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Jennifer Walle: The Q&A

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Photo by Scott Elmquist
  • Photo by Scott Elmquist

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Style incorrectly reported the date of the alleged incident between City Council aides David Hathcock and Jennifer Walle. Walle claims that Hathcock made unwanted sexual advances toward her on or about April 21, 2010. We regret the error.

In an interview with Style Weekly and the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week, City Council liaison Jennifer Walle details the April 2010 incident involving fellow council aide David Hathcock. In the weeks following, she says Council President Kathy Graziano, Hathcock's boss, attempted to persuade her to file charges instead against Councilman Bruce Tyler for what Walle describes as “innocent” comments regarding her appearance. Now, she's planning to file civil battery charges against Hathcock and sue the city. 

Jennifer Walle: I guess probably up until the April 21 or so, I had a very good working relationship with Kathy Graziano and David Hathcock. I had actually worked for them starting in 2006, right out of college. They were basically my first employers. They were kind of my mentors. So, I was very close to them I guess personally and professionally. Then I started working for Bruce as after that.

A lot of times I would go to David as a mentor, go to him for questions, how to handle certain situations, things like that. Because we don't really get any training. So, basically we're kind of thrown into everything. So, I would go to him in case something came up, or even kind of sometimes with personal things.

I guess what I ended up doing one day was work a fundraiser -- this was probably late March or so -- helping Kathy kind of as a favor after work hours. I was greeting and everything. And the next day, I received flowers. I received flowers, and I didn't know who they were from. I received them at work. I was trying to figure out who it was. And one of my co-workers and I couldn't read who the card was from, so I was kind of embarrassed. So, I called up the flower place and it turned out that I had received flowers from David basically I think as a thank-you for working the fundraiser.

However, on the card, it said “My Heart” in Spanish. And it said “Love, D.” It seemed a little strange at the time, but, you know I was close with him and I thought it was him just thanking me. And that would have been fine. But I kind of put it past me.

So, for the next few weeks, I continued working, and nothing really happened. Well on that Wednesday in April, David came into my office. It was actually a really quiet day. As I remember, Bruce and Kathy were in Charlotte or Raleigh. … Anyway they were somewhere in North Carolina, so the office was very quiet that day.

[David Hathcock] came into my office and I wanted to run a few things past him. I tried talking to him about … I get some comments and things at work, and I kind of let them, you know, run off my back. But I asked him a little bit more about it. And he closed my door. And he sat on my desk -- and you've been in our offices, there's not room for much more than two people in there -- sat on my desk, and he basically held my hand and said that if he had ever done anything to me, would I let him know? And I said, you know, “Well, yeah that's fine I would let you know.”

Well, kind of holding my hand was a little awkward for me at the time. But as he held my hand he kind of pulled me up off of my chair. Like if I was sitting in my chair and he sat down and pulled me on top of him, kind of like with my legs over him if you will. He pulled me on top of him. And that's kinda when I got up and pushed him away and told him, basically, “Hey, you're like a father figure to me.”

I was definitely a little bit shocked and taken aback. And that's when he said there's nothing paternal about the feelings he had for me and something to the effect of he only liked me for my body, or something like that. And that's the point where I got up -- and I was closer to my door. He kind of walked past me and went to leave and grabbed me and pulled me in to kiss me.
Luckily, I'd moved a little at that point. But he still tried to kiss me and we kind of [pantomimes her cheek brushing against his] parted ways and I was in a shock for almost a few hours.

How long did the whole incident last?

Ten minutes or less. It was very quick. Once he came in and we started discussing things … It was a very short interaction. After which case he left. Like I said, that was a Wednesday, that was the 21st.

Prior to that had he made in advances toward you or comments that you felt were inappropriate?

He would hug me. That was not something that was out of the ordinary. That was fine. He would greet me by hugging me. That to me is nothing out of the ordinary. I'm a very friendly person. That is in my nature. And like I said, I had known him for four and a half years, and we were in the same office together for a year. So, it's not like he was someone I had never met. I trusted him. I would go to him for advice on a lot of different things.

He would call me “baby” sometimes. Looking back on it, I should have completely thought differently of it since nobody else calls me that that I work with or interact with. But I didn't see him that way, so it didn't really occur to me that he would see me that way.

I thought he saw me as more like his daughter type thing. I don't think he has children that I know of. So, I thought that's how he saw me. And our age difference is large enough that it never really entered my mind that that would have been something. Now, those were probably some red flags that I probably should have seen.

Who was making the comments you wanted to talk with him about?

All the time at City Hall … I'll be honest with you, people will make comments to you. That's just the nature of being anywhere and working with men. That just is one of those things. If there's a comment, there's not but so much you can do.

