AUGUSTA — A judge is deciding whether to release a Maine State Police report of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault by Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason involving one of his subordinate officers that did not result in criminal charges.

Justice Donald Marden heard oral arguments Friday in Kennebec County Superior Court in a case in which the Kennebec Journal seeks release of that report under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. The Maine State Police have refused to release the report, and the newspaper appealed to the court.

A female officer of the Hallowell Police Department reported in June 2013 that she was sexually assaulted by the town’s police chief, Nason. State police closed their investigation Oct. 18 and filed no charges, about a week after the Hallowell City Council promoted the part-time reserve officer to a full-time position, per Nason’s recommendation, on Oct. 7.

City councilors didn’t learn about the state police investigation until May, according to the mayor. Nason continues to supervise the officer.

The chief denies wrongdoing, saying through his attorney, Walter McKee, that the incident was “a 100 percent consensual encounter” and that Nason and the officer “were involved in an intimate relationship” previously. McKee said the allegations made by the officer against Nason were unfounded.

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

Attorney Matthew Warner, representing the Kennebec Journal, argued Friday that there is substantial public interest in releasing the state police report for the “completeness and thoroughness of the investigation,” interest in the integrity of the Hallowell Police Department and in the city’s retaining both officers. He also said it is important to the public’s confidence in the state police, the district attorney and the local government.

“The public interest is so substantial that disclosure is warranted,” Warner said.

“The newspaper’s not requesting details of the assault for the sake of the details of the assault,” he said later. “The interest here is in the investigation itself.”

At one point the judge asked Warner, “You’re not suggesting a cover-up?”

Warner replied, “No, your honor.”

Assistant Attorney General Laura Yustak Smith, representing the Maine State Police, countered by saying that releasing the report would result in a substantial invasion of personal privacy. Under the state’s Freedom of Access Act, exemptions are outlined that would keep records confidential, including an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

“We’re talking about the most intimate aspects of people’s lives,” Smith said.

Warner suggested the police report could be released but with personal privacy information redacted, or blacked out.

“The fact that the newspaper seeks the information doesn’t establish the public interest,” Smith said. She also objected to any release of a report with names redacted, saying because the Hallowell Police Department is so small, “we pretty much know who those people are.”

“You could redact every single name from those reports and you would still have an incredible invasion of these people’s privacy,” Smith said. She also said the release of a redacted report would result in dissemination that “alters the substance of the records and misleads the public.”

She urged the judge to allow municipal officials to take whatever action they deem appropriate through ongoing personnel proceedings. Smith said other statutes protect people’s privacy, such as laws governing protection from abuse and personnel actions.

“I think what we have to do is avoid looking at the Freedom of Access Act as existing in its own private silo,” she said.

Warner said that the privacy interests of the police chief and the victim “are at least diminished … because of their numerous disclosures to the press.” He cited case details released by McKee and Banda for Kennebec Journal stories about the incident.

Warner also asked the judge to look at the matter as a “narrow, specific case” because it involves a high-ranking public official. Taking that narrow approach will “not open the floodgates” to other such police reports being made public involving allegations against public officials, Warner said.

Attorney Erin Lundberg, representing the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, also weighed in on the case during Friday’s hearing, urging the judge not to release the investigative report. She said the court should take a “victim-centered” approach when considering the issues.

“The release of personal details by the state, rather than the victim, would have a chilling effect on disclosures,” Lundberg told the judge.

At the end of the hearing, Marden said he would issue a written order in the case.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams