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New London Looks Past Chief Scandal

New London — Newly released details about alleged inappropriate behavior — much of it sexual — by the town’s former police chief point to how women are vulnerable to men who abuse their power, said anti-sexual violence advocates this week.

But the issue is not one that town officials and administrators at Colby-Sawyer College appeared eager to discuss in the wake of a report by investigators that contains numerous incidents alleging how former New London Police Chief David Seastrand pressed women to pose for photographs in exchange for leniency or help on misdemeanor charges.

And if residents are looking forward to the issue being raised by members of the Selectboard, they may be disappointed. Selectboard Chairwoman Christina M. Helm said earlier this week it is a topic that members will probably not discuss again, and she wouldn’t comment on questions over whether Seastrand was abusing his power.

“It was just a very sad time for New London,” Helm said. “We’re moving on. I don’t really have more to say. The whole story is very disturbing.”

Last week, several news organizations received transcripts from the Attorney General’s Office about its investigation into former New London Police Chief David Seastrand, who resigned last April amid allegations that he pressured a Colby-Sawyer College student to take nude photographs in exchange for dropping a charge of underage drinking.

The Attorney General’s Office documents detail the accounts of three other women who claim they had inappropriate encounters with Seastrand. One woman alleged that the former chief offered her $200 if she’d pose for photographs for a “friend.” Another woman told investigators that Seastrand paid a speeding ticket on helf behalf her after she modeled for him in lingerie. And a third woman said Seastrand drove her to a secluded area in a marked police cruiser, asked her to undress, and took photos before he had sex with her.

Numerous people had strong reactions to the news, including Lyn Schollett, the executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, an umbrella organization of 14 crisis centers in New Hampshire, including Lebanon-based WISE.

Schollett said she was “outraged” when she read the latest report about Seastrand’s alleged behavior and called the alleged acts “sexual exploitation.”

“I think what we see in Chief Seastrand’s behavior is a very purposeful planned pattern of exploiting women,” Schollett said. “What we see in (his) behavior is a very purposeful selection of victims. Victims who needed something like a ticket resolved and he exploited that need.”

Schollett also called Seastrand’s alleged behavior “predatory” because it appears as if he intentionally selected the women that he allegedly targeted based on the accounts in the Attorney General’s report.

Seastrand’s attorney, Nicholas Brodich, could not be reached for comment.

Reaction to the report about Seastrand were mixed among area residents this week. Residents approached on Wednesday said they hadn’t read the latest report and didn’t feel comfortable commenting on it; others simply said they had no opinion.

But some like Dan Gilbert, a Wilmot resident who often does carpentry work in New London and was eating lunch in town on Wednesday, had a very strong opinion. Gilbert said he was shocked to read that the Attorney General’s investigation reported the alleged acts occurred in Seastrand’s personal capacity and “did not purport to be acts of his office,” although Gilbert found that the investigation alleges that Seastrand was using his police car and wearing his uniform.

Gilbert said it was “ridiculous” that there were no criminal charges against the former police chief.

“The whole picture-taking thing is consistent in all the stories as a ploy to get them take their clothes off,”

Yet still others, such as Doug MacMichael, simply don’t believe the women’s stories. MacMichael said he is a friend of Seastrand and said the reports are too much “he said, she said.”

“I just don’t think he did it,” MacMichael said. “I just don’t think there’s any truth to it. He’s done a lot of good for people.”

MacMichael also criticized the Attorney General’s investigation, saying it dragged on too long, which hurt the image of the police department. He also questioned why they didn’t come forward immediately.

However, Schollett, the anti-sexual violence advocate, said such behavior is typical in sexual assault cases. Once one woman steps forward, more women will volunteer their stories, especially if they see that the patterns are similar.

While some were shocked by the allegations contained in the Attorney General’s investigation, New London’s town and college officials say they are ready to move on and sidestepped questions about Seastrand.

On Friday, Town Administrator Kimberly Hallquist said she hadn’t read the recent news story about the former police chief and didn’t plan to read the Attorney General’s report .

“I’m not interested in it. I don’t have to read it,” Hallquist said.

Hallquist confirmed that Seastrand is receiving his pension and that video cameras have been installed in the police station. And Helm said the town hasn’t hired a new police chief yet, but it has gone through a detailed interview process and an appointment will be announced soon.

Edward Andersen is the acting chief, and Helm said he has applied for the position.

Thomas Galligan, Jr., president of Colby-Sawyer College, shared a sentiment similar to Helm’s. Galligan said anything that puts his students at risk concerns him, although he declined direct comment on the allegations against Seastrand.

After the initial allegation was reported by Janelle Westfall, the Colby-Sawyer student, Galligan said he and other college administrators met with town officials. At that time, town officials promised to review police procedures.

“We’ve moved forward with them on a very positive foot without trying to undermine the seriousness of the allegations as other fact finding went on,” Galligan said.

Gender studies professor Ann Page Stecker, who has lived in New London for 35 years, also sidestepped questions directly related to Seastrand, excplaining “it’s a small town.” The only time she spoke of Seastrand directly was when she said the trust between the public and the police department was violated.

“I praise the courage of the student who recognized a disparity and asked for help and spoke the truth as she knew it,” Page Stecker said.

Richard Lehmann, the attorney who represents Westfall, said he is nearly certain that lawsuits will be filed in the case on behalf of his client. Lehmann added that he has spoken to the other three women who came forward, although he does not currently represent them.

“I’m really looking forward to looking at who in New London should have been keeping an eye on what was going on in the police station,” Lehmann said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com.