What kind of comments?

I mean if I wear jeans to work … somebody said something on a Friday. … Somebody said something about that one day when they came up behind me. … They say things that you wouldn't want someone to tell your wife or daughter in a work setting. But nothing to the point of … there's never been any inappropriate touching, there was nothing any more than just comments. Just your typical inappropriate kind of male comments.

At City Hall there's kind of not too many young females there. They're kind of few and far between.

Did he come to your office at your invitation?

He just dropped in. He doesn't work at City Hall very often. He doesn't work out of City Hall. It was typical for him, if he came down there … which sometimes would be very rare … he just came in to say “hi.”

Did he close the door or did you close the door?

I believe he closed the door. Because that's when I was going to ask his advice on how to handle certain things. And closing the door sometimes -- in our offices -- can be something sort of normal. We're so on top of each other that it can be something sort of normal just to get some sort of privacy. I didn't at first … I didn't think anything of it. It wasn't off-putting if you will.

Had you asked anyone else for advice about these inappropriate comments prior to this point?

I had been in a fairly serious relationship at the time. For almost the whole time I'd be working at City Hall. And then about a month before this happened, we went our separate ways. And at that point I was kinda on my own. I don't know if that has any bearing on the extent, but most people knew of my situation. The comments afterward increased a little bit.

Because you became available?

I'm guessing because these were people who did know that I was single at the time.

But you hadn't reported any?

No.

But you wanted his perspective on how to deal with them?

Yes. How I should deal with the comments. … Is this something that's normal? Like I said, this was my first kind of real job. During the campaigning, [everyone] was too busy to even think about anything inappropriate. It just did not happen. So, this was something where it was like “Is this a normal workplace that people make comments like this?”

And I had talked to some of my friends and they were like, “No, this is not normal.” And that's when I went to him because, you know, because he's a little older and I trusted his judgment on things. Like I said, he was kind of like a father to me.

Can you address who was making those comments?

It would honestly be just different people. I could be on the first floor of City Hall when someone could mention how I looked in jeans. Basically, to quote them, that they didn't know that I “Had it like that,” or something to that effect.

Were these city employees?

These were city employees. That would be the extent of it. They would never touch me or insinuate anything more aggressive than that. It would always stop at the comments. But after talking with some of my girlfriends, they explained that this was not normal behavior.

Could you take us through the chronology immediately after the incident?

It took me a little while to process it. I talked to a close friend at the time about what I should do. One of the things was that I needed to basically address David and say, “Well, this has got to stop.” I didn't really want to do it. Like I said, I looked up to him. He was a mentor. It was very awkward. But I decide that this was something that I needed to do, that this was something that couldn't continue.

I sent the e-mail. It was the day after my birthday, May 6. I did it. I basically told him that this can't happen again. We're in a professional work environment. I believe something like five minutes later he e-mailed right back. I was kind of shocked at the time.

After that, I went down to Bruce's office, his other office. David and I a lot of times would work on things, just run things by each other, economic development ideas, you name it. It was not out of the ordinary for me to go to his office and run things by him. When I went to Bruce he mentioned me going to work with David regarding an economic development strategy we wanted to put in place. Long story short: I told Bruce that I didn't feel comfortable going off-site with him in a one-on-one situation.

This was after I sent the e-mail, probably late May or June or so. It was okay for a couple of weeks, I didn't have to work with him [David]. I kind of avoided it if I could.

Bruce did not make me work with David. He was fine. I didn't really give him details. But he trusts me enough to know that if I tell him something, I have a reason, a fairly good reason, and he won't question me on it. He said fine, whatever I have to do. He understands. He trusts me. But he didn't really want to delve too much into my personal business, which I … appreciated that. So, he said, “No, that's fine, you don't have to go work with him.”

Did you consult with anyone about the e-mail as far as its content?
I talked to a few different people. I went to the city administrative regulations page, so I made sure I hit what I thought I needed to hit in terms of making him aware that that was not something that should be done.

I wanted to follow those policies as best I could. I had the policy in front of me when I wrote it.

Did you contact anyone at City Hall to help you?

No, not really. I just talked with a few personal friends. I heard their input and just went by administrative guidelines. I thought that would be the best way to address it as obviously I had never been in this situation before and didn't know exactly what I was doing.

I met with Bruce and this was late May or June or so. And then one of my co-workers and I were talking about it, and I confided in her about everything. At this point, other people had heard certain comments that were made to me by different people and had thought that it was kind of an issue and thought that I should go talk to Kathy because she is the president of the council. And [Hathcock] is her liaison.

