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The Trib adds on to the updated date rape drug story

I was a little surprised when there wasn’t a Texas Tribune story about the revelation that the date rape drug allegation levied against a lobbyist turned out to have been fabricated. They’re usually pretty quick on stuff like that, even when it wasn’t their scoop. With the publication of this story, I can see why. It focuses on the lobbyist in question, and it’s a deep dive.

Although it had not been officially released, the investigative report began ricocheting around computers and cellphones at the Texas Capitol early Tuesday evening, and it made one thing unambiguously clear: Rick Dennis, a lobbyist with one of Austin’s most prominent firms, was not guilty of using a date rape drug on two female legislative staffers during a night out in Austin.

Rumors that Dennis had been accused of doing so rocked the Capitol in late April, prompting outraged reactions from legislative leaders and state lawmakers. But a Texas Department of Public Safety investigation found the allegation baseless. Authorities soon after said they would not seek charges.

The DPS report, a copy of which was obtained by The Texas Tribune, concluded that the false allegation was fueled by two female legislative staffers, one of whom was trying to cover up behavior of her own that had nothing to do with Dennis.

Still, the incident laid bare larger questions about a Capitol culture that many female staffers say often leads to allegations of misconduct and harassment being brushed under the rug by those with the power to act.

Dennis has faced multiple accusations of inappropriate behavior with women as both a legislative staffer and lobbyist — and in at least two instances has been banned from visiting certain Capitol offices because of them, according to current and former staffers and documentation reviewed by the Tribune.

Those past allegations include offering graphic descriptions of sex acts inside a House member’s office, openly speculating about the sex lives of female and male employees, and creating “an office contest” in which Dennis demanded that he, as winner, would be able to “shoot white yogurt” onto the face of the loser, a female subordinate.

Those complaints, though, appeared to have little effect on his stature at the Capitol.

Dennis, through his attorneys, largely denied previous allegations to the Tribune. He did express regret about his time in state Rep. Tan Parker’s office during the 2015 legislative session, which he characterized as a stretch that “had too much of a locker room environment.”

Dennis’ history does not include accusations involving physical behavior or sexual violence, according to current and former staffers interviewed for this story. But his reputation for inappropriate comments, in part, explains why the date rape drug allegation took hold fiercely when it surfaced.

While lawmakers appropriately expressed outrage over fears that a staffer had been drugged, Capitol workers say, they’re bothered that years of documented complaints about sexual harassment didn’t meet the same threshold for those in power.

The latest incident has sent a message about what isn’t acceptable in the culture of state government. And what apparently is.


Dennis has been a presence at the Capitol for years. He worked for Parker — a Republican House member whose office declined to respond to a list of emailed questions for this story — from 2007-15, according to Dennis’ LinkedIn profile. Dennis also held a role as a strategist for the House Republican Caucus, his LinkedIn shows.

As the 2015 legislative session wrapped up, Julie Young, who at the time was working in Parker’s office, said she endured or witnessed multiple instances of harassment from Dennis, the lawmaker’s chief of staff. Young wrote a letter to Parker detailing incidents involving Dennis in the office and shared it with other staff members. Young said she brought a hard copy of the letter to discuss with Parker at a June 2015 meeting the two had scheduled.

The letter, a copy of which was shared with the Tribune, said the instances listed “made [the office] all extremely uncomfortable” and made Parker’s “office an unbearably hostile work environment.”

“We are under direction to discuss these issues with you first,” the letter said, “and then if the situation is not handled internally, we are told to go straight to House Personnel who will take the issue to [then-House Administration Chair] Charlie Geren.”

The letter described Dennis speculating about the sex lives of female and male employees in front of other members of the office. The letter said he repeatedly told two staffers they would “sleep together before session is over.” Dennis also “repeatedly said to multiple people” that Young has “Fuck me eyes,” the letter said.

The letter also described “an office contest” Dennis held “in which he demanded that the winner be able to ‘shoot white yogurt onto the loser’s face.’” A female staffer lost “and had white yogurt thrown in her face by Rick, in the office,” the letter said.

In the two weeks after receiving the letter, Parker met individually with staff members and confirmed with each of them the incidents detailed in that letter, Young told the Tribune. Soon after that, she said, Parker held a meeting with staff in his office and apologized, saying they wouldn’t have to come in contact with Dennis moving forward.

Parker, though, continued to pay Dennis and did not sign paperwork terminating his employment until five months later, in November 2015, according to House personnel and payroll records reviewed by the Tribune.

Dennis, in response to an emailed list of questions for this story, largely denied the allegations and said he felt the letter was “unfair.” But he did say that, “during that period of time,” Parker’s office “had too much of a locker room environment.”

“I admit that and regret it on behalf of all of us,” Dennis said. “However, it is absolutely false that I engaged in any of this activity that wasn’t being engaged in by all of us, male and female. The very same kind of banter was pointed at me as well.”

In response to the yogurt-throwing allegation, Dennis said it “was not a contest, but rather an agreement” with a friend and office colleague who had a birthday close to his.

