legal action that now thousands of Kansans – including dozens of my constituents – have been waiting over a year for unemployment benefits.”
But the letter says that Coleman’s temper flared when he went to the Labor Department’s main office on Sept. 30 when he was observed repeatedly hitting the access button for anyone with a disability at the employee entrance.
Labor Department offices are now closed to the public because of COVID-19. The letter says there is a sign posted on the door clearly saying the building is closed.
At one point, a department law enforcement officer came outside to provide Coleman with assistance, but the legislator tried to go around the officer and get into the building through the employee entrance.
“You were reminded that the building was closed to the public,” the letter said.
“You responded by speaking over the law enforcement officer in a loud and demanding tone,” Shultz wrote in the letter.
“You were observed acting in an agitated state. You insisted that the closure of the building to the public did not apply to you because you are a representative in the Kansas Legislature…”
However, the letter notes that Coleman did not have any identification with him to confirm that he was a legislator.
The law enforcement officer sent Coleman to the building’s public entrance where he spoke with a representative at the front desk, who forwarded his information to the agency once he “calmed down.”
The letter shows that it was copied to Gov. Laura Kelly’s chief of staff, Will Lawrence.
An effort to reach a Labor Department spokesman early Sunday morning was unsuccessful.
Coleman said he was only trying to help constituents who needed help.
“After several months of emails and phone calls going ignored, I had hoped to speak with someone at KDOL to see how I could be helpful in solving my constituents complaints, including Kansans who have waited over a year for KDOL to perform it’s duties,” Coleman said in a email Sunday.
“Only the opposite is true as far as my behavior being agitated. Rather I was professionally frustrated by the repeated failures,” he wrote.
“Because these failures could mean one of my constituents could end up homeless or worse. I care about my community and people.”
Coleman, a Democrat from Wyandotte County, has been under close scrutiny after a House committee earlier this year admonished him for a pattern of abusive behavior toward women.
House Democrats had filed a complaint against him, seeking seeking a censure and possible expulsion from the chamber.
“His removal is necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of legislators and Capitol staff,” House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer said at the time.
The committee sent him a warning letter, opting not to take a harder line because his actions came before he was in the Legislature, although he was cautioned that his conduct as a legislator would be watched closely.
“People’s eyes are upon you and your conduct going forward should be the best freshman out there,” said Republican state Rep. John Barker of Abilene, who chaired the committee.
“I would hope that you would take this letter of warning seriously.”
The chief of staff for Sawyer issued a brief statement Sunday morning.
“The letter speaks for itself,” Joseph Le said in a statement. “The House Democratic caucus doesn’t support any kind of violence or aggression in any situation.
“No legislator is above the law.”