CLARIFICATION: In a previous version of this story, the lede indicated that Cherry Creek school board candidate Steve McKenna wrote about self-admitted “acts” of “indecent exposure” and “sexual misconduct.” While McKenna clearly admits in his memoir that he committed an act of indecent exposure and and act of sexual misconduct at a public place, involving the public and a woman he did not know, he wrote only about the single incident where this occurred. The lede now reflects it was a “single episode” relayed to his readers.
AURORA | A retired Navy pilot running for a seat on the Cherry Creek schools board is drawing scrutiny for self-admitted past acts of indecent exposure and sexual “misconduct” in a single episode described in his 2022 memoir.
Steve McKenna, a former flight instructor and retired lawyer, is challenging incumbent Anne Egan to represent District A for Cherry Creek School District.
McKenna writes that he and his friends were “quaffing beers” when he “spied a shapely young woman” while they were attending the Tailhook convention. A flight instructor dared him to touch the woman’s hair with his penis, which he did, he said in the book.
McKenna said he published his memoir, “Fair Winds, Following Seas and a Few Bolters,” before knowing he was going to run for the school board. McKenna said he wrote his memoir because he wanted to share a message about dealing with the “inevitable boulders in life.”
The autobiography meanders through a medley of topics pertinent to his school board race, including the roles of the sexes, and that he refutes assertions that systemic racism exists in this country.
In Chapter 15 of his memoir, he confesses to sexually touching a woman without her consent at a September 1991 Las Vegas convention. The infamous confab eventually became known as the Tailhook Scandal, where several Navy and Marine Corps officers were accused of sexually assaulting 83 women and three men.
He moved away from the woman as she turned around. Despite writing that he felt remorseful immediately after touching her, McKenna did not apologize to the woman at the time. Instead, he went to his hotel room, called his then-girlfriend, Patricia, and then fell asleep.
McKenna said he now knows the woman’s name. He said he has not sought her out to ask forgiveness.
“I didn’t feel there was a need to apologize,” McKenna said during an interview with the Sentinel. “It didn’t seem like she was expecting or wanting one…but I felt she probably didn’t want to relive that.”
While saying in the book that he owned up to his mistakes, McKenna wrote that he did not turn himself in for what he did. However, the officer who dared McKenna, and another officer that he confided in, reported him to authorities. McKenna faced so-called Admiral’s Mast, a disciplinary proceeding for the Navy, in 1993, he wrote. He was adjudicated under military law, not public criminal code.
During the disciplinary hearing in a military court, he “sincerely apologized” and received a nonjudicial letter of admonition for conduct unbecoming an officer and a $1,000 fine.
Jeremy Snyder, a military law attorney in Pennsylvania, said that a letter of admonition is a written reprimand that could potentially prevent an officer from getting a promotion.
“I was charged with indecent exposure,” McKenna told the Sentinel. “But I admitted it, I was punished for it.”
Snyder said that the military code would not have defined the indecent exposure and touching her hair with his penis as a “sexual assault” because there was no sexual penetration. The punishment for indecent exposure under current military law varies from no punishment to “punitive discharge from the military, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and one year of confinement.”
Snyder also explained that McKenna’s actions would also fall under “abusive sexual contact if charged today.” The maximum punishment for that charge includes being discharged from the military, forfeiting all pay and allowances and serving up to seven years in confinement.
The memoir offers readers McKenna’s opinions on a wide range of issues affecting American home and political life.
He wrote that “this is going to sound sexist, but mothers should care for children, at least infants or at least in my family.” He justified this by providing two examples of times when his oldest child, Jack, was put in precarious situations after McKenna turned his attention elsewhere.
In one instance, McKenna was washing his car at the top of a hill and left Jack in his stroller that was not properly locked. The stroller began to roll and McKenna grabbed his son just as the stroller hopped the curb and onto the street.
In the second example, McKenna, left his napping son on a bed while getting the laundry. When he returned, his son had rolled into the space between the bed and wall, still sleeping.
In a recent interview, McKenna said that part of the book was meant as a joke. He added that it wouldn’t make sense to inform readers that he’s going to tell a joke before delivering the joke.
