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Editorial: Seastrand Investigation; Too Little Information Provided

New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster’s decision not to bring criminal charges against former New London Police Chief David Seastrand over allegations of sexual misconduct is anything but reassuring. That’s not because the decision, announced last week, was demonstrably wrong, but because the attorney general failed to provide enough information to demonstrate that it was the right call.

Seastrand, of course, was allowed to resign and relinquish his police certification last April after a freshman at Colby-Sawyer College whom he had arrested alleged that Seastrand had offered to drop charges of underage drinking if she would pose nude for photographs. Given that resolution, the Attorney General’s Office said, it concluded its investigation without bringing criminal charges.

This struck us at the time as relatively light punishment for what, if the allegation was true, amounted to gross professional misconduct. And given Seastrand’s willingness to resign and leave law enforcement permanently, the allegation certainly appeared credible.

Shortly thereafter, three more women came forward with complaints, and these were the subject of the investigation by Foster’s office that concluded last week. In announcing the decision not to prosecute, the Attorney General’s Office provided the following narrative: “One adult female reported sexual contact with Seastrand while he was working as Chief of the New London Police. A second adult female reported that Seastrand paid her speeding ticket with a check, believed to be a money order, in exchange for posing for Seastrand in lingerie. And, a third adult female reported that Seastrand offered her cash in exchange for taking photographs of her, an offer that she did not accept.

“After thoroughly investigating each complaint, it was determined that the allegations, while disturbing, did not rise to the level of criminal conduct. Moreover, each of the alleged instances involved actions by Seastrand in his personal capacity, and did not purport to be acts of his office.”

This account is sketchy at best, and raises a number of questions. The first is whether all three incidents were alleged to have occurred while Seastrand was chief of police in New London; a second is whether the speeding ticket referred to was issued by New London police; a third is how the attorney general determined that the alleged incidents involved personal, rather than professional, interactions with Seastrand. The phrase “did not purport to be acts of his office” sheds exactly no light on the subject.

A fuller explanation of how that determination was made is needed because disentangling the public role from the private life of a police chief is difficult at best. Police officers occupy a unique, and uniquely powerful, position in society through their power to deprive people of liberty and their state-sanctioned use of force. The mere fact that an officer is not in uniform at the time does not mean that a woman might not feel coerced to grant a sexual favor, assuming she was aware of his profession.

In any case, the outcome of this latest investigation casts further doubt on the wisdom of the decision to allow Seastrand to resign in return for not bringing charges in the original case. At the time, Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said that the negotiated resolution took into account the risks of going to trial and ensured that Seastrand left office immediately. To be sure, trials are risky business, and the outcome is never certain. But there are also risks in creating the impression that police misconduct of a serious nature is adequately resolved by merely ensuring that it can’t happen again under the color of law. That hardly seems like an adequate deterrent, nor does it do justice to victims.