A state representative accused of sexual misconduct will return to his district without having faced any action from his fellow legislators.
A News 4 I-Team investigation last month detailed allegations from three women who said Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, initiated sexual contact with them while they were teens on his basketball team decades ago.
“He had told me not to say anything if I’m questioned,” said Christi Rice, who graduated from Wayne County High School in 1988.
“I depended on him,” said Robbie Cain, who played on the same team as Rice and graduated the same year.
The I-Team also obtained an audio recording of Byrd apologizing to one of his accusers several weeks ago.
“I would not have told you years ago I was sorry if I wasn’t,” Byrd said.
He did not elaborate what exactly he was apologizing for.
But as a body, the Tennessee General Assembly did nothing to address or further investigate the allegations against Byrd. The legislative session ended late Wednesday evening.
In a statement, Byrd neither confirmed nor denied the allegations dating back to the late 1980s.
Few leaders have asked Byrd to resign.
Gov. Bill Haslam refrained from making a statement on whether Byrd should give up his seat.
“The voters in his district from his party are going to get to decide,” Haslam said.
Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Thompson’s Station, also did not ask Byrd to resign even though he said the other side “sounds very credible” and “it’s probably true” the day after the I-Team investigation aired.
“I’ve known Coach Byrd for four years, and the four years I’ve known him, he’s just a fine man with an impeccable record on every front,” Casada later said during a regularly-scheduled news conference.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, initially said he needed to talk to Byrd before deciding how to move forward.
“So you’re not going to talk to him about these allegations or what he should do, as chairman of the caucus?” reporter Alanna Autler asked several weeks later.
“I haven’t,” Williams said. “I haven’t.”
“Do you plan to?” Autler said.
“I haven’t,” Williams replied. “I haven’t planned to.”
Even Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, who at first called for Byrd’s resignation, decided she could do nothing else.
“What do you think about the fact that Rep. Byrd has not resigned yet?” Autler asked.
“That’s his decision,” Harwell said. “I’ve made my decision clear.”
“And you are OK with him continuing to serve?” Autler asked.
“It’s his decision and I think the governor’s pointed out that we’re at the end of session and we’ll have an election process and the people have the right to vote and decide,” Harwell replied.
Harwell is running for governor of Tennessee.
One of the accusers did mail a letter to a member of the House Ethics Committee, detailing her allegations against Byrd.
Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, received that letter and personally gave it to Chairman Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, last week.
But McDaniel and legislative attorney Doug Himes told the I-Team the committee could not investigate the issue because it involves allegations predate Byrd’s time in office.
"We don't have the jurisdiction to investigate," McDaniel said. "It doesn't fall in our purview to do this."
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said Byrd should resign the day after the I-Team investigation aired.
Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, is the other lawmaker who has publicly asked for Byrd to step down.
Byrd is unopposed in the upcoming primary election.
When asked if the party was comfortable supporting Byrd in light of the misconduct allegations, a spokeswoman for the TN Republican Party issued the following statement:
“Our first focus this election year is the hundreds of nominees we will have after the May 1st county primary elections and helping them defeat Democrats in August. After that, our goal is defending our US Senate seat, Governorship, congressional majorities and state legislative supermajorities.”
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