“That was a bit of a dig at me and I guess, fathers in general for sometimes being less attentive to young children than mothers are,” he said.
When asked during a recent Cherry Creek candidate forum about volunteer work in schools, McKenna has said he would attend his childrens’ parent-teacher conferences and sporting events. He stated that his wife spent more time volunteering with schools because his volunteer hours were better spent working as an attorney and helping the community.
Students and judging ‘graphic’
In March, McKenna published a blog post on his personal website, McKennaProject.com, where he poses with a young boy who is holding a copy of his memoir during a book signing event.
He explained to the Sentinel that the boy, who he thinks is 11 or 12-years-old, and his father came up to McKenna at the event, and that the dad bought the book. He said that the dad emailed him a few days later, and that the boy enjoyed reading the book.
McKenna said that he did not inform the dad that he wrote about his sexual misconduct in the book and doesn’t think she should have. He also said that he wouldn’t describe that scene he confessed to as being “graphic.”
“I use the word ‘penis.’ I said I touched my penis to her hair. Is that graphic?” McKenna asked. He also said that he wouldn’t define that scene as being a “sexually graphic depiction” but a “depiction of definitely sexual misconduct.”
During the candidate forum on Oct. 3, McKenna said that the district is allowing elementary school students to access an inappropriate and sexually explicit book, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson. Egan pointed out that McKenna’s book is in children’s hands and is not appropriate for them. McKenna countered by saying that he thinks it is appropriate for children.
The day after the candidate forum, McKenna told the Sentinel that his memoir is written for adults and covers adult themes.
“I’m not going to say that I misspoke because politicians always say that kind of garbage, but I would not say it that way again,” he said.
McKenna told the Sentinel that he has not read Johnson’s book, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” and does not know the context of the scene that he claims is inappropriate for children.
He claimed that Johnson’s memoir “specifically describes sexual acts” whereas he wrote about “ridiculous conduct, which was indecent exposure.”
Critics say that the book is sexually explicit and not appropriate for elementary school students to read. Lauren Snell, district spokesperson, said that Johnson’s book is not available for elementary school students. The book may show up on the district-wide catalog as an e-book and can be searched on the district website, but elementary school students cannot download it with their student credentials.
‘Wrong minded’ on racism
In expanding on how his memoir deals with racial issues, McKenna told the Sentinel that he believes racism exists in this country, but not systemic racism.
In his memoir, he wrote about graduating from Aviation Officer Candidate School. During the graduation ceremony, a captain read the Navy Flyer’s Creed which said, “I have dedicated myself to this country, with its many millions and of all races, colors and creeds.”
Due to that phrase, and because McKenna believed that the other graduates “represented shades of every skin color,” he doesn’t “accept or believe that this country is systemically racist.”
“We’re definitely focused a lot on the idea that there’s disparities based on race. There are disparities. It can apply more to people of color, but I think saying it’s because of your color is wrong-minded…we’ve got plenty of brilliant Black people. We’ve got plenty of brilliant Hispanic people that are at the top of their fields and have done amazing things. So that to me disproves that,” he told the Sentinel.
Despite saying that he doesn’t believe systematic racism exists in the country, McKenna explained that a variety of factors, such as a family’s income, parents’ education and home life could explain why the average test scores for Black and Hispanic students in Cherry Creek school are lower than their white counterparts.
In his memoir, he also wrote that “too many today focus on the sins of slavery and oppression committed by the United States in the past…while glossing over our country’s many triumphs and achievements.”
McKenna told the Sentinel that the point of the book is about owning up to your mistakes and not repeating them.
Although people advised McKenna not to write about his involvement in the Tailhook Scandal, he said that it was important to write about his “biggest mistake.”
However, he also said that it was just “one paragraph in an over 200-page book.”
R. Karl Hanson, adjunct research professor of psychology at Carleton University Said that most people who commit sexual offenses are never identified or caught. The fact that McKenna was caught and identified, reduces the “likelihood of reoffending regardless of the severity of the sanction.” He added that the likelihood of sexual behavior and additional sexual crimes also decreases with age.
“You can be concerned about this candidate for whatever reasons,” Hanson said.“But risk of (additional) sexual crime should not figure prominently in those considerations.”