ST. LOUIS — Allegations of sexual assault have plagued Missouri Senator Steve Roberts for years – and now, as he eyes a Congressional seat, he’s releasing a confidential settlement agreement he reached with a high profile accuser now that she has died.
In August 2016, then Rep. Cora Faith Walker accused Roberts of sexual assault. A police investigation did not result in any charges, and Roberts sued Walker for defamation. Walker filed a countersuit.
In May 2019, Roberts and Walker reached a settlement that did not involve any money.
Its terms have never been made public until now -- just days after Roberts announced he will be running against Rep. Cori Bush in the Democratic primary, and just weeks after Walker died after collapsing at a hotel in downtown St. Louis the morning after attending a birthday party for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.
She was 37 when she died on March 11. Her cause of death is still unknown, but multiple sources familiar with the investigation into her death tell 5 On Your Side preliminary toxicology results did not indicate the presence of any drugs in her system at the time she died.
Roberts, who represents Missouri’s 5th District, filed motions with the court in the months before Walker’s death accusing her of violating the terms of their settlement, asking for it to be released and to enforce the $100,000 fine for each violation.
The 39-page settlement prohibited Walker from calling herself a survivor, identifying herself as a member of the #metoo movement unless she identified the perpetrator as someone other than Roberts – points Roberts said she violated.
“The truth matters,” Roberts said in an interview with 5 On Your Side. “The only reason I'm coming forward now is because Cori Bush and her supporters keep trying to recycle these old stories that were proven to be false to distract from an indefensible voting record.”
Bush’s campaign has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Walker wasn’t the only woman to accuse Roberts of sexual assault, though he was never criminally charged in that case.
A civil lawsuit filed by that alleged victim was dismissed with prejudice.
Roberts has not released any settlement agreements from that case.
“All I'm going to say is that the case was dismissed with prejudice,” Roberts said repeatedly about the case.
Walker’s family spokeswoman referred questions to Walker’s attorney, Alan Mandel. He said Roberts wasn't really doing anything to force the settlement to be released, until his client died.
“I have an ex-client who is not here to speak for herself, and I find it troubling from common decency standpoint,” Mandel said. “I’m disturbed by the release of confidential information.”
5 On Your Side's political analyst Anita Manion said Black women tend to drive voter turnout in primary elections, which makes this issue "particularly salient and combustible for him and how he handles it."
"Sen. Roberts did this to stop this conversation because it has not gone away since he declared his candidacy, one that Congresswoman Bush and her allies have continued," she said. "In his mind, from a strategic point of view, he's probably thinking, 'I will put info out there to quiet this discussion,' but I'm not sure it’s going to have that intended impact."
Even though the settlement agreement didn’t contemplate the potential of one party dying, it did contain statements each party could release should the other violate its terms.
Should Roberts breach it, Walker could release the following statement attributed to Roberts: “As a Missouri State Representative entrusted by the people to protect Missouri’s citizens, I know how important it is to maintain a reputation beyond reproach. Although I vehemently maintain my innocence with regard to Ms. Walker’s allegations against me, it is not my intention to discourage victims of sexual violence from publicly coming forward. I will work diligently to restore the public’s trust in me. I am committed to continuing to work with victims of sexual violence, both in my capacity as a Missouri State Representative as well as in my personal capacity as a Missouri citizen myself.”
Should Walker breach the agreement, Roberts could release the following statement attributed to Walker: “After careful reflection and review of the evidence in the litigation with Mr. Roberts, it has become apparent to me that, due to no fault of Mr. Roberts, I cannot recall the circumstances surrounding my Aug. 26, 2016 sexual encounter with Mr. Roberts. I acknowledge that the allegations in my counterclaim against Mr. Roberts may be factually inaccurate, and as a matter of fact, I cannot deny that the sexual intercourse with Mr. Roberts on the evening of Aug. 26, 2016 may have been consensual. What I can say with certainty is that I no longer believe that I was administered any form of ‘date rape’ drug, and as I have previously stated on numerous occasions, I was not too intoxicated to consent to sexual activity.”
The agreement also prohibited Walker from:
- Holding herself out to be or making any public comment to the effect that she is the victim of sexual assault, sexual violence, or rape, unless she specifically identifies the alleged perpetrator and said acknowledged perp is clearly identified as not being Roberts.
- Holding herself out to be or making any public comment to the effect that she is, herself, a member of the #metoo or any other similar movement or platform of alleged victims of sexual assault that may now exist or may exist in the future, unless she specifically states the basis for so claiming, as such basis, may not be Roberts.
- Walker may not implicitly and/or explicitly indicate that the alleged perp was Roberts.
- Holding herself out to be or making any public comment to the effect that she is a “survivor” unless she specifically states the basis for so claiming and such basis may not be Roberts.
- In her capacity as a public official, stating and/or implying through any legislative effort that her sponsorship and/or support for any particular legislative action is, in any way whatsoever, connected to any of the confidential terms of this agreement and/or to her experiences associated with Roberts or the allegations contained in the lawsuit
- Stating or implying that, due to the restrictions place on her by this agreement that she would like to, but is unable to, make any further public comment
- Stating or implying that she was, in any manner whatsoever, coerced, forced and/or otherwise threatened into entering into this agreement
- Stating or implying that any monetary payment was made in exchange for her executing this agreement and/or others to engage in any of the foregoing conduct on her behalf.
