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Editorial: Seastrand Resigns

It’s hard to decide which is more disturbing: the abuse of authority that David Seastrand allegedly engaged in and which led to his resignation last week as chief of the New London police, or the fact that he has gotten off relatively lightly for an act that, if the accusation is true, constitutes such a serious professional breach.

Seastrand is accused of attempting to sexually coerce a Colby-Sawyer student who had been arrested with other students on suspicion of underage drinking. According to a complaint filed at the beginning of March by the student, who has not been named, Seastrand called her into the police station a few days after the arrest and offered to drop the charges if she agreed to pose naked for photographs.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office investigated the complaint and announced last Thursday, about a month after the student filed her complaint, that Seastrand had agreed to resign and surrender his police certification. But Assistant Attorney General Jane Young also said that Seastrand would not be charged.

“Based on where the investigation was at this point, the immediate resignation was (an acceptable) result,” Young said. “We have to take into account risks associated with a trial. A trial would have been a number of months down the road. This ensures he left office today and will never be in a position to be an officer again.”

Yes, that is a good result, but is it sufficient?

It must be acknowledged that the allegation has not been proved. On the other hand, Seastrand’s willingness to resign and permanently leave law enforcement was made with the full knowledge of how it would be interpreted: that he did not choose to dispute an allegation that would bring him personal and professional disgrace.

The Attorney General’s Office’s concerns about the risk of going to trial are understandable and plausible: Alleged crimes involving circumstances in which two people are by themselves and one lodges a complaint against the other are notoriously difficult to prosecute. On the other hand, is there anything more horrifying than the thought that a man who has been trusted with the awesome power of law enforcement — authority that can deprive people of their liberty and damage their reputation — might use it to extract favors? That this alleged act of coercion involved the sexual exploitation of a young woman makes it all the more repulsive. Yes, the disgrace and forced resignation amount to a punishment of sorts, but a relatively light one if the allegation is true. We can only hope that the Attorney General’s Office’s calculation of the proper course of action was the right one.

It’s worth noting that the young woman was among a group of students who were arrested in connection with underage drinking. Uniformed officers arrested the others; Seastrand was in plain clothes and an unmarked car when he arrested the woman. That scenario raises questions about the conduct of the New London Police Department and the possibility that there may have been some level of coordination.

Because Seastrand’s alleged misbehavior is so heinous, we want to believe he acted alone. But the New London public can’t just take that for granted. The Attorney General’s Office should release as much information as possible to assure the public that other officers aren’t implicated and that the decision not to charge Seastrand was appropriate.