Attorney Hannah Kaufman Joseph announces the filing of a civil lawsuit against Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill during a press conference in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. Kaufman Joseph, is joined by by the accusers, left to right Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, Samantha Lozano, Niki DaSilva and Gabrielle McLemore. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Indiana attorney general won't be charged in alleged groping

October 23, 2018 - 6:18 pm

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A special prosecutor said Tuesday he will not charge Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill with a crime even though he believes allegations from four women that Hill drunkenly groped them at a party in March. Attorneys for the lawmaker and legislative staffers who accuse Hill said the case isn't over because they plan to file a civil lawsuit against him.

Special prosecutor Daniel Sigler said he considered bringing misdemeanor battery charges against Hill, a Republican. But he said witnesses gave varying accounts of what happened in the crowded Indianapolis bar during a March 15 party celebrating the end of the legislative session, and it would be too difficult to prove the case.

"The setting of this lent itself to problems prosecuting," Sigler said at a news conference in Indianapolis. "It was in a bar. It was in the early morning hours. Free alcohol was being served and flowing."

Hill's private attorneys, James Voyles and Jennifer Lukemeyer, praised the prosecutor's decision not to bring criminal charges against Hill, who has repeatedly denied that he groped the women.

They said in a statement that the decision "exonerates and absolves Mr. Curtis Hill of any factual and legal criminal behavior."

Attorney Kimberly Jeselskis, who represents the four women, said a tort claim has been filed with the state of Indiana that is required before the state can be sued. She said the women intend to sue Hill, the state of Indiana and the attorney general's office and the claims they plan to pursue include assault, battery, defamation and false imprisonment.

Immediately after the prosecutor spoke, the women held a news conference in the same room with their attorneys to announce their planned civil suit. Three of the women — Democratic state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon; Niki DaSilva, a legislative assistant for the Indiana Senate Republican Caucus; and Gabrielle McLemore, the Indiana Senate Democrats' communications director — had previously come forward publicly.

The fourth woman, Samantha Lozano, a legislative assistant for Indiana House Democrats, said she decided Tuesday that it was time for her to join the others in publicly accusing Hill.

"This morning I decided that enough was enough," Lozano said. "Today we're taking a step forward to make sure that this does not happen again, and that these types of behaviors are not permitted in the workplace or anywhere else."

Sigler was appointed special prosecutor in July to determine whether Hill should face criminal charges. That came after a confidential legislative memo leaked to the media in July revealed the four women's allegations.

Candelaria Reardon said Hill leaned toward her, put his hand on her back, slid it down and grabbed her buttocks. The Munster lawmaker says she told Hill to "back off," but he approached again later in the night, put his hand on her back and said: "That skin. That back."

In his report on the investigation released Tuesday, Sigler said there was not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt "that Hill's intent in the touching was rude, insolent or angry," as required for a battery conviction.

In the report, which includes interviews with 56 witnesses, Sigler noted that Hill didn't deny the touching occurred, but that he justified it as "incidental ... in the crowded bar" and "not intended to be disrespectful, sexual in nature or rude."

Sigler said prosecuting Hill would be tough because several weeks passed before the allegations were raised.

"I did believe them," he told reporters. "Nonetheless, I decided I didn't think I could meet my burden" of proof.

Hill, who was elected to a four-year term in 2016, has rejected calls from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and legislative leaders to resign from his post as Indiana's chief law enforcement officer.

Holcomb issued a statement saying his position calling on Hill hasn't changed despite Sigler's findings.

"The findings show a disregard of the executive branch zero tolerance harassment policy. My position has not changed," the statement said.

Separately, Indiana Inspector General Lori Torres released her own 25-page report saying eyewitnesses told investigators that Hill's behavior at the party was inappropriate, "creepy" and made many of the women at the party uncomfortable but he didn't break any state ethics rules.

Indiana's constitution allows for a public official to be removed from office, "for crime, incapacity or negligence" either by "impeachment by the House of Representatives, to be tried by the Senate," or by a "joint resolution of the General Assembly" with two thirds voting in favor.

But there's debate whether that applies to Hill, because the attorney general — unlike the state auditor, treasurer and secretary — is not specifically listed as a "state officer" in the constitution.

The Legislature could impeach him "for any misdemeanor in office" under a different Indiana law. But that would likely require criminal charges or a conviction — a higher threshold than the "incapacity or negligence" standard in the constitution.

Legal observers have suggested that Hill could be removed from office if he is found to have violated the state court's code of professional conduct.

Hill will need to be nominated by the Republican Party at the state party convention before he can run for office again in 2020.

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Associated Press writers Tom Davies and Ken Kusmer contributed to this story.

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