Mike Groene feels ‘vindicated’ after AG declines to prosecute for pictures of staffer

By: - July 21, 2022 6:16 pm

State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte. (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

OMAHA — State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte will not be prosecuted for taking photos of a female staffer without her knowledge, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said Thursday. 

Attorney General Doug Peterson’s spokeswoman, Suzanne Gage, said a Nebraska State Patrol investigation found “insufficient evidence to warrant a criminal prosecution.”

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha. (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Groene, reached Thursday, said he has been “vindicated.” He said his ordeal was “trumped up, over-exaggerated” and the result of a rush to judgment “because of pictures I took in public.” 

“It was a kangaroo court,” Groene said. “I was like Jesus Christ. I couldn’t fight it. You asked if I regret anything. I regret resigning. I should’ve stood toe-to-toe.”

The staffer has said that while she was working on the senator’s laptop, she discovered about 50 photos of herself in his email. One was labeled “legs.” Another was labeled “rear tight.”  

Groene has said in previous interviews that he had apologized to his then-aide, Kristina Konecko, for taking pictures of her without her permission. He also said he had deleted the photos. 

On Thursday, he said he hopes Konecko loses her job in the Legislature. He argued that she went through his private email without permission, although Konecko has previously told the Nebraska Examiner that she did have his permission. Groene has argued that she only had permission to access to his legislative email.

She did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. Human resources professionals from the private sector have told state senators the staffer was right to report the photos.

A report written for the Legislature by a lawyer found no clear violation of legislative policy on sexual harassment, but it described Groene’s behavior as unprofessional and inappropriate.

Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks to people in Wayne, Nebraska, who gathered to hear more about a petition drive the governor supports that would require people present ID in Nebraska to vote. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Groene, asked whether he thought he had done anything wrong, responded, “Why? It’s a free country. I can take a picture of somebody walking down the street. I didn’t take any pictures to harass somebody.” 

Groene said he was waiting for an apology from State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha for accusing him of wrongdoing. Hunt had requested an investigation of the incident to determine  whether any laws were broken.

Hunt offered no comment Thursday on the decision by the Attorney General’s Office. She said Groene’s actions did help many in the Legislature realize that senators need to update their policies.

Lawmakers need to work proactively to “ensure safety for Nebraskans here in the Capitol, whether they are staff or visitors or members,” Hunt said.  

“There is an opportunity here for staff and members … to share their experiences with workplace harassment, adopt best practices, hold ourselves to a better standard,” she said.

Groene said Hunt and many of his other colleagues politically assassinated his character. But he saved his sharpest criticism for Gov. Pete Ricketts, whom he said pressured him to quit.

Groene said the governor and other Republicans were looking for excuses to oust him because he’s a “populist.” The governor, he said, knew Groene didn’t support an income tax cut. The governor has said the reason he called for Groene to resign is because of the senator’s behavior.

Groene criticized his legislative colleagues for lacking courage.

He said he is finished with politics. He said he went to Lincoln “like Mr. Smith going to Washington.” He left knowing he’d never go back into that “evil arena” again.

“The cowards I called my friends wouldn’t help me,” he said. “(Sens. Dan) Hughes and (Mike) Hilgers just wanted it gone. That man (Hilgers) shouldn’t be AG. I had no defense.”

Hilgers declined to comment.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also spent several years as an assignment editor and worked two stints as an editorial writer. From 2005 to 2007, he served as communications director for then-Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Aaron most recently was the lead investigative reporter for KMTV 3 in Omaha, focusing on holding public officials accountable. His work has received awards from the Associated Press, Great Plains Journalism and more.

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