Audio: Accused GOP lawmaker wanted to take student to hotel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A friend of a Tennessee state lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct has been recorded saying the Republican once said he wanted to take a teenage girl to a hotel after “playing around a bit” when he was a high school basketball coach.

In audio provided by one of three women who have accused Rep. David Byrd, of Waynesboro, of sexual misconduct when he was their coach, a man identified as Michael Edwards can be heard saying Byrd told him about the incident when they both coached basketball at Wayne County High School several decades ago.

“He said you all were in the office (at the school). … You all started playing around a little bit,” Edwards says. “Said you all were trying to figure out somewhere to go like to a motel or hotel or whatever and then for some reason, I don’t remember what he said the reason was, you all backed out.”

Christi Rice made the recording on Oct. 17. Edwards didn’t know he was being recorded but later confirmed to a TV station the audio was accurate.

“I’ve said all I’m going to say on that,” Edwards told The Associated Press on Friday. “I’m not going to say anymore.”

Byrd has not outright denied the allegations since they were first broadcast in a media report on March 27 but has said he’s truly sorry if he hurt or emotionally upset any of his students.

“Unfortunately, this is another example of a politically motivated attack on Rep. Byrd’s family stemming from allegations dating back over thirty years ago,” House Republican Caucus spokesman Cade Cothren said in a statement Friday. “It is sad that we live in a time where unfounded rumors and accusations are repeated by the media as though they are fact.”

This is the second recording Rice has released since coming forward. Earlier this year, Rice released audio of a call to Byrd, where the lawmaker apologized to her but didn’t detail his action and denied anything happened with other students.

Rice is one of two women who alleged Byrd inappropriately touched them. The third said Byrd tried to.

Byrd was 28-years-old at the time and working as head coach at Wayne County High School when Rice says he abused her.

“I wish I had a do-over because I promise you I would have corrected that and that would’ve never happened,” Byrd said in the recorded February call. “But I hope you believe me when I say that it’s one of those things that I think about it all the time, and I always ask forgiveness for it and I hope you forgive me.”

In the Oct. 17 audio, Edwards says Byrd called him right before the initial media report broke.

“I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’ve already ‘fessed up to my family except my Mom.’ Well, he admitted it right there,” Edwards told Rice. “He didn’t say what he was admitting to, he just admitted to inappropriateness, but you don’t have to be a genius to know what that meant.”

When Rice asked Edwards what he did with the information at the time, Edwards said he didn’t think much of it until this year.

Tennessee has had a mandatory child abuse reporting law on the books since the early 1970s. Although the law has been amended several times, it has always required adults who know children — in Tennessee, anyone under 18 — are suffering from abuse must report it to law enforcement immediately.

Byrd refused to step down from office despite calls from Republican leadership urging him to do so. Instead, he chose to run for a third term in a heavily Republican legislative district. He faces Democratic opponent Frankie Floied in the general election.

Byrd’s re-election campaign has since attracted national interests to attempt to prevent him from winning in November, with the Enough is Enough Project launching a political action committee to raise awareness about the campaign.

Most recently a handful of Waynesboro community members have released a letter urging voters to either pick the Democratic candidate or leave the seat blank.

“We believe this is a bipartisan issue to remove child abusers from office,” the letter reads, which includes six Democrats and Republicans.

The last Democrat to carry the county was gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen in 2006.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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