As Black Lives Matter was growing into a social movement, the killing of Eric Garner by the police on Staten Island and the harsh treatment of teenage inmates at the Rikers Island jail complex pushed New York activists into a national spotlight.
One of them was Glenn E. Martin, an ex-convict who was sought out for his firsthand knowledge of the dangers and hope found behind bars. In interviews and in speeches, he recounted being stabbed by fellow inmates as a teenager at Rikers and earning a college degree as an adult in an upstate prison while serving a sentence for armed robbery.
In 2014, Mr. Martin had started a nonprofit advocacy group, JustLeadershipUSA, and over the next few years, he became a vocal proponent of closing Rikers, where pervasive abuse by guards and persistent violence among inmates were drawing new attention to the need to reform the city’s jail system. In 2016, Mr. Martin received standing ovations as he accepted the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in Washington.
As his reputation as a fund-raiser and advocate grew, so, too, did talk that he was using his professional prominence to pursue sexual relationships with women who were drawn to the criminal justice reform movement — and in some instances engaging in sexual misconduct.
According to a statement last week from JLUSA, the organization conducted an investigation in November and found no misconduct by Mr. Martin. But then in December Mr. Martin quit, telling the board that his leaving was in the best interests of the organization. The abrupt departure intensified speculation about his conduct.
The New York Times has learned that an employee of the organization was paid $25,000 in 2015 as part of an agreement that concealed her allegations that Mr. Martin had groped and propositioned her in his apartment during what was supposed to be a work meeting.
In an interview, she said the August 2015 incident changed her life.
“I joined JLUSA to empower people and instead had all the power taken away from me,” the woman, 32, said. “I was rendered powerless and silenced while he was empowered with an even bigger microphone.”
The encounter took place when the organization was still forming a board. The review of the employee’s allegations and the confidential agreement made with her were handled by Arabella Advisors, a philanthropy services firm that manages the New Venture Fund, one of the early nonprofit supporters of JustLeadershipUSA.
As part of the agreement, which The Times has reviewed, the woman had promised not to discuss the allegations or money she received. She said she agreed to termination and $25,000 in compensation after declining an offer to remain with the nonprofit but to work from home.
When she learned of Mr. Martin’s resignation, she suspected that there were other instances of misconduct. After she was contacted by The Times, she said she had decided to breach the nondisclosure pact because she wanted to support other women who had talked to The Times about their experiences with Mr. Martin.
Two of those women, both of whom work for criminal justice nonprofits, said in interviews that they were subjected to lewd acts by Mr. Martin — incidents that occurred after the confidential agreement with the former employee. In separate incidents, in 2016 and 2017, the women said, Mr. Martin masturbated in front of each of them.
Like the former employee, the two other women said they wanted to preserve their privacy, and they agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their names not be published.
Mr. Martin, 47, through an attorney, denied any inappropriate conduct with the former employee or with the other two women.
“Glenn vehemently denies any of the allegations that are the subject of this article. These allegations are simply not true,” Keith White, his lawyer, said in a statement.
Vivian D. Nixon, chairwoman of the JLUSA board, said the employee never approached her about her concerns and that the “investigation and settlement were not shared with the founding JLUSA board of directors.”
At that time, JLUSA was still seeking tax-exempt status, so the New Venture Fund, a nonprofit based in Washington, D. C., acted as the group’s fiscal sponsor and handled personnel matters.
“We were not made aware of any concerns by our fiscal sponsor about moving forward with the formation of JLUSA under Glenn Martin’s leadership,” Ms. Nixon said in a statement.
Lee Bodner, president of the New Venture Fund, said in an emailed response to questions, “I talked to our lawyer, and everything here is covered by confidentiality and nondisclosure obligations and we cannot discuss them.”
On Tuesday, Ms. Nixon and the organization condemned abuse and harassment while also saying space needed to be made for both victims and offenders to heal.
JLUSA now has about two dozen employees and has secured millions of dollars from big-name charities, including the Ford Foundation, Google.org and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the foundation started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. In 2016, Mr. Martin was appointed to a commission to look into Rikers. Last year, he starred in a commercial urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to close Rikers.
