Republican Rep. David Byrd of Tennessee is refusing to step down amid allegations by three women that he sexually abused them as teenagers. All three women were on the high school basketball team that Byrd coached over 30 years ago.
One of the women, Christi Rice, secretly recorded a phone call with Byrd in which the lawmaker apologized for what he had done to her all those years ago.
Despite calls for his resignation, Byrd said he will stay and fight the allegations.
Two hours before a News 4 I-Team investigation was set to air, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, asked Byrd to resign.
"Speaker Harwell believes Byrd should step down," said Kara Owen, a spokeswoman for Harwell. "She has spoken to him directly and asked him to step down. The allegations are not related to his service in the legislature."
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally is also calling for Byrd to resign.
Rice says she was 15 when the sexual misconduct occurred, which entailed Byrd telling her "You owe me, you owe me, I been thinking about what I want, I want to see you naked", as well as inappropriate sexual touching.
During the recorded phone call, Byrd -- who was 28 at the time of the abuse -- apologized profusely, though he never acknowledged specific details of what had happened between them.
“I can promise you one thing, I have been so sorry for that,” says Byrd, who identified himself at the beginning of the recording. “I've lived with that and you don't know how hard it has been for me.”
Byrd denied during the call that there were other girls he had approached in a sexual manner, but two others have come forward.
Robbie Cain said her experience with Byrd took place during a hotel stay for an away game, where he approached her in the hotel swimming pool and tried to touch her genitalia:
“His words were: ‘I want you to feel how you make me feel. I want you to feel it throbbing,’” Cain said.
Third woman has chosen to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, but her story also involves a hotel stay for an away game, where she says Byrd offered her a massage that turned sexual.
News 4 found no connections between any of the women and Byrd's political opponents. All three said they felt empowered by the #MeToo movement to come forward.
In a statement, Byrd indicates the accusations have no merit -- a curious position in light of the recorded phone call -- and reiterates that he will not submit to calls for his resignation:
“First, let me say that I have done nothing wrong or inappropriate during my term as state representative for the 71st District, which I proudly serve. I am disappointed that Speaker Harwell so quickly publicly turned her back on me but understand her political posture.
Second, these recent allegations of inappropriate contact, never before made, date back over three decades ago and are disheartening to me, and my family. One must question the motives of these three former students out of the hundreds of students I have coached.
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.
I do not condone sexually inappropriate behavior and hope that my behavior over the last 30 years bears that out. I ran for office, not for opportunity for myself but for the opportunity to help others and provide a service to this district. I understand that my stances on some issues in the House are controversial and I knew that I would have opponents who would seek to embellish my character.
Currently, I am working hard for the people of this district and I seek to live in a way that reflects my Biblical beliefs. One of these beliefs rests on the premise that we are all God’s children and should be free from abuse of any kind. 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.
I have a wonderful wife and 4 children and regret my desire to represent the good people of this district may have caused them the pain these allegations have brought about.
However, I feel I am a man of integrity, faith in God and family and can continue to be the kind of representative the people of the 71st District can trust.
I will have nothing further to say on the matter, and I hope to get back to the business of representing the good people of Hardin, Wayne, Lewis and Lawrence Counties.”