So, it was a June-ish or July. It was on a Monday, right before the start of an informal council meeting which starts at 3 p.m. We were on the third floor in the conference room. I actually took in Jan Girardi. I felt a little more comfortable with her going in with me.

So, who suggested you talk to Kathy?
Jan had talked to me about making sure that I had talked to Kathy about David.

This was the friend you had gone into detail with about the incident?

Jan knew. Pretty much as soon as she found out, she wanted me to say something. She was pretty appalled by what happened. Put off guard is probably the best way to put it.

I took Kathy in and … I definitely caught Kathy off-guard, I'll be honest with you. She, from what I know, did not have a clue about this at the time. And she was leaving docket revue heading to informal, so we only had about five or ten minutes. So, I told her what happened with David. I said I even have a copy of an e-mail where I outline out what happened and where he responds, basically admitting to it.

I asked her if she wanted it. She said no. She asked me to write her a letter stating what happened, which she would keep. I didn't quite see how that was going to help in the outcome. But she basically told me that I could either look for a new job, or I could quit, or I could deal with everything that was going on.

I remember sitting there, and I looked at Jan, and Jan was like “What in the world?” And I was like … “I can't quit.” I shouldn't have to quit. I shouldn't have to quit something that I love doing that wasn't even really anything that was my fault.

So, I was kind of surprised, and she told me that if anything happened again then she would probably get rid of him.

She said she'd get rid of David if it happened again?

Yes. I remember just kind of being shocked by everything. So, she was like “Get me a letter.”

Did she explain why she wanted the letter?

She said just to have a record. To have something on file in case something else came up, just so that she'd have it. But she didn't want the e-mail. She said, “Oh no, I believe you.”
So, at this point, Jan and I were talking to Kathy and she brought up other people making comments to me.

Jan brought this up?

Yes, and this is where Jan brought up Bruce making comments. This was after we talked about David. Kathy at that point thought that that was a little more inappropriate given that he is my supervisor, and that's a different relationship that David and I have.

Had Bruce made comments?
Bruce would make comments … things that were more innocent compliments, if you will. Never touched me. Never made any passes at me or anything like that. But those kind of comments. … If people heard, they could misconstrue them.

So, had Jan misconstrued them?
She had heard some of those comments, and other people in the office had. So, I guess, if someone heard those not knowing how Bruce is, or not knowing how my relationship with Bruce is, then yes, me being a young girl, I'd probably think that it was inappropriate. I understand where they were coming from.

Kathy said, given that Bruce is my supervisor … she talked about me pursuing something against Bruce based comments he had made to me. But she told me that that was up to me. At that point, a week or two passed, and Jan goes and talks to Daisy Weaver (City Council's chief of staff).

What prompted Jan to do that?

I think she was pretty appalled by the whole thing. So, Jan went and talked to Daisy. So, at this point, she tells Daisy what happened. Daisy called me down to her office.

So, she talks to me about David and Bruce. She was going to go on vacation. But she wanted to talk about what to do with me because I couldn't keep working in an environment like this. She talked about possibly removing me to somewhere else. And I said that would be fine. I said that as much as I love my job, that would be fine as long as I can still work for the city. I didn't want to have to come to work and deal with everything that was going on.

Daisy goes on vacation, and everything sits for about two weeks.

By now it's early August, the eighth or ninth or so. I get called into Daisy's office. Laura Drewry is in there from the City Attorney's Office. She's sort of the HR city attorney, if you will. Also, Kathy is there. I go in with the three of them and we talk about what's going on.

I talked to them about David. I talked to them kind of about the comments people had overheard. At which case, they were letting me know that it would be a good idea that I needed to make some kind of written complaint against Bruce, because Bruce is my supervisor.

So, this is the point where I was kind of … to me, it seemed like what David did was much worse than a few comments by Bruce. At which time they bring in [Dr. Tyrone Jackson], who is the city director of human resources. So, it's the four of us in there at the time. Dr. Jackson kind of goes through … and he was going through the different things I could do. And he asked me, “Hey, what has Bruce said to you?”

Did he make some sort of recommendation?
We kind of went through all the things that Bruce had said to me. And he said “You might want to think about what you're going to say, or what you're going to put in a written complaint because that's a pretty big charge.” And I said “I understand. … I don't necessarily feel very comfortable with making any sort of harassment claim against Bruce.”
So, he's on the subject of Bruce. Later do I find he does not know anything about the situation with David. This was after talking with Jackson later. He does not know that David is the issue.

So Bruce becomes the focus.…

Bruce becomes the focus.

Hayden Fisher (Walle's lawyer):  So what they do is try to persuade her to file a complaint against Bruce instead of the person she's complaining about. …

Walle: Which is David.

