Update March 26, 2019 Amanda Barge suspended her campaign for mayor less than 24 hours after our investigation published. Read more here.
Monroe County commissioner and Bloomington mayoral candidate Amanda Barge is being accused of sexually harassing a county contractor for more than a year.
Noble Guyon | IDS
Brandon Drake, 42, alleges Barge repeatedly expressed feelings for him and asked him to date her beginning in fall 2017. Drake said that after harassing him for months, Barge ultimately played a significant role in dismantling the project he worked on for Monroe County.
Her actions, he said, forced him out of his professional community and left him feeling isolated from his colleagues.
“She took away a year of my life,” he said in an interview.
Documents and recordings Drake provided to the Indiana Daily Student show Barge, 46, seeming to admit that she repeatedly crossed a professional line.
Drake gave the IDS hours of recorded conversation between himself and Barge and hundreds of other instances of communication including text messages, emails, Facebook messages and a Google note.
After the IDS approached Barge about the allegations, she released a statement that called Drake a “disgruntled former Health Department contractor who has chosen to take public and private communications out of context to further his personal and political agenda.”
Read the full statement from Amanda Barge.
Apart from denying she would ever engage in harassment, Barge’s statement did not address specific allegations in this story, which were outlined to her in a meeting Monday.
Barge became angry and shut Drake out professionally when he refused to date her, he said. Texts and emails show he told her he might also have feelings for her in July, but later said her advances made him uncomfortable.
Drake said he felt he could not deny her advances because of his position.
“I was scared that she could destroy my career,” he said in an interview.
He told Barge something similar.
“When you come onto me over and over again with the power that you have in your hands it can be very scary for me,” he wrote to her in an Aug. 2, 2018, email. “We have a lot tied up with our work in the community.”
Barge was elected Monroe County Commissioner for District 3 in 2016. She graduated from IU with a degree in gender studies and political science before earning a master’s in social work at the University of Texas at Austin.
She is a licensed clinical social worker and owns her own practice, Amanda Barge Counseling.
Barge is a member of the Monroe County Democratic Women’s Caucus, the Indiana Recovery Alliance and many other organizations. She helped found Indiana’s South Central Opioid Summit and focused resources toward improving addiction services in Monroe County.
She was married at the time she was allegedly pursuing Drake but told him she was getting divorced. On Aug. 15, 2018, she told him she was legally divorced. She was not.
Drake said he has experienced substance use disorder throughout his life. While struggling with addiction in 2004, he was arrested for battery. The charges were later dismissed. He also pleaded guilty to invasion of privacy in 2006.
He has worked as a drug and alcohol interventionist, recovery coach and public speaker. He founded Keystone Interventions Group and co-founded Courage to Change, a group of sober living houses in Bloomington and Ellettsville, Indiana.
Drake speaks around central and southern Indiana about surviving sexual abuse as a child and how that kind of trauma links directly to addiction. His past, he said, exacerbated the distress Barge’s actions caused him.
Sarah Zygmuntowski | IDS
He said Barge had heard him speak about the abuse he endured as a child before the alleged harassment began. When he speaks about childhood trauma, Drake references his own childhood experiences of being raped by men and molested by women.
“The thing about a brain that’s been through trauma is it doesn’t take the same shit it takes a person who doesn’t have that to trigger some kind of episode,” he said in an interview. “She’s a trained therapist. She should’ve known better.”
Drake started off as a supporter of Barge and her work. He wanted her to be mayor. Then, he said, the advances began.
“The thing is I was fucking praying she was who she said she was,” he said in an interview. “I really believed in the Amanda Barge mission.”
Barge convinced Drake to spearhead Pathways, a helpline for people struggling with addiction in Monroe County, he said, after he spoke at the first South Central Opioid Summit in September 2017.
Drake left his job as an intervention and recovery coach to start working with the county to structure Pathways in October 2017. Barge told him she was confident she could get enough grant money to fund Pathways, he said.
