AUGUSTA — Former Waterville Senior High School Principal Don Reiter was summoned Thursday by law enforcement officials and charged with official oppression for asking an 18-year-old student for sex Aug. 27.

The class E misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to six months in the county jail, but most people charged with class E crimes are ordered to pay a fine, Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said at a press conference on the steps of the county courthouse Thursday morning.

The charge of official oppression “is a crime that holds public officials accountable for misuse of their office,” Maloney said.

Maloney said her office would have charged Reiter with attempted gross sexual assault if the victim had been under the age of 18. It’s against Maine law for an educator to have sexual contact with a student under age 18, while the general age of sexual consent in Maine is 16.

Maloney, who served as a state representative for two years before becoming district attorney in 2013, suggested the Legislature should “take another look” at the gross sexual assault statute concerning educators because “the same power dynamic applies whether the student is 17 or 18.”

“I’m not sure why the Legislature made that cutoff,” she said.

Reiter, principal at Waterville Senior High School since 2007, was fired Monday by the Waterville Board of Education nearly six weeks after Superintendent Eric Haley recommended he be dismissed. Reiter had been on administrative leave since Sept. 1 as the school department investigated an allegation he’d propositioned a student the first day of school, Aug. 27, calling her into his office and saying he chooses a student to have sex with every year “and this year I’ve picked you.” Reiter allegedly told the student no one had ever turned him down before, and as she tried to leave his office, he told her she would not graduate from school.

During hearings before the school board, Reiter’s attorney, Gregg Frame, said the student was not on track to graduate and Reiter was only trying to help her. Frame said the student made an advance on Reiter.

After his dismissal Monday, Reiter, who was paid $102,000 a year, was paid accrued vacation time and other benefits earned, Haley said.

Haley said that he will bring a plan on what to do about the position to the school board Dec. 2. Assistant Principal Brian Laramee has been filling in since Reiter was put on administrative leave.

Maloney said the official oppression statute holds public officials and those in positions of trust to a higher standard and that the charge “fits the scenario perfectly, because he was a public official,” and “people put an enormous amount of trust in (public officials).”

But Augusta attorney Walter McKee, who is representing Reiter in the criminal case, said in a written statement released after the press conference that Maloney’s case against his client “has more issues than National Geographic.” McKee said there would be a vigorous defense in the case.

“The facts are disputed, the law doesn’t fit, and there are huge evidentiary problems for the state,” McKee said in an email. “The crime of official oppression is an anti-corruption statute. Trying to apply it here is a huge stretch, and I am being very generous.”

At the press conference, Maloney said the student was “saddened” to learn that former students at Mascenic Regional High School in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, where Reiter worked from 1998 to 2004, also allege they were victimized by him.

One former student in New Hampshire told Waterville police last week that she had a sexual relationship with Reiter just before or after she graduated. Another former student said she had an inappropriate relationship with him when she was 17, and he sent her 147 pages of letters in which he professed his love for her, referring to their “taboo” relationship.

Maloney said she has received copies of those letters from Waterville police but has not been in touch with officials in New Hampshire about the case.

“She’s not heartened by the information from New Hampshire,” Maloney said of the Waterville victim later Thursday morning in a telephone interview. “She’s heartened by people publicly saying now that they believe her. People have said they believe her now who didn’t believe her before, and that makes a difference to her.”

The allegations from former New Hampshire students did not play a role in the decision to charge Reiter, Maloney said. “I had already decided a crime had been committed,” Maloney said.

Even so, she plans to ask the judge for the letters and other information from the New Hampshire allegations to be part of the trial because she thinks it illustrates planning and motive in the Waterville case.

The New Hampshire allegations “caused me to come at it as a case where it was all the more important he be held accountable,” Maloney said. “When someone engages in a pattern — we call it uncharged conduct — it makes the case more serious.”

A RARE CHARGE

Maloney said this is the first time since she became district attorney in 2013 that she has charged anyone with official oppression.

“It’s not a frequent charge,” she said. “Usually, there is a more serious case you can bring.”

Jim Burke, clinical professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law, said he had not heard of the charge being used in Maine before, and “I’m fairly comfortable saying it’s not used too often.”

Even if the charge itself is uncommon, Burke said the concept is not. He pointed to a recent case in Cumberland County in which a Westbrook man was convicted of impersonating a police officer to intimidate prostitutes into having sex with him for free. The man was convicted on several counts, including impersonating a public servant.

“It’s obviously different. It’s impersonating, but again, it’s taking advantage of an official capacity,” Burke said.

