Rep. Aaron Coleman banned from KDOL premises after ‘disruptive, intimidating and berating’ behavior
Controversial Rep. Aaron Coleman, D-Kansas City, Kan., has been banned by the Kansas Department of Labor from its premises for allegedly trying to access an employee-only segment of the agency's headquarters and for "disruptive, intimidating and berating" behavior — charges Coleman disputes.
In a letter from KDOL Secretary Amber Shultz dated Oct. 12, Coleman was informed he has been barred from any agency facilities in his capacity as a state lawmaker and a private citizen. Violations of the order would be referred to law enforcement for potential prosecution for criminal trespassing, Shultz warned.
"As a result of your attempts to gain unauthorized access to the Kansas Department of Labor facilities and your disruptive, intimidating and berating behavior toward Department of Labor employees you are hereby notified and ordered that you are no longer to enter or remain in any KDOL facility or on any KDOL premises," the letter said.
Coleman was reprimanded but not formally disciplined by a Kansas House committee for behavior prior to his election as a legislator, including allegations of harassment, bullying and stalking.
During the August partisan primary against former Rep. Stan Frownfelter, Coleman admitted to cyberbullying and revenge porn while in middle school, gaining national attention in the process.
After Coleman defeated Frownfelter in the primary, an ex-girlfriend later came forward alleging he abused her, both physically and verbally, while the pair dated in 2019 and that the harassment continued until his Kansas House bid in 2020.
Coleman allegedly attempted to access employee-only part of KDOL building
The incident sparking the KDOL letter allegedly took place on Sept. 30 outside the agency's headquarters in downtown Topeka. Coleman has been outspoken in his criticisms of the agency, which has come under fire during the COVID-19 pandemic for its slow response to a backlog of unemployment claims.
Coleman was seen "repeatedly hitting the handicap access button" to enter an employee-only part of the building, though he couldn't gain entrance because a badge is required for access. When KDOL enforcement confronted the 21-year-old legislator, he attempted to go around the guards and access the building.
The letter alleged Coleman spoke to law enforcement in a "loud and demanding tone" and was in an "agitated state." While state buildings are largely closed due to the pandemic, Coleman said his status as a legislator should exempt him from those requirements. He eventually was directed to the public entrance of the building.
It is unclear if a police report was filed over the incident. A spokesperson for KDOL didn't return a request for comment Sunday.
Coleman calls letter ‘bullying,’ criticizes Democrats, KDOL
In an email response, Coleman disputes the charges and said the matter was "not about" him or his party but rather his efforts to help constituents frustrated with the agency. He echoed these sentiments in a YouTube response on Sunday morning, where he was defended by a constituent who says she has had problems with KDOL.
"My behavior was not as Secretary Shultz claims," Coleman said. "Secretary Shultz's letter is nothing more than Bullying Tactics. Any Kansas resident who has dealt with the impossible system of Kansas Department of Labor is exhausted and completely frustrated from the ineffectiveness of the agency's procedures. This is unfair and unjust to all Kansans navigating the agency's confusing and endless procedures that end in failure."
Coleman also took aim at House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, who has been a past target of Coleman's ire for disavowing his candidacy during the 2020 election. The House Democrat leader "is too busy criticizing and attacking me, to curry favor with the Governor," Coleman wrote, and he accused an unnamed group of Democratic lawmakers of "bullying" him.
In a statement, Sawyer's chief of staff, Joseph Le, said the letter from Shultz "speaks for itself."
"The House Democratic Caucus doesn't support any kind of violence or aggression, in any situation," Le said. "No legislator is above the law."
It is unclear if the matter will prompt any discipline from the Kansas House as a whole. A letter from the committee investigating Coleman's past actions warned earlier this year that any future misbehavior would likely bring a response.
"Be aware that non-compliance with the recommendations ... may result in a complaint being filed against you pursuant to House Rules, which will likely result in a reprimand, censure or expulsion pursuant to the Rules of the House of Representatives," the letter said.
Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.