He alleges she also promised she could give him job security when she was mayor.
“She was always dangling that over my head,” he said in an interview.
Barge first told Drake she had feelings for him in November 2017, he said. He told her he didn’t date married women. Looking back, he now says he should have been more clear that he specifically did not want to date her.
Less than a month later, Drake said, Barge told him she was getting a divorce.
Barge’s campaign website read, “Amanda is a mom, a wife, a gardener and loves hanging out on her porch with her family!” at the time of publication.
Donyel Byrd, an adjunct professor for the IU School of Social Work, said Drake first told her about what he then called “Amanda’s crush on him” near the beginning of 2018.
“My very first thought was, ‘This is not going to end well,’” Byrd said. “It went from bad to worse.”
Byrd is a colleague of Drake’s. She said it’s been difficult to watch Barge gain so much support from Bloomington’s social work community after hearing Drake’s allegations.
Drake said the next time Barge told him how she felt was over the phone around December 2017, while she was in Indianapolis. When he rejected her, he said she told him he had too many rules in his sex life.
He alleges she also told him she was in love with him during that conversation.
Around February 2018, Drake said, she began accusing him of having sex with some of their mutual acquaintances and colleagues. Byrd said she remembers Drake telling her that Barge accused him of having sex with his therapist.
Drake denies Barge’s accusations.
He said Barge also began acting jealous of women he spent time with and showing up at events he spoke at outside of Monroe County. This, he alleges, continued for months.
“Every time I spoke or did anything she was right there,” he said in an interview. “I felt like it was to watch me.”
She sent strings of texts and Facebook messages that Drake ignored until business required that he respond. Her messages ended with things such as “That’s all I’m gonna say, promise!” and “I’ll totally give you space and this too shall pass.”
One day, when a volunteer for Pathways wore a dress Barge thought was inappropriate, Drake said she threatened to report the volunteer to the board of social workers. He said he believes this was out of jealousy.
After he told her to stop threatening his staff, he said, things got a little bit better.
Then, in July 2018, Drake was in contract negotiations with the Monroe County Health Department, which owed him money. Barge, he said, was critical to helping him get paid at the time.
On July 26, 2018, just days before a meeting with the health department over the money, Barge texted Drake asking him again to date her.
“I’m not legally divorced but I am functionally divorced,” she wrote. “I feel like you and I have a good connection and I’d like to see where it goes.”
Though she texted that there was no pressure and she was just seeking clarity, Drake said it made him feel powerless and cornered. He said he had by now asked her to stop at least twice.
“I woke up that morning laying in bed thinking I’d have to have sex with her,” he said in an interview. “You never know what it’s like until the day comes that you might have to have sex with the person you’re disgusted by.”
This was the time Drake told Barge he might also have feelings for her. He said he did that to buy himself time. After he texted her back, she sent him 12 messages with no reply.
Byrd said she was worried Drake’s emotional state during that time had deteriorated so severely that he might start using drugs again.
“I was very concerned that his life could be in danger,” she said.
Pathways, Drake said, was crumbling as he fought for grant funding to keep it going. The grants that paid Drake’s salary only lasted through August 2018. When the program started, he said, Barge told him they would find more funding when August rolled around. That didn’t happen.
“Pathways was dead by August,” Drake said in an interview.
Monroe County attorney Dave Schilling said the county and health department both had some difficulties getting Drake to fulfill his contractual obligations.
“We were not happy with his performance,” Schilling said.
Schilling said Drake was not fired and didn’t resign, but the agreement to end the contract was mutual.
With his program gone, Drake was out of a job.
“To some people, it may seem inconsequential, but to him, that’s his income,” Byrd said of Pathways’ downfall. “It was the only thing he had.”
After going without income for months, Drake now works for a book publishing company and runs a halfway house for men.
In September 2018, Drake emailed an attorney asking for advice. He said Barge was still inserting herself into his life.