In addition, Burke finds similarities with federal civil cases that are commonly brought, known as “1983 cases,” typically in situations where someone “acting under the pillar of state law deprives someone of a civil liberty.” Those federal cases most commonly involve a false arrest or police misconduct, he said.

“It’s the concept of using official capacity to gain something you’re not otherwise entitled to,” Burke said. “So the concept is not unheard of. It’s misusing power.”

Maloney said the charge against Reiter was decided in consultation with police.

“This is unusual,” she said. “They did ask me to review everything first and make that decision before giving him the summons.”

After learning of the student’s allegation Aug. 27, Haley and Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot conducted an in-house investigation, while police conducted a separate investigation and forwarded their report to Maloney Sept. 25. The Waterville Board of Education held about 12 hours of hearings over two days last week, as well as Monday night, before voting 6-1 to dismiss Reiter. Much of the evidence at the hearing was given in private session.

Maloney said she waited to announce the charge until after the school board finished its decision because she did not want to interfere with the board’s process.

“I didn’t want there to be any hint that their decision was influenced by what I’m doing,” she said.

In response to a question about how strong the evidence is in the case, Maloney said whenever there is a case involving sexual assault or serious domestic violence, it’s always going to be a he said-she said.

“You have to decide who to believe,” she said. “If I believe the victim in a case, I bring this case forward.”

She said, “There are a number of corroborating facts about what happened on that day (Aug. 27).” Maloney said she is not allowed to go into detail about the case before it goes to a jury trial, which she thinks could occur as early as next summer.

Maloney said she has spoken at length, in person and on the phone to the student who made the allegation against Reiter and believes her. The student has been devastated by comments from those who have ridiculed her and called her a liar, Maloney said.

The student who made the allegations is cooperating fully, she said, and has found strength since coming forward.

“It is critical that she want to participate in this case,” Maloney said. “I obviously don’t have a case without her cooperation.”

But Maloney said the student was devastated to learn of the new allegations from New Hampshire students.

“She was hoping to be the only one. She was hoping that when he told her that he had done this before, that was simply a lie, that he hadn’t actually done it,” Maloney said.

HEALING A SCHOOL

Asked what she would say to students of Waterville Senior High School about the case, Maloney said that they should know that there is information about the case that is not available to them.

As much as possible, they should reserve judgment until decisions are made in the case, she said.

Meanwhile, Haley said he and Thiboutot are formulating a comprehensive plan for how to move forward for the rest of the year, which is what will be presented to the school board Wednesday, Dec. 2.

Haley declined comment Monday on the criminal charge against Reiter.

He did, however, talk about what happens from here and about how students, staff and administration officials will start the healing process.

Much of the audience at the school board hearings, many of them teachers, vocally supported Reiter, at one point giving him a standing ovation.

Information about the student who made the allegation, including her name, was also made public by some supporters. School board member Pamela Trinward said Tuesday, “Let’s be honest, there was a lot more information that got out than should have” about the student, and that information came from high school staff.

Haley didn’t address that issue Thursday, but he said there are a lot of hurt feelings and feelings of betrayal because people felt loyal to Reiter, but information came out that altered those feelings.

Haley, who has faced criticism from some people for his recommendation to dismiss Reiter, said he understands their feelings and wants them to know he holds no grudges.

“Some people got betrayed and they’re hurt, and I think some people are fearful that, because they stood by him, I’m angry with them, and I’m not, and I want to make sure that’s out there,” Haley said. “I understand that people have loyalty and they believe in people and they want to stand behind them in times of need. I feel bad about it and I tell them, don’t feel bad — loyalty is a good thing in many ways.”

He recalled a witness in the case being asked if she thought Reiter was capable of doing what he was charged with, and she replied with a question about how anyone knows such a thing — how anyone knows if any person in the entire room is capable of such a thing.

“I thought it was a great answer,” Haley said.

He said he and Thiboutot have discussed the healing process, and he is confident that the school will heal from the hurt of the last few months,

With Laramee as acting principal, former assistant principal Paul Pooler, who retired in 2007, the same year Reiter was hired, came back to serve as assistant principal.

Laramee was hired as assistant principal in 2011. Pooler was assistant principal in 1994-95 and retired in 2007. He has been with the schools since 1972 in various capacities, including as a science teacher, physical education teacher and high school athletic director, according to Haley.

Pooler will be at the school every day until February vacation and then he plans to go south until April, Haley said.

The school board will hold its annual open house from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 2, and discussion of the plan for the rest of the year will start at 5 p.m., Haley said.

“We’ll get through it,” he said. “We have a great staff.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17