The agreement also required Walker to remove all social media posts referencing Roberts within seven days, acknowledge Roberts can publicly and privately maintain his innocence, defend his reputation and/or deny any and all specific conduct with respect to Walker’s allegations against him.
Walker and Roberts also agreed to not encourage third parties to engage in any conduct prohibited by this agreement.
Mandel said Walker signed the agreement because she “wanted to move on” and “put it behind her.”
“It’s a shame Mr. Roberts can’t seem to do the same,” Mandel said.
The story continues after this element.
History of allegations
Roberts served as an Assistant Circuit Attorney in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office in 2014.
In 2015, a St. Louis University law student accused Roberts of sexually assaulting her at a bar along Washington Avenue. He was arrested, and police launched an investigation.
St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar was assigned as a special prosecutor in the case to avoid any conflict with the Circuit Attorney’s Office in St. Louis.
Ultimately, charges were never filed.
Not long after that, Roberts said he was asked to resign from the Circuit Attorney’s Office after raising money to form a committee to run for Circuit Attorney.
The Circuit Attorney at the time, Jennifer Joyce, issued a statement saying Roberts was fired for performance issues.
Roberts said he was fired after he gathered money to run against Joyce’s pick for the office. Campaign finance reports showed Roberts reported a 16-month, $150,000 loan from himself and $10,000 from his mother along with three contributions totaling about $5,000.
In 2016, he was elected as State Representative for Missouri’s 77th District in St. Louis.
That September, Walker, another Democratic candidate for state House, accused Roberts of raping her in a letter to Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar was assigned as a special prosecutor in that case as well.
Again, he did not file charges against Roberts, issuing a statement, which read: “There was not enough credible evidence that sexual relations between these two people was anything but consensual.”
Walker’s story prompted the woman who said Roberts assaulted her at a bar in 2015 to file a civil lawsuit against Roberts in 2017. Two years later, it was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.
5 On Your Side does not name alleged victims of sexual assault without their permission.
The woman has not yet responded to requests for comment for this story, but has posted comments on Twitter about Roberts’ decision to release the terms of his settlement with Walker.
“Here's what I do know: @RobertsforSTL is guilty and he feels no remorse for what he did. He's done it before. He would do it again. Please keep this in mind when in his presence, not that you would ever be at fault if he were to harm you. Nobody could ever deserve this.”
Roberts said there was never a sexual encounter between him and the woman, but said his encounter with Walker was consensual.
In 2019, Walker resigned from office to take the job with St. Louis County Executive Sam Page's administration.
Walker and Roberts issued a joint statement following the settlement they reached in 2019: “The parties have resolved this matter to their mutual satisfaction. They will be dismissing their respective claims. No money was paid in exchange for the dismissal of the parties' claims."
He said he disclosed all of the allegations against him to his military superiors, who then conducted a “thorough” background check. He is a captain with the Missouri Air National Guard in the JAG Corps, which provides legal services to the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Space Force, airmen and guardians.
Roberts noted how sexual behavior of a criminal nature, whether or not the individual has been prosecuted, is listed among the conditions that “could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying,” according to military.com
Four conditions that “could mitigate security concerns” include: The behavior occurred during or prior to adolescence and there is no evidence of subsequent conduct of a similar nature; the behavior was not recent and there is no evidence of subsequent conduct of a similar nature; there is no other evidence of questionable judgement, irresponsibility or emotional instability; the behavior no longer serves as a basis for coercion, exploitation or duress.”
“I am innocent of these charges,” he said.
This year, notations about the sexual assault allegations began disappearing from Roberts’ Wikipedia page online, and an IP address showed the changes were made from a computer in the state capitol.
Roberts’ campaign manager, Ryan Hawkins, said Roberts did not make the changes to the page, and does not know who did.
Whether Roberts’ decision to release the settlement agreement with Walker will help his campaign remains to be seen.
So far, campaign contribution records show he has raised $220,000 since April 1 and has about $212,000 in cash on hand.
Bush has about $250,000 in cash on hand.
She has said publicly she is a survivor of sexual assault.
Roberts said he believes victims of sexual assault “need to be heard,” and said he has worked to secure their rights.
“It's something that I've been very active and involved in throughout my life,” he said. “In law school, I worked for an organization called The Council to Secure Justice that's based out of New Delhi, India.
“It's an organization that is specifically focused on helping victims of violent sexual assault in their cases against the accused, and more so than that, my last year of law school, I was working in a clinic in downtown L.A., where we were focused on helping refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries, many of them had been assaulted on their journey to the U.S. to get asylum here in our country.”
Bush’s predecessor, long-time Congressman Lacy Clay has thrown his support behind Roberts.
Clay has not yet responded to a request for comment from 5 On Your Side.
Manion, an assistant professor of political science and affiliate faculty member in gender studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the social media posts of Roberts' other accuser have gained momentum.
"This probably spurred her to be more vocal, so in that way, this may be a bit of a backfire and it's also very delicate with Cora Faith Walker's death," she said. "He’s making these statements, putting this information out there when the other party cannot say her part of defend herself or say he’s violating an agreement of confidentiality.
"In one way think it’s to his advantage and I can also see how some voters might find it distasteful."
Resources for those experiencing domestic violence
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the Safe Connections Crisis Helpline at 314-531-2003. You can also text that number from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, free of charge.
Alternatives to Living In Violent Environments (ALIVE) also has a crisis line at 314-993-2777 and they have a number for Franklin County at 800-941-9144.
The Women's Safe House can be reached 24 hours a day at 314-772-4535.