Instead or in addition to?

More of instead of.

Who was advocating for you to file a complaint against Bruce? Who is it that's steering things in that direction?

It was mostly Kathy advocating. Laura is advocating too, because her role as a city attorney is to protect the city.

I listened to what Dr. Jackson said and thought about it. Kathy told me “Well, what can we do?” And they came up with the idea that Bruce and I should be removed given that he had made a few comments to me, rather than let us keep working together. …I guess they were thinking the situation might escalate. I guess they were trying to nip it before it became something.

They agreed that Kathy was going to be the one to tell Bruce that we were not to talk until I filed the written complaint against Bruce. And this is where I was kind of like, “Well, I don't know if I should really do that.” And they said, “Well, that's what you're supposed to do.” And I was supposed to work through David, while I was separated from Bruce.

So, they told me that even though David is the problem, I am to e-mail David. They didn't ask me to talk with him on the phone. I have constituent issues, obviously. I have phone calls. Anything that comes in, Bruce still needs to know about it. What I'm supposed to do is e-mail David, who would then forward them to Bruce.

So, their solution, just so I understand it, is that David act as the go-between for your correspondence with Bruce?

Correct. Yes. Because I was not supposed to talk to Bruce, was not supposed to talk to him on the phone. I was not supposed to e-mail him. But he still needs to know what I'm getting in terms of his job. So, David is the person I'm supposed to e-mail. And that was the last person I want to be anywhere near.

So, Kathy went down and told Bruce that he had a possible allegation against him from me. At which point Bruce and I were separated. We were not allowed to talk with each other. This was in early August.

But if Bruce's comments were, as you say, innocent in nature, or more innocent than other comments you had received, why would you agree to the separation from Bruce, or let things continue down that path?

Looking back on this, I will tell you I probably allowed people to bully me. I'm a lot tougher now than I was nine months ago.

Did it ever strike you that you could go to Jackson by yourself without shepherding from Daisy or Kathy or anyone else?

I would have probably never gone to Kathy in the first place if I knew then what I know now. I would have completely bypassed that. I would have maybe gone to Umesh (Umesh Dalal is the auditor for the city government) and asked them to do some kind of inspector-general report.

I thought everybody had my best interests at heart, which I've now learned is just not the case. I just assumed that because I was younger everybody had more experience in how to handle things. Like I said, I … I think I get along with everybody at City Hall, so this is kind of new … rare for me.

Given that you were originally going to talk to David about them, is it fair to say that you were at all worried about the comments made by Bruce?

He was one of the ones I wanted to ask David about. But I wasn't concerned about them. I've worked for Bruce since June of 2006.

I think this is fair to say … Bruce a lot of times will say something and it doesn't necessarily come out the best way. I know him well enough now to know that his intention may be good, but it doesn't come out quite as well-thought-out as maybe it should have been.

His comments were part of the collection I'd received that I was maybe a little concerned about. But they were on the milder scale. I do work with him all the time, so people would see that more than when I'm on the first floor and someone makes a comment to me.

Because the details matter, could you say specifically what kind of comments he'd make?

Like if I wore a dress with heels, he would say that I look nice. He preferred it if I was dressed up. That to me was not quite as bad as some of things I'd heard. He would tell me that I look nice, or that I liked my dress. It might not have been that nicely put. But it wasn't inappropriate.

Who has final approval of the separation?
Kathy is in the driver's seat of this as Daisy works for Kathy.

One thing I'm having a hard time reconciling is the way you characterize Bruce's comments as innocent or something along those lines with their responding to your description of them in such a red-hot manner…

I was kind of thinking the same way as you do … I don't quite understand why.

On some level it makes no sense.
Fisher: Well, it makes sense if you're trying to protect David. What we found out later was that Kathy told Bruce that he had to get rid of her.

Walle: Which I didn't know at the time because obviously I wasn't allowed to talk to Bruce.

But it sounds like it's not just Kathy. But it sounds like Jackson, who doesn't work for council, is also pushing in that direction. …

Fisher: Well, she's president of City Council.

Walle: Jackson, as you said, doesn't work for Kathy, but he didn't know about David, which I found out later. Obviously, when all of this was going on, I didn't talk to anybody. I kinda stayed in my office just kinda removed from everybody.

Like I said, Dr. Jackson said you need to think about whether these are compliments or inappropriate comments when he was talking about Bruce. I said I don't really think that this is something that should escalate to a written complaint against Bruce.

Bruce and I were separated for maybe a week and a half. And during this week and a half, they encouraged me, and by they I mean mostly Kathy—and to some extent, Laura Drewry, to file a written complaint against Bruce. Because they said they can't keep me separated from somebody obviously unless I'm going to file the complaint, which is what they needed for the investigation to launch.

