Broward lawmaker accuses fellow state representative of 'offensive verbal assaults'

Miami Herald |

--TALLAHASSEE -- A Broward state representative said Monday she was "bullied, threatened and verbally assaulted" by a fellow lawmaker during a Democratic Party event in Orlando over the weekend.

In open letters addressed to House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and House Democratic Caucus members, Rep. Anika Omphroy, D-Lauderdale Lakes, accused fellow Democrat Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando of bullying her in the presence of several others at the event Saturday and said she still feared retaliation from the progressive lawmaker and his social media followers.

"There still looms the serious possibility of retaliation and attacks on my person, creditability, and/or my ability to effectively legislate," she said.

Smith disputed her account, saying "the details in her letter are simply false and did not occur."

Oliva sent letters Monday to Omphroy and Smith, indicating the House would start workplace harassment procedures and a "complete investigation into this matter."

Party leaders had gathered at an Orlando hotel to discuss their plans for 2020, and Omphroy said Smith approached her Saturday while she was sitting with other attendees.

In a "threatening and aggressive manner," Smith "pounded his hand and lashed out with a barrage of offensive verbal assaults," according to Omphroy's letter. She did not specify the issue that sparked the interaction but said she was trapped by his body positioned in front of her and alleged this was normal behavior for Smith.

"This bullying and demoralizing behavior must be addressed by you," Omphroy wrote in her letter to Oliva. In posting that letter to Twitter, Omphroy characterized the alleged incident as "girl you better know your place behavior."

In a statement, Smith said he and Omphroy "had a tense conversation about an important issue to both of us, but the details in her letter are simply false and did not occur."

"I walked away from the exchange, which happened in a public space in front of multiple elected officials with a completely different understanding, which is why I was stunned and confused by her letter," he added. "I respect her and care about how we talk about these important issues together as colleagues. I already reached out to Rep. Anika Omphroy and to the Speaker to have this dialogue and hope she is interested in doing it in a constructive way."

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said she was in the room along with more than a hundred other people. She added that as she understood it, the confrontation, which was in a public space, was not abusive. But she said she wasn't dismissing Omphroy's experience.

"I think it's so critical that we never dismiss the emotions and experiences of anyone, especially a woman of color," Eskamani said. "But I know Carlos is a caring and thoughtful person, and I know that he's very intentional in making sure he doesn't make anyone feel uncomfortable."

Marisol Samayoa, the communications director for the House Democratic Office, said Minority Leader Kionne McGhee had requested a meeting with Omphroy and Smith individually to discuss what happened between the two of them. She added that because Omphroy's letter was addressed to the House speaker, it was up to the speaker's office to investigate.

"We take this seriously," she said.

Herald/Times staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.

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