But in its early days, the organization was based in Mr. Martin’s Harlem apartment and had a small staff. The employee who later made her accusations said she was inspired to work for the group because many of her relatives had been incarcerated and, in her view, unfairly punished by the justice system.
On a Monday in August 2015, the woman and another employee stuffed envelopes for a fund-raiser at Mr. Martin’s apartment from around 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. The woman said it was the first time she had been in Mr. Martin’s home.
After the woman and the other employee left, she glanced down at her phone at around 7:30 p.m. and saw that Mr. Martin had texted her at 7:09 p.m. “Was going to ask u to get a drink with me and discuss JLUSA 2016 planning.”
She returned to his building for the meeting. For about two hours, they talked about work over a bottle of wine. But at around 10:15 p.m., Mr. Martin shifted the tone of the conversation and told her he was attracted to her, she said.
The woman detailed her account of the night’s events in an email two days later to human resources at Arabella Advisors.
Mr. Martin “comes toward me and kisses me. He touches my face, shoulder, waist, breasts. I shake my head. I say no and look down at the ground for a while and his hands are all over me. He tells me he fantasizes about me all the time. He says I need to let him get this out of his system. That phrase is said at least three times until I leave.”
His advances, including requests to join him in his bedroom, continued. “He repeatedly said he’s not going to sleep with me but that I should come into the bedroom with him,” she wrote in the email, which The New York Times has reviewed.
The woman finally left, receiving a text from Mr. Martin at 10:48 p.m. “Let me know when you’re safe.”
She responded at 10:54 p.m., “Home now.”
Shaken, the woman told her husband what happened that night. In the following days, she said she also told Arabella and David Mensah, a consultant who still works with JLUSA. Mr. Mensah did not respond to messages for comment. Arabella referred questions to the New Venture Fund.
On Thursday, a few days after the incident, Arabella’s senior director of human resources responded, “Just wanted to quickly let you know that I have received this email and will be circling back with you very soon. I also wanted to say that I’m very sorry to hear this happened to you.”
The next month, the woman officially left and agreed to accept the payment. In an email on Sept. 10, 2015, the senior human resources director said Mr. Martin would be informed that she was leaving and would inform other staff. “As discussed previously the communication will be neutral and absent any of the details about what happened or the terms of this agreement,” the director wrote.
About four months later in January or February of 2016, another woman, 35, said she met Mr. Martin at a panel discussion, and then he pursued her through direct messages on Facebook. Interested in talking to him about justice reform, she said she accompanied Mr. Martin to his apartment one evening.
She said she found him attractive, but a chat over wine took a lewd and unexpected turn after Mr. Martin went to his bedroom. She said he was lying on the bed and asked her to join him, which she said she declined to do. “The best way to describe it was a whining ‘Why don’t you want me?’” she recalled.
He then pulled out his penis and masturbated, she said. “I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t move or walk away. I couldn’t. I was stuck there,” she said, later adding, “I remember thinking, ‘He’s not embarrassed?’”
She said she saw him once more, seeking an apology that she did not receive. She also tearfully told her new boss what had happened, because she feared Mr. Martin had spread a different story within the justice reform community.
“People would be drooling to hear him talk,” the woman said. “You look at this man and there’s a trail of women who have been harmed. You’re hurting the women that are doing the work.”
In February 2017, another woman, a 29-year-old social worker, met Mr. Martin when he visited her organization to talk about justice reform. He later encouraged her to apply for a job at JLUSA but almost immediately began to make unwanted advances, she said.
The advances, which the woman said she now views as harassment, contributed to her decision to withdraw her application, she said. Mr. Martin continued to contact her, and in March, she went to confront him at the office in Harlem, she said. “He tried to kiss me. He grabbed my neck. He tried to pull my pants down,” she said, noting that they were alone in the office.
She said she fended him off, but then he masturbated in front of her. She said she “froze.” “I was completely demoralized,” she said.
She spoke to two friends who confirmed to The Times that the woman told them what happened. One of the friends provided text messages that the woman sent her showing her concern about the earlier advances.
After Mr. Martin resigned, the woman approached The Times. She said she had been reluctant to speak out about Mr. Martin, who had become the face of criminal justice reform in the city.
“I thought I was going to harm quote, unquote the movement.”
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