Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason was investigated by Maine State Police last year because of an allegation that he sexually assaulted a female officer, who was hired full-time by the department several months after she reported the incident, the Kennebec Journal has learned.

Nason was never disciplined by the city and was allowed to continue managing the officer who accused him, even during a four-month investigation by state police that ended in October with no charges against the chief. The officer, who is 22, and the chief, who is 48, still work together.

Nason denies wrongdoing, saying through his attorney, Walter McKee, that the incident on June 2, 2013, was “a 100 percent consensual encounter” and that Nason and the officer “were involved in an intimate relationship” before it occurred.

The officer’s attorney, Darrick Banda, said his client maintains that she was too intoxicated to consent to sex that night.

Third-party experts who reviewed case documents for the Kennebec Journal said the relationship between the police chief and an officer he supervised was inappropriate and the city’s handling of the case has been ethically questionable.

State police closed the case on Oct. 18, 11 days after the Hallowell City Council promoted the part-time reserve officer to a full-time position, on Nason’s recommendation. City councilors didn’t learn about the investigation until May, according to the mayor.

The Kennebec Journal isn’t identifying the officer by name because she is an alleged victim of sexual assault. The officer hired Banda as her attorney recently out of concern that Nason would retaliate against her because of the sexual-assault complaint.

Banda provided the Kennebec Journal with confidential city documents, including a notice placed in the officer’s department mailbox, in which Nason accused her of lying during the state police investigation.

Nason’s attorney, McKee, agreed to answer questions only via email, saying the chief and the officer “are both professionals and have put this matter behind them.”

Nason was hired as chief in 2005 after about 16 years on the force. Banda said the officer enjoys police work and, while she’s uncomfortable working for Nason, she has tried to make the best of the situation.

But Banda said last year’s incident has been hard to bear, affecting the officer “just like it affects any assault victim,” harming her self-confidence and her trust in others.

Chuck Drago, a police-practices consultant in Florida, said Nason should be fired if he had a sexual relationship with the officer at all. Any of Nason’s ongoing interactions with her could be seen as positively or negatively biased, he said, creating a difficult work environment.

“There’s just no way for them to function,” said Drago, a former assistant police chief in Fort Lauderdale. “And the fault lays entirely on the police chief.”

Hallowell Police Department rules prohibit untruthfulness, criminal conduct and sexual harassment, but don’t address sexual relationships between officers, or between officers and supervisors.

Sexual relationships between bosses and subordinates are concerning in all work relationships, said Donna Strickler, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center, which serves sex-crime victims in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

She said advances from a superior “could lead to somebody’s feeling like they needed” to have sex with the person “or would or should because of that difference in power.”

INVESTIGATING THE COMPLAINT

Banda said Nason and the officer had sex twice before the June 2 incident but the officer told Nason that their sexual relationship should end.

On June 2, Banda said, Nason invited the officer and a colleague to Nason’s camp in central Maine, where the three drank alcohol. The colleague eventually left.

Banda said the sexual assault happened after that, and the officer was too intoxicated to remember any more than bits and pieces of the incident. Nason drove the officer home afterward, Banda said.

That night, the officer called Hallowell police Sgt. Christopher Hutchings, who drove the officer to a hospital and called state police to report a sexual assault, Banda said.

The Kennebec Journal requested transcripts of any 911 calls Hutchings made, turning up just one on the morning of June 3. Hutchings asked to speak to state police Detective Ryan Brockway, who other records show investigated the complaint.

McKee said Nason “was not aware of any issue” before an interview with state police, but cooperated completely with the investigation.

State police say the reason the investigation was closed is confidential. State police attorney Christopher Parr has denied requests by the Kennebec Journal for police reports related to the case, citing a privacy exemption under Maine public records law.

On Friday, the Kennebec Journal sued the state in Kennebec County Superior Court, seeking reports and other accounts of the case and arguing that the public’s interest in the conduct of a city official and the police investigation outweigh privacy concerns.

Parr has confirmed the day the investigation was opened, June 3, 2013, and the day it was closed, Oct. 18. Emails he provided in response to the newspaper’s public records request show that the case was closed after it was reviewed by Brian MacMaster, chief of the investigation division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

Banda said his client was interviewed repeatedly, and never recanted her allegation against Nason.

McKee, however, said “neither was too intoxicated to consent” and she falsely suggested to investigators that the encounter with Nason on June 2 was the first time they had sex.

But Banda said that if she was lying, she wouldn’t have initiated a second interview with state police, the next day, to tell them about her past relationship with Nason.

‘EVERYBODY JUST CLOSED THEIR EYES’

City Manager Michael Starn, who is Nason’s supervisor, said he heard about the investigation from members of the police department soon after it started, but took no disciplinary action against Nason.

Starn said he determined “whatever activities took place were done off-duty between consenting adults.”

Mayor Mark Walker said he didn’t know about the investigation until councilors received anonymous letters about it in May.

However, Charlotte Warren, who was mayor until January, said she was visited confidentially at her home – she wouldn’t say by whom – and informed of the incident shortly after it happened. Warren said she did her job as mayor, which was “to take the information to the person who would be responsible for it,” informing Starn.

Starn said he didn’t want to air the case before the council, to protect the police officials’ privacy. Walker said he agreed with the decision.

But Drago, the police consultant in Florida, said Nason should have been suspended immediately after the city learned of the investigation, and the city should have done an internal investigation.

If an investigator found that the officer lied about the relationship, Drago said, the officer should be fired. And if there was a sexual relationship at all, the chief should be fired, he said.

The officer’s elevation to full-time status in October concerned Drago, who said “the city’s almost forced to hire” her because of the appearance of bias if she were rejected for the promotion. “That’s why this chief of police should absolutely be gone,” he said.

Banda said: “Everybody just closed their eyes and didn’t do anything.”

WORK RELATIONSHIP QUESTIONS

Banda said the officer had few problems with Nason after she was hired full-time – until April 30, when she got a note from Nason on department letterhead saying she had been untruthful twice during last year’s investigation.

Nason wrote that if disclosure “creates any issue with the prosecution of cases,” or if other lies were discovered, the officer could lose her job. Nason’s attorney, McKee, denied that the notice was retaliatory.

Nason found out after the officer’s hiring in October that she had made false statements to state police about whether their relationship predated the incident on June 2, McKee said.

But Banda said the officer volunteered the information about the relationship to state police the day after the initial interview. He said the officer was still drunk and in the hospital when she was first interviewed by state police.

Banda wrote the city a letter denying that his client had lied, saying Nason has “a clear conflict of interest” and the notice appeared to have been in “direct retaliation” for her sexual-assault complaint.

McKee said the notice was required by law and not an attempt to bully the officer.

In response to Banda’s objections, the city rescinded the notice Nason wrote to the officer. Starn said it never went into her personnel file.

Nason notified Banda that it was rescinded in a letter on May 9, but said the action “in no way” excuses the officer’s untruthfulness.

Experts who examined case documents for the Kennebec Journal found issues with Nason being allowed to discipline the officer in the case in which he was accused.

Cassia Spohn, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University, described the police chief’s letter as “ethically problematic.”

Drago said any possible discipline against the officer should have been delegated to another employee, to guard against any appearance of a conflict.