Sexual Assault Allegations Vanished From Potential Cori Bush Challenger’s Wikipedia Page

The edits to the page for state Sen. Steven Roberts came from an IP address in the Missouri Capitol.

Several newly-elected senators are sworn in, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Jefferson City, Mo., during opening day ceremonies of the 101st General Assembly. The day provided a a couple historic firsts as Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis City, middle front, the youngest elected Black senator, and at left is Angela Mosley, Democrat from the 13th District in St. Louis County, the first Black senator elected in that district. (Julie Smith/The Jefferson City News-Tribune via AP)
State Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis City, is sworn in during opening day ceremonies of the 101st General Assembly on Jan. 6, 2021, in Jefferson City, Mo. Photo: Julie Smith/The Jefferson City News-Tribune via AP

Somewhere in the Missouri Office of Administration building, someone has been scrubbing a state senator’s Wikipedia page. Democrat Steven Roberts, who represents Missouri’s 5th Senate District, is a member of the Missouri Air National Guard, a commissioned U.S. Air Force officer, and the youngest Black state senator in state history. He has also been accused by at least two women of sexual assault. But if you looked at his Wikipedia page during February, you might not know that. An unidentified editor, logging on from an IP address located in the Office of Administration building, repeatedly stripped the allegations from Roberts’s page.

Roberts — who has reportedly been mulling a primary challenge against Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. — was first elected to the state House of Representatives in November 2016. That September, Cora Faith Walker, another Democratic candidate for state House, wrote a letter to Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson in which she accused Roberts of raping her. She told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the pair had met for drinks at a St. Louis apartment several weeks after winning their respective primary elections, and Walker woke up there the next morning, remembering nothing after her second glass of wine. In the letter to Richardson, Walker said she had reported the incident to the police. After an investigation based on Walker’s police report, a special prosecutor declined to charge Roberts, saying “there simply wasn’t enough credible evidence that sexual relations between these two people were anything but consensual.”

Roberts, who denied Walker’s allegation, filed a civil suit against her for defamation before the election but later dropped the case. On March 11, 2022, Walker died at age 37. The cause of her death has not been reported. Reached by The Intercept, Walker’s family declined to comment, and a spokesperson said they would not respond to matters related to the allegation.

“I specifically authorize you to name me and to tell people about this letter,” Walker wrote in her 2016 letter to Richardson. “As you are aware, I am not the first woman to accuse Mr. Roberts of sexual assault.”

In April 2015, a law school student had accused Roberts, then an assistant prosecutor at the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, of touching her and trying to put his hands inside her pants and underwear after she rebuffed an advance from him at a bar. The woman reported the incident to police, and Roberts was arrested on “suspicion of second-degree sodomy” and suspended from his job, according to the Post-Dispatch, but he was never charged. That October, Roberts was fired from the circuit attorney’s office for “performance issues.” He filed to run for the state House in December 2015.

Less than a year later, after Walker accused him of rape, the first accuser spoke anonymously to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about her allegation and said what happened to Walker “was preventable” and “made me feel I should have done more.”

But all of that information was deleted from Roberts’s Wikipedia page on February 7. Edit history for the page shows that one user, identified only by an IP address at the Office of Administration building — on the grounds of the state Capitol, across the street from the Senate building — made four edits that day. The changes removed an entire section titled “Sexual Assault Allegations” and its subheadings, as well as a section on Robert’s firing from the circuit attorney’s office, all of which cited the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. One edit removed background information on Roberts’s family history that linked to his state Senate bio. The user tagged the cuts as “false allegations,” “libelous statements,” and “articles linked to partisan websites and false narratives.”

On February 28, another account, MOfacts, whose account information does not include an IP address, deleted the same sections. MOfacts explained the deletion by saying, “Sources behind paywall and unable to be verified. Please use public sources for verification.”

Another user questioned the deletions, noting that MOfacts added “a bunch of favorable information” to Roberts’s page on February 14 and later deleted “information on the Wiki page for Steve Roberts that was not favorable (multiple sexual assault allegations).” MOfacts and the other editor went back and forth, undoing and reinstating each other’s revisions. A third user who reversed an MOfacts edit categorized it as “unexplained content removal.” On March 4, a user wrote in a comment on the “Rape allegations” section: “MOFacts continues to edit this section and this section alone, creating their account a few weeks ago to fluff up this politician’s page, repeatedly delete the sexual assault allegation section without cause. … I am very concerned that they have a conflict of interest due to their behavior.”

On March 13, another user protected the page so that only users with a certain level of access could edit it, and the information has not been taken back down since. The account “MOfacts” does not have an existing user page.

Ryan Hawkins, a spokesperson for Roberts, said he had no knowledge of who made the changes to the state senator’s page. “As you are aware, Wikipedia is an unregulated, unedited, largely unsourced mass of information that is often inaccurate because anyone can post almost anything,” Hawkins wrote in a statement to The Intercept. He added that Roberts’s term at the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office “ended because individuals in a supervisory role objected to the establishment of a campaign committee set up to run for Circuit Attorney against the incumbent’s favored successor.” Hawkins did not address Walker’s allegations, writing only that the state senator “sends his condolences to her family on her tragic and untimely passing.”

Asked about whether Roberts plans to primary Bush, Hawkins said the state senator was focused on the current legislative session, “his leadership duties as the Democratic Whip and commitment to serving in the US armed forces during this time of crisis.”

The deadline to file in the Missouri primary is March 29. In the meantime, Roberts is pushing redistricting maps in the state Senate that would change the congressional district’s boundaries to move it further northwest and increase its minority population.

Roberts says the map would ensure a stronger majority-minority district. His critics, including the state GOP leader, have said the map would shift Bush voters out and that his position on redistricting in MO-1 is part of his plan to run for Congress. Roberts has denied this aim, and according to Hawkins, Roberts’s priorities “and that of the Black Caucus, are to pass a congressional redistricting bill that ensures a strong majority-minority district in MO-1” as well as to preserve women’s right to control health care decisions, freeze property tax rates for seniors, and defend the right to vote. “Senator Roberts is urging all of his colleagues, especially the GOP, to finally do their duty by passing a fair Map that protects the congressional representation for all Missouri voters, including African Americans.”

When Bush beat the two-decade incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay in 2020, her election added a leader from 2014 protests in Ferguson to the House’s growing progressive Squad. Now she is facing at least two challengers in her first primary as an incumbent, and if Roberts files, she’ll face a third.

Roberts would be the highest-profile candidate yet to challenge Bush. His father, also named Steven Roberts, is a St. Louis developer and former alderman. Elected to the state Senate in 2020 after two terms in the state House, the younger Roberts is currently the minority whip for the Democratic caucus. Missouri state senators are limited to two four-year terms, and Roberts’s first term continues through 2025.

After Roberts was reelected to the state House in November 2018, his colleagues elected him as chair of the Missouri Black Legislative Caucus. Walker left the caucus, and eight months later, she resigned from the state House to work as director of policy for the St. Louis County Executive.

As of Monday, Roberts’s Wikipedia page does list the alleged assaults. Its most recent edit, made by a different user than the ones involved in the prior editing battle, says that the latest editor attempted to present the sections on the allegations against Roberts from a neutral point of view. This included removing “inappropriate headings and language,” updating sources, and removing unnecessary detail.

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