“Instead of exchanging birthday gifts, we agreed that on her birthday she could throw a spoon of yogurt at me and I could do the same to her on my birthday,” he said. “Neither the instance where one spoonful of yogurt was tossed at me or at my colleague was done in a demeaning manner.”

Dennis said the idea came from the TV show “Modern Family” “and the fact that my colleague loved eating yogurt in the afternoons.” Staff members from other offices were present, as was his wife, he said.

“It was a joke in which we all engaged in willingly,” Dennis said.

See here for the background. That’s a long excerpt, but there’s a lot more where that came from, and you should read it. Richard Dennis was absolutely damaged by the false allegations made against him, and he has suffered for that. Based on this story, in which not one but two legislators called HillCo to tell them to keep him out of their offices, he didn’t have a great reputation among legislative staffers. You can make of that what you will.

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  1. Lobo says:


    To get both gist and slant of the Trib story, all you need to look at is the headline:

    “A false date rape drugging accusation against a lobbyist exposed claims of his role in the Texas Capitol’s culture of sexual harassment.” (Cassandra Pollock & unnamed Trib. editor)

    In other words: Good thing the false accusation was made. It gives us — the quality journalists — an excuse to blame what is now a proven victim of an insidious criminal accusation. Never mind that there was no date rape drug and no sex with the accused lobbyist, consensual or otherwise. We can still milk it for what it’s worth. – Squirts of yoghurt anyone?

    Now that the date rape story has been disproven, we — your quality journalists — can still serve up some dirt to collaterally validate the false accusation. After all, based on his reputation, he deserved it. The false rape allegation. And the “culture of sexual harassment” is, of course, an article of faith that must be properly professed by quality journalists, not questioned.

    Meanwhile, Capital Insider has rendered a public service with additional details:

    “DPS investigators determined that [House Member] staffer Xxxxxxx Xxxxx had misled colleague Yyyyyyy Yyyyy about a test for GHB that she’d made up in an attempt to hide her own infidelity as someone who was living with one man and having a romantic relationship with a male aide to a separate Republican representative. The report indicated that Xxxxxx had spent the night with the House staffer at his apartment where they had consensual sex.”

    [Let Kuff decide whether he wants to name names. It is, after all, his blog. For starters, our gracious forum host has named Jesus Christ. See top of yesterday’s post and go figure.].


    That stuff — cheating on the boyfriend — should not normally be publicized (sexual privacy), but accusing a third person of date rape after knowingly cohabitating with a different man – another lege staffer, no less – is a different matter. Now the motive and mens rea is clear.

    The additional details also add a whole new dimension to the wording of the DA’s passive-voice all-clear notice: No crime has been committed. — What about making a false report to authorities and instigating criminal prosecution? What about character assassination?

    And what about having relations while intoxicated? Isn’t that sort of thing well-established outrage material on other occasions, not to mention getting male college students expelled from universities at the option of the female participant once she is sober again, with regrets?

    Perhaps we should be discussing mandatory fraternization and temperance (alcohol intake control) training for lege staffers?

    Or at least set up a Drunken Staffers Anonymous Chapter, and lobby for establishment of a Sobering Center.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    First, Wolf… on analysis.


    “The latest incident has sent a message about what isn’t acceptable in the culture of state government. And what apparently is.”

    It sure has. It’s perfectly acceptable in state government to lie to attempt to imprison innocent people because we don’t like them. And why shouldn’t it be….we’ve seen the exact same thing happen at the national government level. We’re seeing it right now. This isn’t right. It’s banana republic type stuff.


    ” Based on this story, in which not one but two legislators called HillCo to tell them to keep him out of their offices, he didn’t have a great reputation among legislative staffers. You can make of that what you will.”

    What I make of this hit piece that is trashing the VICTIM of a crime is, it’s appropriate to blame male victims. We STILL can’t name the actual criminal(s) here. They did their crimes and are not charged, but we can still go after the victim.

    “Betty wore short skirts and revealing clothes, she was promiscuous, she slept with a lot of men, and cheated on her boyfriend. Betty used to say suggestive and lewd things, and loved dripping an ice cube on her decollete in front of men. C’mon, y’all, Betty’s a slut and was asking for it!”

    Where’s the naming and deep diving into the history of the criminal woman who, if she had been successful in her plan, would have an innocent man rotting in jail? Shit, ya’ll, he could have been convicted of aggravated RAPE. He might have gotten 25 years or more in prison. He contemplated suicide, for God’s sake! That’s as serious as it gets, but we’ll just protect the person that tried to do that to him, and drag his name through the mud. Hey, maybe he’ll still commit suicide? Is this really OK with y’all?

    [walks away disgusted]

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    Yes, even more, at the national level we’re now seeing praise heaped onto Biden because he wants an audit into the origins of the Covid virus. The news media want to make this out as “we need to examine Trump’s malicious and incompetent response.”