So, after I'd been separated maybe a day or two later, I get a phone call. I went into Laura Drewry's office with Kathy. They say, “Hey, have you filed the complaint yet?” They said right now you're in limbo. You're not working for Bruce. We can't continue to do this. They were kind of like pushing me.

Kathy at that point said that I needed to file against Bruce or else it needs to … I need to kind of drop it.

And was like, “If I'm going to file against Bruce, I'm definitely going to file something against David because he's the one who had an actual physical battery against me.”

This is the point where Laura says “Well, did he stop?” And I said, “Well, yeah he stopped.” And they they're like, “Well, that's over with.” And I remember this pretty vividly -- I was fairly upset at this time -- I said “So, basically if someone rapes you once and they stop it's OK?” They said, “No, that's not it.”

That's where I told Kathy that I wasn't going to file anything against Bruce. I didn't feel comfortable doing that. I thought about it, and I didn't feel like it escalated at all to the level that he should be, you know, investigated, for anything. So, obviously I didn't file against Bruce.

They put me back with Bruce, and everything was fine. Only that at this point we had a very awkward working relationship given that he thought I accused him of those allegations. And we both have to work together, but we couldn't really talk about anything. So, there was kind of like an elephant in the room. But we stuck to business. This is probably mid-August when I went back to working with him.

Later, I learned that there were rumors flying around about me living with a male roommate -- basically accusing me of being a “ho.” And I kind of took personal offense to that given the fact that I was the one somebody did something to. I don't like it that someone is impugning my integrity, because at this point, that's all you have.

Going back to your meeting with Kathy, Weaver, and Tyrone Jackson, you didn't, at the time of that meeting, inform him of the situation with David?

I didn't talk much. I'll be honest, I was probably in and out of there in five minutes. This whole time I was getting called in by Kathy and Laura at different times with “You need to make this written complaint against Bruce, or drop everything.” I was pretty stressed. I was having migraines. I was almost physically sick at the time.

And during those meetings, did you ever make any accusations about Bruce Tyler?

I told them the things that he would say to me. Bruce has never laid a hand on me. He's very much … he's very much a gentleman. We are the only liaison pair that has a huge age disparity.

Ultimately, why did you not file a complaint against David Hathcock?

At the time I didn't really trust the way this was being handled. I didn't see how if I went to the city … I didn't see how if I went to them that they were actually going to do a real investigation. That's not to disparage [human resources] by any means. But I saw how Kathy moved in on everything. I figured that she would be in on that too.

But Kathy in her comments about this, the constant refrain is that there has been no complaint filed, and I think that's question that a lot of people have…

Fisher: She made a verbal complaint. She offered the e-mails, was rejected. They tried to turn her against Bruce. And then she talks to Bruce after this all surfaced, and lo and behold, Kathy's talking to Bruce that he needs to get rid of her.

What's your thought on the direction they appear to be headed in terms of a lawyer being hired by the City Attorney's Office to look at this?

Walle: My whole issue is if they really wanted to get to the bottom of an investigation, they would have done so six or seven months ago when I told Kathy.

The kind of upsetting part to me is that the City Council hires the city attorney, and the City Attorney's Office is going to be the one that picks the investigator? Honestly, I don't have much faith in the process. It doesn't seem like there's going to be an investigation so much as a defense.

Do you plan to continue in your current position as this process plays out?

I would love to. I love my job. Even through all this. I enjoy working with the citizens. It would be really hard to stop doing something that I really like.

What are Bruce's thoughts on that?

He's been very supportive. He's now told me that I need to do what is best for me at this point.

So, you weren't able to speak to him about the situation until December?

He was told not to talk to me about it, as he was told by Kathy that I had made allegations against him. And I was told not to talk to him about it. So, we didn't exchange information until after everything sort of blew up in December, after Mr. Jewell talked to Bruce and Mr. Jewell talked to me.

Did Bruce ever encourage you to talk to anyone at the city, or pursue any path other than what Mr. Jewell was pursuing?

Dr. Jackson didn't know about David until, from what I've heard, after he talked with Mr. Jewell. Afterward, Bruce and I went to talk to Dr. Jackson. He brought me to the office. He told me to tell the truth about everything, at which point he removed himself from the room and left.

He doesn't want to tell me how to deal with this. He said that as long as I continue working, he'll support me. He knows it's been a difficult time.

Are you able to do your job?

I'll be honest, it's hard to walk through City Hall now with people watching me. Yes, I'm able to do my job. But, yeah, it's difficult.


 

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