INDIANAPOLIS — Attorney General Curtis Hill is not being charged with a crime in connection with allegations that he inappropriately touched four women, including state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, at a March 15 General Assembly adjournment party.
However, Hill's legal troubles are far from over. Reardon and the Republican and Democratic legislative staffers who said Hill groped their backs and/or buttocks at a capital city bar have filed the notices required to seek civil damages in state and federal court.
Hill, a Republican, also still could lose his office when the General Assembly convenes in January if Hoosier lawmakers independently conclude, through a two-thirds vote by both Republican-controlled chambers, that Hill's behavior at A.J.'s Lounge warrants his impeachment and removal.
Special Prosecutor Daniel Sigler announced Tuesday that, following a three-month investigation by Indiana Inspector General Lori Torres, he determined that he could not successfully make the case that Hill's actions amounted to either a felony or misdemeanor crime.
Specifically, Sigler said Hill's touching was not associated with force or the threat of force, as required to convict for felony sexual battery, nor did Hill clearly have the intent to touch the women in the "rude, angry or insolent" manner necessary to sustain a misdemeanor battery conviction.
"While there is no doubt that the women involved viewed the touching as uninvited and rude, that is not the sole standard for a successful criminal prosecution," Sigler said. "At issue is what was in Hill's mind at the time of the touching."
"At best, the evidence regarding the essential element of Hill's intent is that he was overly friendly and touchy with everyone in the establishment as the apparent result of alcohol consumption. Inappropriate or intoxicated behavior does not automatically equate to criminal behavior."
As such, Sigler concluded "there is little public benefit to be served by filing a misdemeanor charge or charges which would likely result in a protracted, contentious and expensive legal proceeding."
Battery in Indiana is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Hoosier elected officials must be convicted of a felony to automatically be removed from office.
Hill has steadfastly maintained that he did nothing wrong. He's also repeatedly condemned the "guilty until proven innocent" standard lately applied to alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct.
His attorneys, James Voyles and Jennifer Lukemeyer, said in a statement: "We never doubted that Mr. Hill would be cleared of any alleged crimes."
While Sigler said he lacked a sufficient basis to bring Hill to trial, he nevertheless believed the victim's claims that Hill touched them in an inappropriate manner were "true and credible."
Report offers new details
The 25-page inspector general's report reached a similar conclusion, based on interviews with the four women and 52 other individuals who either witnessed Hill's behavior in the early morning hours of March 15 or were directly told about it by partygoers shortly afterward.
According to the report, Hill was drinking wine with a group of lobbyists at two Indianapolis restaurants between 9 p.m. and midnight on March 14.
After a lobbyist escorted Hill to A.J.'s Lounge, the attorney general had at least two more drinks, a vodka martini and Fireball whiskey, before leaving at 3:30 a.m.
Out of the 39 individuals at the party who were interviewed by the inspector general, 20 said Hill appeared to be intoxicated, 15 were unsure or could not tell and just 4 said they did not believe Hill was drunk.
Witnesses described Hill that night as "glassy-eyed" and "disheveled," said his "speech was slurring" and "he had trouble standing up."
One witness told the inspector general that Hill was "acting like a freshman at a college frat party," while another indicated that Hill behaved in a "predatory, intoxicated manner."
The report indicates that Hill approached Reardon at the party to talk, pretended he could not hear her in the crowded bar, and put his hand on her back to lean in closer.
Reardon was wearing a backless dress that night. So Hill was directly touching her skin when he moved his hand from her shoulders, down her back and to her buttocks, where he slipped his thumb under the scoop-back of her dress while grabbing her buttocks outside the dress with his fingers, according to the report.
Multiple witnesses told the inspector general they saw Hill touching Reardon as she described it. Reardon also told several other people at the party what Hill had done to her.
The report says Hill additionally rubbed the back of Gabrielle McLemore, Senate Democratic communications director, "for a sustained period" while she sat at the bar; wrapped his arm around Samantha Lozano, House Democratic legislative assistant originally from East Chicago, and pulled her to him; and slid his hand down the back and "forcefully" grabbed the buttocks of Niki DaSilva, Senate Republican legislative assistant.
In addition, the inspector general details a previously unreported incident of Hill draping his arms around two unidentified female lobbyists, and putting his hand on the back of another female lobbyist, in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
That brings the total number of women reportedly groped by Hill at the party to seven.
Torres noted the women said Hill's behavior "caused emotional distress, family distress and anger," which was reinforced when Hill said on Twitter that the claims against him were "vicious and false."
She said given Sigler's decision not to prosecute, it now is up to "the public and others" to "judge whether the evidence in this case disqualifies Hill from holding elected office in the future."
Attorneys for Reardon, McLemore, Lozano and DaSilva said following Sigler's announcement that they have filed a tort claim notice with the state and a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, as a prelude to potential civil lawsuits against Hill, the attorney general's office and the state.
The women allege they have suffered assault, battery, defamation and false imprisonment due to Hill's behavior, as well as sex discrimination and workplace retaliation.
Reardon said it's entirely appropriate to pursue these claims separate from the special prosecutor's decision not to file criminal charges against Hill.
"It is our strong hope that, as a result of our actions, workplaces across Indiana will be safe places for our daughters, for our sons, for our sisters, for our brothers and for all," Reardon said.
"We stand together with all Hoosiers for a better and safer Indiana."
Reardon also is seeking "systemic change in the culture of the Statehouse," in particular by establishing a sexual harassment reporting process that protects employees, elected officials and others who work in and around the legislative branch.
In addition, Reardon suggested it may be worth the General Assembly's looking at revising Indiana's battery law, so similar incidents in the future could be easier to prosecute.
"When you a shine a light on a predator, it stops the predator. They thrive in the darkness," she said. "I believe that the more voices we have, the stronger we are together."
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said following the release of the inspector general's report and the special prosecutor's decision that "the findings show a disregard of the executive branch zero tolerance harassment policy."
Just as they did in July, Holcomb joined House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, in again calling for Hill to immediately resign his office.
"I continue to believe that is the right thing for him to do," Long said. "However, it appears that he has no intention to do so, and that is his decision alone to make at this time. The people of Indiana will have the final say in this matter."
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said she was disappointed Sigler chose not to prosecute Hill, since the conduct of Indiana's attorney general "should be above reproach."
"Instead, we have the hypocrisy of a person expounding the virtue of law enforcement, the morality of family values, the wickedness of marijuana and the evil of women’s choice — all the while drunkenly groping young women at a bar late into the night," she said.