Following an explosive report that he sexually abused three teenagers while working as a high-school basketball coach, Tennessee Republican state Rep. David Byrd refuses to resign—and even plans to seek re-election.
Byrd, apparently called “coach” in the legislature, allegedly sexually assaulted the 15- and 16-year-old girls more than 30 years ago before he went on to become principal of Wayne County High School, the women recently told WSMV-TV.
Byrd was 28 years old and working as head coach when Christi Rice says he abused her, according to the interview, which aired on Tuesday night.
“He was like, ‘You owe me, you owe me, I been thinking about what I want, I want to see you naked,’” Rice told the news station.
Robbie Cain, who graduated in 1988, said Byrd abused her in a hotel pool during an out-of-town trip. “His words were: ‘I want you to feel how you make me feel. I want you to feel it throbbing,’” Cain said. “It’s an embarrassing part of my past I wish to forget.”
A third, unidentified teammate said her encounter with Byrd happened in a hotel room during another basketball trip.
Byrd allegedly apologized to Rice, according to WSMV-TV reporter Alanna Autler, who obtained a recording of their phone conversation.
“I can promise you one thing, I have been so sorry for that,” Byrd said in the recording, though he never specifies exactly what transpired between them. “I've lived with that and you don't know how hard it has been for me.”
“I hope you forgive me,” he reportedly added.
Byrd is married with children and grandchildren, according to his legislative website.
Waynesboro Police Chief Walter Smith told the Tennessean that he was unaware of the allegations until the story aired. It is unclear if the department plans to open an investigation into the legislator’s past behavior.
Several lawmakers, including fellow Republican and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, have publicly called for Byrd to resign in the wake of the allegations.
Byrd said he has “done nothing wrong or inappropriate during my term as state representative” in a statement on Wednesday but did not deny the women’s claims directly.
“I am disappointed that Speaker Harwell so quickly publicly turned her back on me but understand her political posture,” he added.
Byrd called the allegations “disheartening” and noted that “one must question the motives of these three former students.”
“Conduct over 30 years ago is difficult, at best, to recall, but as a Christian, I have said and I will repeat that if I hurt or emotionally upset any of my students I am truly sorry and apologize,” Byrd added.
“I do not believe either of these ladies can show that they made a report to the authorities or received any subsequent mental health counseling for what they have alleged but, again, if my acts or omissions cause them distress I am truly sorry,” he said.
Byrd remains the only person to create a campaign account for Byrd’s district, District 71, in the upcoming primary, apparently marking his interest in seeking re-election, according to the Tennessean.
Byrd is the third lawmaker in the state to face sexual-misconduct allegations, but Tennessee is far from alone in that respect.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, state legislatures across the nation—including in California, Colorado, Texas, and Oregon—have struggled with accusations of wide-ranging sexual harassment suffered by aides, lobbyists, and women lawmakers.