NE Ohio lawmaker doesn’t regret alleged ‘abusive behavior’ after being punished by Dem leaders
Democratic state Rep. Elliot Forhan says he was standing up for what is right, though he did issue apology videos on social media over the weekend
State rep. Elliot Forhan. Photo by WEWS.
Ohio state Rep. Elliot Forhan said Friday he doesn’t regret the actions that led to Democratic Party leaders stripping him of nearly all lawmaker privileges, citing him for behavior they describe as “abusive” and “violent” though he did issue apologies in social media videos posted over the weekend.
The decision to remove his duties was detailed in a 19-page dossier sent to House Democratic Leadership by Minority Leader Allison Russo, which was then obtained by WEW/OCJ.
In another document, a letter to Forhan obtained by WEWS/OCJ, Russo kicked the Cleveland-area lawmaker out of the Democratic caucus due to his “pattern of harassment, hostility, and intimidation of colleagues and staff.”
In a WEWS/OCJ exclusive, Forhan (D-South Euclid) sat down with Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau to share his perspective on the tumultuous few months.
On Thursday, WEWS/OCJ was told by a Democratic House executive team member that Forhan has been kicked out of caucus, meaning he can no longer attend meetings of all legislative members and staff within the party. It also means that he can no longer have an office, a legislative aide or utilize any services that state representatives can access. The only thing he can legally do is attend sessions to vote on bills.
On Friday, the spokesperson backtracked and said Forhan was still technically a part of the caucus, meaning he could feasibly still show up at meetings — even though he was forbidden from going to the last one. All the rest of the punishments still stand.
Forhan has been stripped of all committee assignments and is instructed not to contact all Democratic caucus staff members.
In the 19-page document sent to House Democratic Leadership and obtained by WEWS/OCJ, Russo and her team called Forhan’s behavior abusive, erratic and inappropriate.
“Ultimately, hostility, profanity, and dangerous, violent remarks have unfortunately been the hallmark of Rep. Forhan’s tenure in the Ohio House of Representatives,” the document states.
Forhan is serving in his first term at the House. He represents an area of the east-side suburbs of Cleveland. He is an attorney and was an activist before joining the legislature.
“I stand up for what’s right,” Forhan told WEWS/OCJ. “To punish somebody for doing that — I have to disagree.”
The trouble all started back in May when Cleveland Heights salon owner Ladosha Wright traveled down to the statehouse. She opposed legislation that Forhan cosponsored, which resulted in an altercation following the hearing.
“He was intimidating, and he just continued to yell and point his finger in my face, and it just became very volatile like out of nowhere,” Wright told the WEWS crew at her salon. “I’ve never had the confrontation of a white man being so aggressive — so it was traumatizing because it just made me feel like I was helpless.”
The exchange left her so shaken that she filed a three-page formal complaint.
“I felt he wanted to slap me,” she wrote back in May. “I should not feel pains in my stomach, racing of my heart and tears stinging in my eyes as I type this complaint.”
After an investigation, Russo sanctioned Forhan, forcing him to take implicit bias training.
Originally, Forhan issued a public apology.
“I am ashamed of my failure during my interaction with Ms. Wright,” he wrote in a Facebook post in late May. “I let my emotions get the best of me.”
But now, he is changing his tune. He said he believed his behavior was fine because he falsely believed Wright was a lobbyist.
“Their job is to take us away from enacting and enforcing our values, right?” he said. And so, if I have a stern conversation, I think that’s incredibly important.”
Forhan, despite showing no remorse to WEWS/OCJ, published a series of videos following the publishing of this article on WEWS. In the videos, which have now been deleted, Forhan apologizes to fellow lawmakers state Reps. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) and Jessica Miranda (Forest Park).
“I expressed annoyance directly to you in trying to end that conversation… I should not have done that in front of Ms. Wright and her colleagues — I regret that; I’m sorry,” Forhan said to Brent. “I love you.”
For Wright, their interaction is a sign of a much bigger issue.
“I don’t think we should wait for him to hurt someone and then to say, ‘Oh, Ladosha tried to warn us,'” she said.
Her complaint against Forhan became the first of many.
The document asserts concerns about the lawmaker’s behavior with his colleagues, constituents, nonprofits, unions and religious groups. Complaints from all parties reported aggressive behavior by the lawmaker, including threats, calling people excessively at all hours of the day and night and showing up to people’s homes unannounced.
The culmination of all of these incidents came to a head Wednesday.
Forhan’s alleged reaction to the Israel/Hamas war is documented several times, resulting in a confrontation with another lawmaker.
Early this week, Forhan claimed he was asked to move a large flag of Israel that he put outside of his office to the inside of his office. He took this as an attack on his pro-Israel beliefs. He claims other lawmakers are allowed to have decor outside of their offices. It is possible he is being targeted, he said.
“I’m not one for conspiracy theories; that’s just not who I am, but I do take exception to telling me to take down my expression of support for Israel.”
Colleagues and the document accuse Forhan of only now caring about Israel due to his large population of Jewish constituents that he allegedly has ostracized for posting anti-Israel sentiment online.
“He finds political pandering and manipulation in place of substantive policy work,” the document said.
On Wednesday, Forhan allegedly screamed about the war at state Rep. Munira Abdullahi, who is Muslim, alone in a committee room to the point that she was “visibly shaken,” and the House Sergeant At Arms was called and dispatched to stand outside of where Forhan was — because they believed he would become violent.
After leadership tried to calm Forhan down, he became violent, and the leaders kicked Forhan out of caucus for that day, according to the memo.
However, Forhan defended himself in this situation — saying that Abdullahi had slighted him for not supporting his social media video blasting the House Democrat’s chief of staff over a flag of Israel.
“I stood up for myself, and unfortunately, the leadership of my caucus seemed to disagree with me doing that,” he said.
Although Wright believes she and her neighbors deserve another representative, she hopes Forhan gets help.
WEWS/OCJ brought up his colleagues’ concerns about mental stability, but Forhan said he was doing fine.
“I do think that it’s important that I refine my own approach with respect to these types of situations,” he said. “I am actually participating at the moment in a conflict resolution course.”
As of right now, all Forhan is able to do is show up and vote during session days. Despite losing support from his caucus and colleagues, he has no plans of stepping down.
“To do what I’m doing right now, Morgan, it’s the honor and the privilege of my life,” he said.
What happens next
A spokesperson for the House Dems told WEWS/OCJ that the document speaks for itself. When asked if Forhan would be formally removed or expelled from being a lawmaker, the spokesperson replied that internal removal would be a caucus decision.
House Speaker Jason Stephens told WEWS/OCJ that he is aware of the ongoing situation with Forhan.
“I will take any appropriate and necessary steps to keep colleagues, staff, and constituents safe at the Statehouse,” the speaker said.
This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
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