HALLOWELL — Police Chief Eric Nason will retire in April after more than 30 years on the force, capping a career as a native son whose community policing has earned him accolades among many locals.

But Nason’s tenure was also marked by controversy six years ago when a female officer with the department said he sexually assaulted her, sparking an investigation that resulted in no criminal charges and tense debates at City Hall about whether he should continue on the job.

City officials will soon begin reviewing applications for his position, which has a salary of $64,760. Officials are hoping to hire a new police chief by April 1.

Hallowell has a population of about 2,300 and the police department has 10 positions, including three full-time officers, a patrol sergeant and five reserves, or part-time, officers.

Nason, 54, moved to Hallowell from Woburn, Massachusetts, in 1974, when he was 6 years old. He said his first home was at 44 Water St., which is now a hair salon.

“All my family was up here,” he said. “My mom and dad are from here; from Gardiner, actually.”

Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason, seen in January 1991 when he was a patrol officer leading a Drug Abuse Resistance Education class at Hall-Dale Elementary School, will be retiring from the force in April. Kennebec Journal file photo Buy this Photo

After graduating from Hall-Dale High School, he began working construction, but quickly realized it wasn’t for him. His law enforcement career started as a corrections officer at the Kennebec County jail in Augusta, where he worked while taking criminal justice courses at the University of Maine at Augusta. Nason became a sergeant at the jail, but moved to a part-time position with the Hallowell Police Department in 1987.

That kicked off a path that saw him become a patrolman in 1989, a supervisor in 1995, and then the police chief in 2005.

“There was really no looking back,” he said of the start of his career in Hallowell.

Maine Chiefs of Police Association Executive Director Edward J. Tolan, who served as the police chief in Falmouth for 23 years, said he thought it was uncommon for police officers working in their hometown to stay on for a long period of time, but it could have been more common in the past.

Eric Nason, left, then a Hallowell police deputy chief in February 2002, is seen with patrolman Julian Harwood, center, who had recently received an award for his outstanding work. Then-Chief Rodney Myrick is at right. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

Former Hallowell Police Chief Rodney Myrick said Nason was a “good, hard, dedicated worker” and well-liked by the citizens of Hallowell.

“He took on more work than he had to,” Myrick said. “People liked him and he was courteous. He took care of business when he had to.”

But Nason said being a Hallowell native made it difficult to decompress from his job after his shift ended. He said working for the Hallowell department may not have been his most lucrative career option, but it was never about money.

“I can remember I had somebody stop by my house on a Saturday with two elderly people and dropped them off in my driveway because they had walked away from a nursing home,” he said. “It was never a job where you work your eight hours and go home.”

“I probably could have gone somewhere and made more money,” he said. “It was never about money; it was just about trying to do what I could for the people that are here.”

Nason said his biggest achievement was keeping the department running on a small budget, especially with job retention rates in law enforcement being low. He said the city’s “vibrant community” requires more than meets the eye from the police department, including increased downtown patrols when bars are open and meticulous planning for the city’s six annual parades.

“It’s a good thing that we do these kinds of things, but they require planning and they require things of the police department,” he said. “We have a downtown that is sometimes just getting started at 8, 9 o’clock at night. Hallowell doesn’t close … like some towns do.”

Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason and the department’s cat, Granite, are seen Tuesday at the police station on bottom floor of Hallowell City Hall. The cat’s name is a nod to Hallowell’s historic granite quarries that were once landmark industries there in the 19th and 20th centuries. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

When asked what advice he would give the next chief, he said to get out and meet people and experience the city. He also said the new chief will have to take on a lot of difficult, important tasks that are Hallowell-specific, like coordinating different patrols for Old Hallowell Day.

Nason’s retirement is the biggest shake-up to the department since it attracted attention from numerous local news sources after adopting a stray cat back in October 2019. Granite, named after the city’s historically important quarries, now patrols the bottom floor of the City Hall, keeping officers company during long overnight shifts.

 

‘LACK OF JUDGMENT’

Nason’s tenure was called into question after allegations of sexual assault leveled against him from a female officer went public in 2014.

The Kennebec Journal reported in 2014 that Nason had been the subject of a four-month-long investigation by Maine State Police over an allegation that he sexually assaulted a female Hallowell police officer at his camp in West Gardiner on June 2, 2013. State police concluded their investigation without filing charges and Nason denied wrongdoing.

During a December 2014 City Council meeting, Nason apologized to city councilors for what he described as a relationship with a subordinate and said that his “lack of judgment” had hurt his family and caused “embarrassment to the community that I love.”

He was reappointed as police chief in 2015 by a 5-2 vote. Lynn Irish, who was a councilor at the time of Nason’s reappointment in 2015 and who voted to keep him on the job, said in a recent interview that the overwhelming public opinion was to have Nason remain in the position.

The female officer, whose identity was not published by Kennebec Journal because she was a victim of an alleged sexual assault, received $60,000 in late January 2017 under terms of a settlement to resolve the matter. After publicity around that allegation, another woman told Hallowell officials that Nason had taken a pornographic picture of her as she slept while they dated in 1997. A private investigator hired by the city to look into the Rome woman’s claim said that while Nason admitted having seen the photo, he said he didn’t recall taking it.

Reflecting on that contentious period this past week, Nason said the process would have been different if “people would have been honest.” He added that he used the incident as an incentive to be a better employee of the city.

“I don’t really want to recognize people that aren’t truthful,” he said. “I was honest. Why can’t everybody else be honest in the process?”

Irish said she was “very sorry” that Nason is retiring, adding that he was fair and good for Hallowell’s community.

 

COMMUNITY REACTION

Hallowell Fire Chief Jim Owens called Nason “extremely professional” and said Nason helped him through his first budget processes as the fire chief.

“He’s been one of the most professional police officers and genuinely nice people I’ve dealt with,” he said. “We’ve had an excellent relationship with (Nason) and the police department since I’ve been here.”

Hallowell Police Chief Eric Nason, seen in August 2003 when he was a patrol officer, checks the scene after truck lost its brakes going down the Winthrop Street hill and crashed into a Water Street building in downtown Hallowell. Kennebec Journal file photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

Nate Rudy, Hallowell’s city manager, said Nason understands the community and “has shaped the Police Department to meet people where they are, frequently under stressful situations requiring compassion and a calm mind, while also enforcing local ordinances and the law in a way that has kept Hallowell safe.”

Wayne Hyde, owner of the Hydeout at the Wharf, said he hasn’t had too much interaction with Nason at his business, but said he has been helpful whenever there was a flooding concern. Hyde recalled the 2018 flood that damaged cars and his business along Wharf Street and Front Street.

“(Nason) came down and said this is what we were looking at,” Hyde said of the day the flood came. “We heard this crack and 20 minutes later, the water was running. (Police) were running up and down the road.”

City Councilor Diana Scully said she “had a soft spot in (her) heart” for Nason. She said her first interaction with Nason was about 30 years ago, when her son, James, got stuck while climbing in a tree in front of her house.

“James climbed and climbed and climbed high up into that tree. When he looked down, he froze in fear,” Scully said. “There was no way I was going to climb that high up and bring both of us crashing down to the ground, so I called the police. Officer Nason quickly arrived on the scene, easily scampered up that tree, and rescued my son.”


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