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Students, Residents Shocked: Seastrand Was a Popular Figure in Town and On Campus

  • Colby Sawyer College students Sophia Bachman, left, and Arlyn Boulard chat yesterday at the New London school.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Colby Sawyer College students Sophia Bachman, left, and Arlyn Boulard chat yesterday at the New London school.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Colby-Sawyer College students Ashley Wall, Josh Tillis and Kody Pitkin discuss the allegations against David Seastrand, New London’s former police chief, who resigned this week amid a probe into his conduct by the state. The woman in the white coat did not want to be idenified. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Colby-Sawyer College students Ashley Wall, Josh Tillis and Kody Pitkin discuss the allegations against David Seastrand, New London’s former police chief, who resigned this week amid a probe into his conduct by the state. The woman in the white coat did not want to be idenified. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Colby Sawyer College students Sophia Bachman, left, and Arlyn Boulard chat yesterday at the New London school.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Colby-Sawyer College students Ashley Wall, Josh Tillis and Kody Pitkin discuss the allegations against David Seastrand, New London’s former police chief, who resigned this week amid a probe into his conduct by the state. The woman in the white coat did not want to be idenified. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

New London — The town’s police department sits almost directly across the street from Colby-Sawyer College, a prime vantage point from which to keep tabs on the picturesque campus.

Several students at the 1,415-enrollment liberal arts college on Main Street said yesterday that the while officers have a presence on campus, tension between police and the student body has been almost non-existent.

However, news of allegations that former longtime police chief David Seastrand tried to coerce a female student into posing for nude photos in exchange for having two minor criminal charges dropped cast a different light yesterday on this amiable relationship.

“He always seemed like he was in a good mood, a laid-back guy,” Kody Pitkin, a freshman at Colby-Sawyer, said of Seastrand.

A quiet sense of shock rippled through New London yesterday, as residents and students absorbed details of the scandal and contemplated what comes next.

“It’s shocking because it’s such a small town,” said Ashley Wall, a junior, huddled with a group of friends outside Burpee Hall yesterday. “We’re really close with the police department.”

Seastrand, a 27-year police veteran who had held the top town law enforcement position since 1996, agreed to resign effective immediately on Wednesday as part of a negotiated settlement that ended a criminal investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office, which received a complaint from the unnamed female student on March 6. Seastrand also surrendered his police certification, meaning he cannot work as a police officer again. He will not be prosecuted.

Yesterday, many residents in this upscale college town were having trouble reconciling the police chief they had come to know with the behavior alleged by the student.

Doug Lyon served more than a decade on the town’s Selectboard and also worked as vice president of finance and administration and treasurer for the college between 1989 and 2012.

“I found (Seastrand) to be professional, sensitive to women’s issues and a spokesperson for solid community policing,” Lyon said yesterday, adding he was “extremely surprised” at the news.

Cotton Cleveland, a former New London town moderator, wrote in an email that she has known Seastrand for more than 20 years and always considered him in a positive light. Their sons played in a basketball league together, she wrote, during which she saw him as a “devoted father.”

“He has been widely admired for his many good works and his reputation in the community has been excellent,” she wrote.

In fact, during the college’s 2007 commencement, Seastrand was awarded one of its “Town-Gown Awards,” which are given to “recognize successful collaboration between the college and local communities,” according to a news release from that year.

“The attitude of the chief, and consequently of his officers, is that we are in this together to create a safer community for all,” Campus Safety Director Peter Berthiaume said in the release. “It’s this attitude that makes the relationship between the town of New London and Colby-Sawyer College a model for other college towns across the country.”

The college said that “the safety, well-being and privacy” of students is the school’s “top priority” in a prepared statement sent out yesterday.

In an interview, former town administrator Jessie Levine also noted the long history of ooperation between the town and school. For instance, she said, in the late 1990s, the college donated to the town a guest residence that is now Town Hall.

“It’s been a great relationship between the town and the school,” Levine said. “It’s devastating.”

Several store owners on bustling Main Street knew Seastrand personally and expressed dismay at the news.

Don Boxwell, who co-runs Tatewell Gallery, said Seastrand was an extremely visible chief who wasn’t above directing traffic.

Boxwell, who has known the former chief for 26 years, called him personable, outgoing and fair.

“It sounds so out of character that I really — it doesn’t make sense to me,” Boxwell said.

“It’s just out of character,” he reiterated a short time later. “That’s — I would trust the man with my life. And I guess I probably have at some point in time.”

According to Boxwell and several other business owners, there hadn’t been much public conversation yesterday about the scandal, at least loudly.

“I’m surprised, like everybody else was,” said Peggy Holliday, co-owner of Morgan Hill Bookstore on Main Street. “And I’m sad. I think everybody’s saddened by this.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248. Staff writer Mark Davis contributed to this report.

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