As soon as Hallowell City Manager Michael Starn knew about a past relationship between Police Chief Eric Nason and a subordinate officer, it was his responsibility to determine if it was affecting the operation of the department.

It was also his duty to protect the officer as the state police investigated her allegations of sexual assault against Nason.

As soon as the mayor at the time, Charlotte Warren, also was made aware of the relationship and the investigation, it was her responsibility to make sure the city manager was doing his job.

But most of all, it was Nason’s responsibility to stay clear of any behavior that would compromise his ability to lead.

Nason’s inappropriate relationship calls into question his judgment. The reaction by Starn and Warren calls into question their leadership.

All of it puts the police department’s ability to operate at risk, and leaves a mess that won’t be easy to clean up.

KEPT QUIET

The officer alleges the sexual assault took place June 2, 2013, at Nason’s camp, after a night of drinking. Nason, 48, and the officer, 22, had prior to that night a brief intimate relationship, but the officer had since ended it, according to her lawyer.

Neither side disputes that a sexual encounter happened that night. The officer says she was too intoxicated to consent, while Nason’s lawyer calls it “a 100 percent consensual encounter.”

After the officer returned home, she called a fellow Hallowell police officer, who drove her to the hospital and called the state police to report the sexual assault.

Not much is known about the ensuing Maine State Police investigation, which began the next day and closed Oct. 18 without any apparent action. (The Kennebec Journal has sued the state seeking release of reports related to the case.)

Starn, Nason’s supervisor, was informed about the investigation soon after it started. Yet he saw no problem in having a police chief accused of sexual assault on a subordinate continue to oversee that subordinate, placing the officer in an impossible situation.

Further, as the prior relationship came to light, Starn apparently saw no issue with that, either, even though that relationship, while brief, now puts in question every decision Nason has made or will make in relation to that officer.

OBLIGATION TO ACT

Hallowell does not have a policy that prohibits that kind of relationship — though it should. But Nason’s actions were clearly disrupting the department, and at the very least put the city in jeopardy of a lawsuit. It was Starn’s obligation to act.

He should have authorized an independent investigation into Nason’s actions, separate from the state police investigation, which was focused solely on the sexual assault allegation.

Starn instead chose to leave it in “other people’s hands,” as he told the newspaper. He also chose not to inform the City Council about the investigation.

The relationship was off-duty and consensual, Starn said, tossing aside the question of whether a sexual relationship between a boss and a subordinate can truly be consensual. The U.S. military certainly doesn’t think so.

Starn isn’t the only one who didn’t act.

Then-Mayor Warren also found out about the investigation shortly after it began, and she also chose not to tell the council, which didn’t find out about the investigation until this May, through anonymous letters.

Warren passed the information on to Starn, and left it at that.

OUT IN THE OPEN

But again, the city had further investigative obligations, as the latest developments in this case clearly show.

First, the officer was promoted from part time to full time in October, just before the state police investigation was closed.

Then, on April 30, the officer, who stands by her allegations, received an official notice from Nason reprimanding her for lying during the state police investigation.

While in the hospital, during the initial police interview, her attorney said, the officer suggested that no prior relationship existed between her and Nason, before correcting the record soon thereafter.

The notice from Nason was later rescinded, though the chief still did not excuse the officer’s “untruthfulness.”

So, was the officer’s promotion related in some way to the investigation? Was the notice in retaliation for the allegations? Was it rescinded to cover Nason and the department against claims of retaliation?

Those questions, and others like them, will continue to dog the department.

But now, with the whole matter out in the open, the city cannot avoid them any longer.


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