    The fact is though, that they are looking at it more and more being a leak from a lab at the Wuhan Institute, whether accidental or intentional. For months, they pulled out “experts” and “fact checkers” who assured us this virus mutated naturally and jumped from animals to humans. Any kind of human agency in a China lab was “conspiracy theory,” “Trump’s racism,” or “completely without evidence.”

    So here we are, thinking that it was in fact leaked from a lab, and having an audit to look into this. Even more, Fauci, the greatest doctor (well second only to Dr. Jill Biden), can’t say for sure if Chinese researchers used NIH funding to modify corona viruses. He said that wasn’t the purpose of the funding awarded to them, but then again, maybe they did some things we didn’t know about. The entire news media is more fake news than I realized.

  4. Joel says:

    Word of the week:

    doofecta (n): a trio of perfect doofuses

    Sentence: This post hit the comment doofecta.

  5. Manny says:

    Lobo for all your long-winded bs, you still fail to comprehend, understand, the report.

    The woman reported she was drugged with what she believed was the date rape drug. She based that on her getting sick and having to go to the hospital and the pain she was in. She did not claim she was raped.

    When will the right-wing crazies learn to read and comprehend?

  6. Lobo says:


    Manny: A note on genre. Yesterday’s 10am Lobo comment (see above) was a *critique* of the Tribune coverage of the matter and was written without the benefit of access to the investigative report.

    As far as oppo research and hit pieces go, it was thorough and probably effective.

    But this was written by Cassandra Pollock, a quality journalist, and approved by her on-duty editor (who may have written the headline), not by an oppo consultant hired to bring down a political opponent, or a hired gun specializing in character assassination, or a publicist for the protagonists for reputational damage-control, for that matter.

    We should expect better from our “independent” media.

    Journalists, not to mention quality journalists, are supposed to be fact-oriented and detached. What we saw here is an effort to double down – after the rape hysteria predicated on false facts had dissipated — to show that the lobbyist in question is a bad person who had it coming.

    Never mind the whole thing was made up. Not to mention that a unlawful sexual intercourse was never even alleged in the first place. Thanks to the media frenzy, “rape” was evoked by the use of the term “date rape drug”. The drug that played a critical role here is alcohol, as is now abundantly corroborated by the investigative report.

    The primary culprit lied about having been tested for GHB at a clinic that doesn’t even do such tests. And if there was any “date rape”, it would be by the staffer who admitted having “consensual” sex while both were intoxicated (the “date rape” drug being ethanol, to speak chemically, and the theory of the crime being a present inability to consent while passed out, if so).

    The female person in the overnight episode involving the two staffers did not “outcry” when she came to in the morning (as noted by the Special Agent), and didn’t want to do the rape-kit done (according to another witness). Guess why? – Because any extraneous DNA thus swabbed would exclude both the lobbyist and her live-in boyfriend, and would likely match that other staffer. None of this (intimate sexual conduct) should be the subject of media coverage, except when it’s relevant to a criminal investigation. And here it was.

    Pollock also implicitly equates dirty jokes and risqué banter with sexual harassment and sexual harassment with rape. That’s concept inflation to the point of meaninglessness and must be called out for what it is. And she wants to second-guess how the House member in question handled the 6-year old complaints at the time. So the guy wasn’t fired fast enough, and he was still being paid while he was still working the job? Gee. If an opinion is to be served up on graduated discipline by an employer, or adequacy of corrective action, do it in an opinion piece.

    Again: What has happened with journalistic standards and objectivity?

    Note also that the Tribune – unlike Lobo at 10am — already had a copy of the report (62 pages long and very detailed) but chose to (1) not link it as they do with other source documents (not even with names redacted to protect the guilty), and (2) spin the story into an attack on the character of the lobbyist who had been identified as a suspect.

    “The DPS report, a copy of which was obtained by The Texas Tribune, concluded that the false allegation was fueled by two female legislative staffers, one of whom was trying to cover up behavior of her own that had nothing to do with Dennis.”

    Note the wording: “behavior of her own.”

    The behavior in question is the crux of the criminal case because it supplied the motive for the deception that led to the criminal investigation.

    Clearly, in Pollock’s world, young women behaving badly – getting drunk and going home with a “side piece” to her steady mate — cannot be reported – even when it’s highly relevant to the “date rape” story. That might reflect badly on the perpetrator of the orchestration, which incidentally cost the public a lot of money to clear up.

    Unnecessarily, as we now know.

    That said, the lobbyist in question behaved badly too. He admitted to being intoxicated (in public). And that arguably is relevant to the false date rape *drug* story. Alcohol is a drug too.


    When will we see a story about alcoholism – rampant boozing — and the need to train lege staffers to know their limits, and to exercise the proper measure of self-control? – Hopefully soon.

    And what about the radical idea of prohibiting lege staffers from consuming alcohol altogether?

    According the investigative report, the partying started with a IPA beer on Capitol grounds, followed by “free” booze at a private club that prides itself for being private (no cameras pointing to the lobbyists’ corner, no entry for nonmembers).

    What else is going on in such places no longer filled with the smoke of cigars?