ROCKLAND — The three young women who accused former Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Kenneth Hatch III of sexually assaulting them expressed pain and frustration Friday after all charges of sexual misconduct were dropped in a plea agreement with the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

In exchange for avoiding a new trial on the more serious charges, Hatch pleaded no contest to a single charge of providing a place for a minor to consume liquor. The misdemeanor count means the Whitefield man will spend no time in jail and pay a fine of $1,000.

Hatch had been charged with 22 felonies – 11 counts of sexual abuse of a minor, three counts of unlawful sexual contact and eight counts of aggravated furnishing of marijuana. He was accused of sexually assaulting three girls and providing them marijuana and alcohol in exchange for sex.

At the trial last fall, prosecutors said Hatch was a decorated officer by day, but at night was a different person, a man who preyed on girls for his own sexual gratification. Testimony during the trial stated that the sexual assaults occurred in his cruiser, his home and once in a cubicle at the sheriff’s office. One victim was 6 years old when the assaults began, the prosecutor said.

A jury in Kennebec County found Hatch not guilty Nov. 20 on one count of sexual abuse of a minor and one count of aggravated furnishing of marijuana. But jurors deadlocked on the other 20 charges.

Assistant Attorney General John Risler said the decision to reach the plea agreement was based on the assessment that a retrial would likely not have resulted in a conviction.

Risler said the conviction means that Hatch will not be able to work in law enforcement.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills took the unusual step of Friday of defending the plea agreement.

“We support the victims, these brave survivors. We believe them,” Mills said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, the jury did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hatch was guilty of these crimes. Fortunately, he will never work in law enforcement again.”

Mills said such sexual abuse should not be allowed to occur or go unpunished.

“We must change the culture so that no one feels afraid to speak up, no one is coerced or intimidated into having sex without consent and no one feels they can use a position of power or authority to prey on others who are younger or less powerful than they,” she said. “We applaud the women in this case for speaking up and only regret that the jury did not convict Mr. Hatch and that significant legal issues prevented a retrial.”

The women who had come forward against Hatch, however, criticized the agreement. The Portland Press Herald has not named the women because it does not identify victims of alleged sexual abuse without their consent.

One of the young women spoke at the hearing Friday and said the victims should have had a say in the decision. She said it was unfair that he was able to get away with his crimes because of his position as a police officer.

The woman said she knew it would be difficult coming forward but that it was the right thing to do. She said Hatch betrayed her.

The mother of one of the other women read a statement from her daughter who said her life will never be the same and that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, has anxiety attacks and horrible nightmares. Her daughter moved out of state because of what happened.

The victim witness advocate spoke on behalf of the third woman, who expressed similar feelings and said she felt betrayed.

Hatch said nothing during Friday’s hearing other than pleading no contest. A no contest plea results in a conviction.

The Class D offense could have resulted in a year in jail. Superior Court Justice William Stokes accepted the plea agreement and pointed out that the jury in Kennebec County had worked hard on the case.

Defense attorney Richard Elliott had said during his statements to the jury in November that all three accusers knew each other and had an ax to grind against the deputy.

Hatch, a former Deputy of the Year, was fired last month following a lengthy internal investigation. He had been on unpaid leave from the sheriff’s office since he was charged in June 2016.

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