She was, he said, trying to join the board of a halfway house he founded, showing up unannounced at his out-of-town speaking engagements and more.
Byrd said she remembers seeing Barge become more connected with Drake’s friends, acquaintances and professional contacts on social media during this time.
“It was creepy,” she said.
Drake heard from a friend that Barge was telling people she had to stop working with him because he was unsteady and unreliable.
In reality, he said, he had stopped attending meetings where he might run into her.
“She was passing me off as a crazy person,” he said in an interview. He said he believes she was trying to create an environment where no one would believe him if he ever went public with his allegations.
He said his story might be perceived differently if he was a woman. He often brings that up when telling friends about his time working for the county.
“How many times does someone get to approach you for romance or sex?” he asked in an interview. “Imagine I was a female dealing with this. Most people would get it.”
“I did not want this.”
On Aug. 15, 2018, Barge told Drake his harassment allegations made her decide to not run for mayor.
Six months later, in January, 2019, she announced she was running.
Over texts reviewed by the IDS, Barge acknowledged making advances on Drake in August and November 2017.
“I know I shouldn’t put this in writing but so be it,” she wrote in an Aug. 16, 2018, email where she analyzed their personal and professional relationship and why she thought things ended the way they did.
She met Drake at a Steak ‘n Shake on Aug. 15, 2018. While he recorded their conversation, they went over and over the times she expressed her feelings for him.
Read the full text of the letter Barge read to Drake here.
Indiana has a one-party consent law for recording conversations, meaning Drake’s recordings were created and obtained legally.
“I ate a pot gummy and drunk texted you, and I don’t actually remember, and it’s really embarrassing,” Barge said, reading him a letter where she thanks him for their friendship and then apologizes for her actions.
She told him she was sorry. “I will work on having better boundaries with you and just being a better human being.”
She later emailed him the letter she read at Steak ‘n Shake.
Drake told her he went to an attorney to look into legal recourse for sexual harassment. The conversation grew heated as the two walked outside. Drake said Barge climbed into the passenger seat of his truck when he unlocked it to try and find a cigarette.
Once again, he said, he felt trapped.
“I have a lot to lose, Brandon,” Barge said. “If I get sued I will not get re-elected. I will lose my job.”
Drake said an attorney told him federal employee discrimination law did not apply to him because he was an independent contractor — not an employee — and therefore was not offered sexual harassment protections.
Federal law does not protect independent contractors from this kind of workplace behavior.
“I made some mistakes with you,” Barge said during the Steak ‘n Shake meeting. “And the truth is you are not somebody that I should ever be interested in. You’re just not. I shouldn’t have ever allowed myself to even think those thoughts. It’s crazy. Just crazy.”
She repeatedly suggested she might kill herself if he went public.
Throughout that meeting, Barge never expressly admitted to “sexual harassment” but said she took responsibility for hurting him.
“I do see that it was inappropriate at that time. I do see that. A hundred percent.”
In an email she sent him from her personal account the next day, she wrote, “I let myself down, Monroe County government and people in this community including you by sharing my feelings with you. I was wrong and never should have done that.”
“I had terrible boundaries with you,” she wrote.
The email closes, “I’ll miss you oh so much.”
In October 2018, Drake emailed his attorney that Barge was still trying to involve herself in his business.
In a Nov. 20, 2018, call, one week after Barge launched an exploratory committee to decide whether she would run for mayor, Drake asked her again whether she felt her actions could be interpreted as sexual harassment.
“Do you really want to go down this road?” she asked.
She said she was going through a midlife crisis when she made advances toward him and “shouldn’t have let myself go there at all.”
“I never really thought of us having a power differential,” she said. “I get it now. We did.”
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This story was reported over the course of two months. Many of the allegations within it are backed up by hours of audio and hundreds of written communications between the involved parties. Indiana has a one-party consent law for recording conversations, meaning all audio recordings were created and obtained legally.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or abuse, go here for a list of resources.