AUGUSTA, Maine — A district attorney’s decision to drop charges against a former U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer in Jackman who was accused of twice raping a female co-worker in 2007 has been upheld by the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
The complainant, however, who also has a law degree, has since requested a federal review of the case by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Somerset County District Attorney Everett Fowle said late last week that he had dropped the charges against Steven Hinkley, 40, of Greenville in October, because he concluded the case could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Hinkley was arrested on Dec. 29, 2007, on two counts of gross sexual assault, two counts of assault and one count of terrorizing.
“The reason I dismissed it was, as I stated in the dismissal, that additional investigation uncovered information which dramatically changed our assessment of the case,” Fowle said Thursday.
Because the woman, who has since been transferred by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to another state, objected to Fowle’s decision to drop the charges, Fowle asked the Attorney General’s Office to review the case. “I’m certainly willing to have my judgment and assessment of the case scrutinized,” he said, referring to both the Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Attorney General’s Office concurred with Fowle’s decision, according to Bill Stokes, deputy attorney general and chief of the criminal division.
“We reviewed all of the information that was in the district attorney’s file, and we have determined that no charges from this office will be brought in connection with this matter,” Stokes said last Thursday. He added that he had informed the complainant about the attorney general’s decision.
The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the woman because she is potentially a victim while the case remains under investigation or review.
Fowle said the U.S. Attorney’s Office contacted him recently, and he provided a full description for the basis of his actions. He also said he offered to make the entire case file available to federal investigators.
Jonathan Chapman of the U.S. attorney’s Portland office on Dec. 5 would neither confirm nor deny an investigation was under way.
Through a spokesman, the complainant declined to comment.
Paul Sumberg, Hinkley’s Skowhegan attorney, said the charges were dropped because “sexually provocative e-mails” and other messages were found written by the woman to Hinkley and sent to Hinkley’s personal e-mail account between and after the dates of the two alleged rapes.
“Had the district attorney had this information [to begin with], he never would have brought charges,” Sumberg said recently. Sumberg also said he was astounded that the Maine State Police affidavit for Hinkley’s arrest was just two short paragraphs. “To this moment, I have never seen an arrest warrant that didn’t have more facts to support the arrest,” he said.
Fowle confirmed this week that e-mails submitted as evidence after Hinkley was charged helped his decision to dismiss the charges.
“The information contained within the e-mails figured prominently in our decision to dismiss the charges,” Fowle said Tuesday. He would not discuss the content of the e-mails.
Hinkley, who said he had consensual sex with the woman on the dates of the alleged rapes, said this week he was glad his ordeal was over. Though he’s aware that there may be a federal investigation, he said his attorney told him he had “nothing to worry about.”
“I had belief in the system. I knew that it just had to run its course, but it was a big relief, to say the least,” he said of the most recent decision to drop the case. “I said a little prayer and thanked God.”
Because of the charges, Hinkley, whose law enforcement career spanned 17 years, said he lost everything that was dear to him: time with and custody of his two young sons, and his career in law enforcement.
At the time of his arrest, the former Marine was a member of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s counterterrorism response team, a member of the anti-terrorism contraband enforcement team, the primary firearms instructor, the defensive tactics instructor and an outbound enforcement officer.
Today, Hinkley cooks at a local restaurant and does seasonal jobs such as mowing lawns. “My income is quite a bit less than it used to be,” he said. After child support payments, he has about $100 a week to live on, so his truck was repossessed and his telephone was cut off, he said.
“People look at you a little bit differently, you know, even though the charges have been dropped,” Hinkley said, adding that it is his Christian faith that helped him through the experience.
His former partners and friends have suggested he sue the woman for the alleged false charges, Hinkley said, but he hasn’t decided that yet.
“For so many months your life is completely put on hold,” Hinkley said. “I was looking at spending pretty much 30 years per charge in prison.”
Sumberg said the two alleged were reported to have occurred about 22 days apart in February 2007. After the second alleged rape, the woman said Hinkley threatened to kill her and her children if she told anyone, the attorney said. He said the woman told police the threat was why she waited about 10 months before filing any complaint. The alleged threat also is what led to a terrorism charge against Hinkley.
As the case got under way, Sumberg requested a forensic examination of the woman’s personal computer as well as the computers at the border station. He said he recognized an examination of the latter computers would be a problem, but he asked anyway. Sumberg also asked Hinkley to check any e-mails sent to his personal account. Hinkley, who does not own a personal computer, accessed the e-mails in question using a computer owned by his parents.
Hinkley said the state police removed the hard drives from the border station computers, but he was unsure what, if anything, was found. Sumberg said he wasn’t sure if a forensic investigation was done on the border station’s hard drives but noted he was given copies of e-mails the alleged victim had written to Hinkley. “It took a long time to get the information, but eventually I was told her personal computer was destroyed,” he said.
Hinkley recalled those e-mails. “Some of the e-mails were provocative, I guess you could say, on her part, but nothing on my part,” he said. The woman, who worked as a border protection officer at the time, told police that the rapes happened in February, yet she sent Hinkley an email in mid-March inviting him over, Hinkley said.
After the alleged rapes, he said she continued to e-mail him and he would give her rides back and forth to work.
“She lied to the federal investigators, the state investigators and to the grand jury,” Hinkley said.
Hinkley said he and the single mother had been good friends for a long time. After his divorce, the pair had a brief relationship, then resumed being good friends. He said the woman didn’t like to drive in the winter, so he and others would drive her back and forth to work.
Hinkley said she would lament that she didn’t like the area and she wanted to get back to the New York area. Hinkley speculated that it was her desire to be transferred that may have led to her filing the charges against him.
His world, Hinkley said, exploded at 1 a.m. Dec. 29, 2007, when state police pounded on his door and advised him of the charges. “They told me about the allegations, and I couldn’t believe it, and we sat for quite awhile, and I tried to tell them there was absolutely nothing to it,” he said. He was arrested that night and suspended from his job without pay.
Hinkley, who has one wall in his small Greenville home covered with commendations for his law enforcement work, said he knew the threshold was much lower for them to fire him simply because of the charges, so he took early retirement from his border protection job to keep his pension.
Twice divorced, Hinkley said his first wife and two daughters have supported him through the ordeal. His second wife, however, filed for full custody of their two young sons, which has resulted in little contact with them. Hinkley said he attends the family’s church, but at the direction of his ex-wife, he cannot sit with his sons.
Hinkley harbors no ill will against Fowle for supporting the charges against him early on, he said.
“I’m disappointed in human nature, humanity itself,” Hinkley said. “I had faith in the system. I’ve known the system for a long, long time, but I never, ever would have dreamed I would have been on the other end. I’ve been on both sides now so I have a much greater compassion.”