Complaint alleges Rep. Bryan Slaton had “inappropriate relationship” with an intern

State Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, waits to speak from the back podium on the House floor on Tuesday, August 10, 2021. (Jordan Vonderhaar For The Texas Tribune, Jordan Vonderhaar For The Texas Tribune)

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An internal complaint filed against state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, alleges that he was engaging in a potentially “inappropriate relationship” with an intern. The complaint came after an incident in which Slaton and the staffer allegedly met up at his Austin apartment last weekend.

The complaint, obtained by The Texas Tribune, was reported to the House General Investigating Committee by a legislative staffer. The account in the complaint was also corroborated by another source who works in the Capitol who had direct knowledge of the incident.

Slaton allegedly called the intern after 10 p.m. March 31 inviting her to his Austin condo, the complaint said.

A source with direct knowledge of the incident told the Tribune that Slaton drank alcohol with the intern, who was under 21.

After the incident, Slaton allegedly showed the intern fake emails that purported to have information about the incident in what appeared to be something of a loyalty test, according to the complaint and a person with direct knowledge. After presenting her the email, Slaton allegedly told her to not speak with anyone about the incident.

Slaton, who was in the Capitol on Monday, declined to answer questions and referred to a statement put out earlier in the day by a criminal defense attorney he has retained.

A representative for the intern said she has been advised by the House committee not to comment.

Patrick Short, the attorney for Slaton, issued a statement Monday morning saying his firm is representing Slaton over a complaint, but provided few details. “We are aware of outrageous claims circulating online by second-tier media that make false claims against Representative Slaton,” Short said. “As a result, he has been advised to forward all inquiries in this matter—including any that may relate to a possible complaint—to his legal counsel.”

Short did not identify the specific claims — or media — he was referring to, and he declined to comment further when reached by the Tribune.

The Rockwall-based lawyer’s website says he has “over 30 years of legal experience representing clients in East and North Texas in personal injury, wrongful death, criminal defense, and select civil litigation cases.”

House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement that his office would be looking into the matter.

“The Texas House does not tolerate misconduct or other inappropriate behaviors and takes all allegations related to these issues seriously. I expect this matter to be addressed in a swift and thorough manner under the rules governing our chamber for the 88th Legislature and all applicable standards of conduct,” he said.

The Capitol has been abuzz about Slaton’s whereabouts after he missed one of the most important days of the session Thursday, when the House debated the budget. It was even more eyebrow-raising because the conservative rabble-rouser had proposed 27 amendments to the budget. Slaton was the only absence when the roll call was called Thursday morning.

As speculation grew about Slaton during the budget debate Thursday, the chair of the General Investigating Committee, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, issued a statement saying the panel does not comment “on any investigations it undertakes, including statements confirming or denying the existence of any ongoing investigation.”

Slaton has been married to his current wife since 2017, and filed for divorce in April 2022, according to court filings. They agreed to cease the divorce in November. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. According to his website, he’s also worked as a youth pastor at numerous Southern Baptist churches in Texas.

He is known as one of the farthest-right members of the Texas House and a thorn in the side of his party’s leadership. He was first elected in 2021, defeating a longtime Republican incumbent he criticized as too moderate.

Slaton is especially known for his stridently anti-LGBTQ views. Last year, he called for a blanket ban on minors at drag shows, saying it was necessary to protect children from “perverted adults.” He has also proposed giving property tax cuts to straight, married couples — but not LGBTQ couples or those who have previously been divorced — based on the number of children they have.

Earlier this year, Slaton also filed a bill that would allow for a referendum on Texas secession from the United States during the state’s next general election, despite most experts agreeing such a move would be illegal.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have cast a long shadow at the Capitol, with little oversight of workplace conduct and frequent attempts to downplay such behavior or sweep it under the rug.

Two years ago, the Capitol was rattled by allegations that a lobbyist had used a date rape drug on a legislative staffer. Those allegations were ultimately determined to be false by a Department of Public Safety investigation, but legislative leaders nonetheless pushed for reforms in how state lawmakers learn about and handle sexual harassment in their workplace.

Lawmakers sought to pass a law that would require sexual harassment prevention training for legislators, statewide elected officials and registered lobbyists. The proposal passed the House with nearly unanimous support but died in the Senate.

In 2017, The Daily Beast reported on accounts of sexual harassment and misconduct in and around the Texas Capitol, including allegations made against past and current state lawmakers, like state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, who one woman accused of forcibly kissing her. A spokesperson for Miles at the time called the allegations “unfounded and implausible.”

In 2018, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, was accused of sending photos of his genitals to a graduate student at the University of Texas. Schwertner — who was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of drunken driving charges — said at the time that someone else sent the messages using his LinkedIn account and another private phone messaging app that belongs to him.

​Robert Downen, Renzo Downey and Joshua Fechter contributed to this story.

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Correction, : A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that lawmakers in 2021 passed sexual harassment prevention training for elected officials and lobbyists. That proposal passed in the House but died in the Senate.