ROCKLAND, Maine — A plea deal accepted Friday allows a former Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy to avoid retrial on 20 sexual assault charges in exchange for pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor count of providing a place for minors to consume alcohol.
Kenneth L. Hatch III, 47, of Whitefield entered his plea Friday to the charge — just filed Thursday in Lincoln County Superior Court — before Superior Court Justice William R. Stokes in Knox County Superior Court.
Stokes dismissed the 20 counts with prejudice, meaning Hatch cannot be tried on them again, and assessed the mandatory $1,000 fine. Assistant Attorney General John Risler, who prosecuted the original case against Hatch, asked for a 10-day suspended sentence, but Stokes said that was not an option and did not sentence Hatch to any jail time.
One of three alleged victims, who read a victim impact statement in the courtroom, said she was angry at the outcome. She said Hatch was “a monster” who betrayed her, leaving her fearful and suffering from panic attacks.
In November, jurors in Kennebec County found Hatch, 47, not guilty of two counts of sexual abuse of a minor and furnishing marijuana to a minor but said they were hung on the other 20 charges of sexual crimes involving three teenagers, some in his cruiser while on duty.
Stokes declared a mistrial on the remaining charges, which included sexually abusing three teenagers when they were younger than 16 and one when she was 6 and providing marijuana to them.
“He agreed to accept the misdemeanor for furnishing a place for minors to consume alcohol because he agreed to let his kids drink alcohol on his property, and obviously he knew other kids were there,” Elliott said Thursday. “He thought it would be safer to do it on his property than for them to be out driving around.”
One of three victims and the mother of another told Stokes on Friday they were angry and disappointed about the resolution of the case.
“Even though I knew coming forward would be hard and [do] irreversible damage to my family, I wanted to do the right thing,” one said, her voice shaking as she added that her family was “manipulate[d]” and she eventually grew addicted to opiates.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “I didn’t deserve any of this. I feel it’s unfair to not let us take him back to court … we should have had a say … this judgment gives a message that … a police officer can touch a child for his own sexual gratification and get away from it.”
The mother of another alleged victim read her daughter’s statement, saying that even though she has moved away from Maine, “I will continue to live in fear because he’s still out there.”
Lynn Talbot, victim/witness advocate for Knox County, said neither the third alleged victim nor her mother thought they could speak on Friday.
Talbot, crying, told Stokes, “I worked with them for a very long time. This was very much a family betrayal … the harm was significant.”
But Stokes said the original jury was “excellent” and had been “very severe[ly] deadlocked,” and a new trial would have been “very difficult.”
Because Hatch has been convicted of a misdemeanor, he will lose his certification from the criminal justice academy.
Risler said following the sentencing that the likelihood of convincing another jury of guilt beyond a possible doubt was small.
“The option I had to protect the people of Maine was to remove his ability to serve in law enforcement,” Risler said. “When he loses his certification from the criminal justice academy, it’s very unlikely he would ever be able to serve in law enforcement outside of Maine [either].”
Attorney General Janet Mills issued a statement on Friday afternoon, noting that prosecutors do believe the alleged victims.
“We support the victims, these brave survivors,” Mills wrote. “We believe them. Unfortunately, the jury did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hatch was guilty of these crimes. Fortunately, he will never work in law enforcement again.”
Follow the BDN Bath-Brunswick on Facebook for the latest southern midcoast Maine news.