BOULDER — On a day when a senior U.S. senator called her allegations “phony” and the president of the United States dismissed them as part of “the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything,” Deborah Ramirez, a county human services employee, rolled a recycling bin out in front of her house and taped a homemade sign to it:
“I have no comment. …Thank you for respecting my privacy.”
The national firestorm over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court burned into a sleepy south Boulder neighborhood on Monday, after Ramirez told The New Yorker magazine that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her while the two were students at Yale University.
Beyond raising further the tensions over Kavanaugh’s nomination, the allegations also placed Colorado at the center of a high-stakes battle that could shape the 2018 midterm elections, the 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate races, and Supreme Court opinions for decades to come.
As many congressional Republicans and Trump worked to protect Kavanaugh’s nomination, those who know Ramirez — who goes by Debbie — defended her character.
“We know Debbie Ramirez to be a woman of great integrity and honor,” the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, where Ramirez is a board member, said in a statement. “We stand by her and her courageous decision to come forward. It is never simple or easy for survivors to share their experiences. To do so in the face of public scrutiny requires a level of personal strength that is true to the person Debbie is. She has our support, our respect, and our admiration.”
Dozens also gathered outside the Denver office of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in a rally put together by liberal groups to urge him to reject Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“I headed a legal advocacy program for victims, and that’s when I met Debbie Ramirez,” Lisa Calderon, a Denver community activist who worked with Ramirez on women’s issues, said at the rally. “She volunteered for our organization to help domestic violence and sexual assault victims. I was so impressed with her I hired her as our victims advocacy coordinator.”
Calderon added: “This is a woman with impeccable character.”
Ramirez is the second of two women to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in the past following Christine Blasey Ford. Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were teenagers.
Ramirez says while she and Kavanaugh were students at Yale University in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away.
Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, had vowed to reject Kavanaugh’s nomination even before Ford’s allegations surfaced earlier this month. But he went a step further Monday, following Ramirez’s allegations, and called on Kavanaugh’s confirmation process to be placed on hold.
Ramirez’s allegations were routed through Bennet’s office before becoming public in a New Yorker article on Sunday night.
“Both Dr. Ford & Ms. Ramirez have said they are willing to provide their accounts to the FBI under oath,” Bennet tweeted on Monday. “Anyone who is disputing their accounts should also be willing to do so under oath. The nomination process should not move forward until the FBI investigates these allegations.”
Gardner, a Republican, in a statement from his office on Monday expressed support for an investigation into Ramirez’s allegations.
“Senator Gardner was first made aware of these allegations when the New Yorker story was published Sunday evening,” spokesman Casey Contres said Monday morning. “Investigators from Chairman (Chuck) Grassley’s staff immediately contacted Ms. Ramirez’s attorney to gather more information about what allegedly occurred. Senator Gardner absolutely supports efforts by the Senate Judiciary Committee to gather more information and investigate these claims.”
In an interview that aired Monday night on Fox News, Kavanaugh denied the incident with Ramirez took place.
Also on Monday, Trump dismissed allegations against his nominee as “totally political.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of a “smear campaign.”
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee said they would investigate Ramirez’s accusation. Taylor Foy, a spokesman, complained that Democrats had “actively withheld information” from Republicans until now.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that Ramirez’s allegation is “phony.” Asked why he believed that, Hatch responded, “because I know it is.”
Little of this turmoil was evident outside of Ramirez’s home on Monday.
A breeze blew falling leaves across the pavement, and a large Labrador retriever lay in the grass of a house down the street, his tail thumping heavily against the ground whenever someone walked by.
A couple members of the media sat in idling SUVs in front of Ramirez’s house — waiting. Neighbors who walked past declined to comment.
“It’s actually a little quieter than usual,” said one neighbor, who declined to give his name and said he doesn’t know Ramirez well. “There’s fewer cars parked around than on a typical day.”
The portrait of Ramirez that emerged Monday was incomplete — one that depicted a life of quiet devotion to justice and equality but that also drew from few sources who seemed to know her well or have spoken with her recently.
Ramirez works at the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services as a senior volunteer coordinator, officials there said. She has been a county employee since February 2013, and her duties in the job include connecting families in need with the resources to pay utility bills, buy food and provide for their children.
Monday night, Boulder County’s three elected commissioners released a statement in support of Ramirez, calling her a “valued and trusted member” of the county’s staff and saying that her work, “has been exemplary and always a model for providing the best in public service.”
“We believe Debbie Ramirez,” the commissioners said.
At the Safehouse Progressive Alliance, Ramirez helped train others on domestic violence prevention and on helping victims in crisis. “#IStandWithDebbie,” the organization tweeted Monday morning.
Ramirez’s high-powered Colorado attorney, John Clune, did not respond to messages seeking to discuss the case further on Monday. Clune, a former prosecutor, has represented numerous other women in high-profile sexual assault cases, including the woman who accused Kobe Bryant of rape. He co-founded the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, and he frequently expresses support for victims of sexual assault on Twitter.
After Ford came forward with her allegations against Kavanaugh, Clune tweeted a link to an opinion piece arguing that it is not unusual for victims to wait decades before reporting what happened to them — in part because victims frequently need time to process the trauma they’ve been through.
“This,” Clune wrote on Twitter last week, “is exactly when many victims are likely to come forward.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
More from The Colorado Sun
- El Paso County sheriff can’t hold people for immigration authorities, judge rules
- Opinion: Congress: Don’t let America’s most successful conservation program disappear
- Opinion: Colorado can lead the nation in rewiring its child welfare system
- Nicolais: An attack on TABOR could leave Colorado Democrats feeling the squeeze
- Slower growth in Epic Pass revenue, wider than expected first-quarter losses trigger steep drop in Vail Resorts stock