The president of the Omaha firefighters union pleaded no contest Thursday to two misdemeanor charges in connection with an assault of a woman at a bar.
Steve LeClair, 49, is scheduled to be sentenced June 13 on charges of misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct.
The charges stemmed from his interactions with a woman who told police that he hit her and made a racist remark. LeClair faces up to six months in jail and a $500 fine on each charge.
LeClair declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing.
Reenita Jackson had told authorities that a man who looked like LeClair had tried to come on to her three times Nov. 9 at Tiger Tom’s Pub near 72nd Street and Military Avenue.
Jackson told police that she and a friend arrived at Tiger Tom’s about 7 p.m. that evening and sat at the bar. A man she later identified as LeClair approached the bar to buy drinks and looked at her and said, “You are (expletive) sexy.” The woman and her friend assumed he was drunk and ignored him.
About 20 minutes later, the same man approached the bar to order drinks and said to her, “You are the most sexy woman I have ever saw, and if I was not married, I would take you to the bathroom.” The woman said she and her friend again ignored him.
LeClair allegedly approached the bar a third time and made a sexual comment toward the woman that she could not remember. She told police that she told LeClair she was not interested and to leave her alone.
About 9 p.m., the woman said LeClair came up to the bar once more and whispered “white power” into her ear before striking her, which she said felt like a punch in the back. She said the force of the blow caused her to fall forward into the bar. Bar staff and other customers quickly removed the man.
Jackson, who is black, identified the man as LeClair after she saw him on the TV news the next day. She filed a police report on the incident in January.
After the police report was filed, LeClair said Jackson was falsely accusing him of assault and that she was either “confused or not being truthful.”
“I’m confident I will be cleared and back to work doing what I have done my entire career, responding to our citizens most in need,” LeClair said in a statement.
John Corrigan, an attorney representing the Local 385 firefighters union, said after the hearing Thursday that LeClair did not punch the woman.
“He elbowed this lady with his right elbow,” Corrigan said. “It was kind of like a nudge. She obviously felt it was harder than that.”
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Omaha Fire Chief Dan Olsen recommended firing LeClair in late February. He cited the department’s internal investigation into the incident. Mayor Jean Stothert, who has clashed often with LeClair in his role heading the firefighters union, has said she supports Olsen’s decision.
City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse said that to help make a decision on LeClair’s sentence, Douglas County Judge Marcena Hendrix will have police reports, bar surveillance video, a statement from Jackson and a pre-sentence investigation that outlines LeClair’s background.
Kuhse said he wanted to see the pre-sentence report before determining what his office will suggest for a sentence.
He did say, however, that he didn’t think that only a fine would be just.
“I don’t think getting a fine is appropriate, given the facts and circumstances of what happened in this case,” he said.
W. Patrick Dunn, LeClair’s attorney in the criminal case, said Kuhse’s idea of an appropriate sentence was “ridiculous.”
Dunn said LeClair chose to plead no contest because he “was more than willing to accept that he was out of line that night.”
Dunn added that it’s “obviously not the city prosecutor calling the shots here. We all know who it is, and she is using this prosecution to deprive Mr. LeClair of his job and his livelihood.”
Dunn declined to identify the person to whom he was referring, even when asked if he was talking about Mayor Stothert.
“We all know who we’re talking about,” Dunn said. “Who is the city prosecutor’s ultimate boss?”
Stothert late Thursday evening issued the following statement: “No Mayor of Omaha, past or present, has any control over the judicial system. Only Steve LeClair has control over what Steve LeClair does. The evidence speaks for itself.”
Kuhse acknowledged that his boss, City Attorney Paul Kratz, reports to Stothert, but he said LeClair’s criminal case and personnel hearings are separate.
“I make decisions based on the law and based on the evidence, and not based on politics,” Kuhse said.
Union leaders have said they don’t plan to replace LeClair as president. In recent weeks, he has testified in the Nebraska Legislature and visited Nebraska’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.
He also participated in contract negotiations with the city.
LeClair, who has contested his firing, is on administrative leave as the termination and appeals process unfolds.
World-Herald staff writer Aaron Sanderford contributed to this report.