On Tuesday Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) called on State Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), the sponsor of a bill that would allow teachers to be armed while in school, to resign after hearing an inconclusive audio recording of a phone conversation he had last month with a woman who now claims that he engaged in sexual misconduct against her more than 30 years ago when he served as her basketball coach.
As The Tennessee Star reported last week, Byrd’s bill to allow trained teachers to be armed, HB 2208, passed the House Civil Justice Committee last week and was scheduled to be heard in the House Education Administration and Planning Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
Sources tell The Star that Harwell asked Byrd to drop his bill to arm teachers a week ago, and he refused to do so.
The surfacing of the charges, combined with Harwell’s sudden rush to call for Byrd’s resignation, is nothing but a political hit job on her part, sources tell The Star.
Harwell’s rush to judgement came without hearing Byrd’s side of the story or availing Byrd of the investigative process which is the right of any member of the state legislature against whom an ethical misconduct charge has been filed.
As far as The Star can determine, no ethical misconduct charges have been filed against Rep. Byrd through the appropriate office of the Tennessee House of Representative.
The alleged incident–which Byrd disputes–occurred more than 30 years ago, long before Byrd was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2014.
Why all of a sudden were these allegations brought to the attention of the public?
WSMV broke the story of the allegations of sexual misconduct 30 years ago by Byrd Tuesday afternoon:
Three women are accusing Rep. David Byrd of sexual misconduct while they were teenagers on the high school basketball team he coached more than 30 years ago.
The state representative apologized to one of his accusers in a secretly-recorded phone conversation, that was given to the News 4 I-Team after the fact.
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.”
A spokesman for Byrd said Tuesday night after the I-Team report that the representative “is not resigning and intends to fight a majority of the allegations presented” in the report.
WSMV interviewed all three women accusing Byrd of sexual misconduct, but only one, Christi Rice, provided any evidence as corroboration. That evidence came in the form of the secretly recorded phone conversation she had with Byrd a month ago.
You can hear portions of that recording as they aired on WSMV on Tuesday night here. It is unclear whether that recording was edited prior to its receipt by WSMV.
Two other women also accused Byrd of sexual misconduct more than 30 years ago, but none of them offered any evidence beyond their own words.
Notably, WSMV News 4 reported “The I-Team also heard from more than a dozen of Byrd’s other former players who said they had no knowledge of this happening to them or others.”
Speaker Harwell is one of four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor, along with Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06), and Williamson County businessman Bill Lee.
This is not the first time that political opponents in the Republican Party have used allegations of sexual misconduct in attempts to discredit Byrd.
David McRight, an elected constable in Hohenwald, Lewis County Tennessee, told The Star in an exclusive interview that he met State Rep. Byrd in 2014 when he was running for State Rep. against Vance Dennis, the incumbent Republican, in the August 2014 GOP primary.
“When he was running against Vance Dennis back in 2014, Vance brought up an incident from a couple of years ago. But it had nothing to with David Byrd in the first place. At that time, David relayed this information to me,” McRight said.
“Back in 2014, David Byrd told me that a couple of years earlier, a guy named Daniel Doyle a prior student of his, was accused of sexual misconduct in West Tennessee by a 17 year old girl,” he added.
“When the guy was in court, approximately 50 people showed up prepared to testify on Doyle’s behalf. Since there were so many, the judge picked approximately four or five to testify, and David was one of them. And the question they asked David was would you hire this guy as a teacher. ‘If Mr. Doyle was able to teach, I would hire him in a minute’ David told me he said. He told me he was a model student,” McRight noted.
“When David Byrd was running against Vance Dennis, Vance Dennis made the statement and sent out a flyer that David Byrd would hire a rapist in a minute. That’s what set this whole thing in motion for me to ever be talking to David Byrd about this incident,” McRight concluded.
The Tennessee Star will continue to report on this developing story.
Stewart Evers contributed to this report.