The woman who reported a game warden for groping her said she never doubted what happened to her. But she has wondered if the painful process of pursuing charges was worth the emotional toll it exacted. Credit: Photo illustration by Natalie Williams / BDN

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

She never doubted what happened or who did it. It was the evening of July 18, 2019, and she felt a hand reach under her shorts and grab her butt, just a moment after she passed in front of two men waiting in line for a beer during a country music concert at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor.

The woman, who would become part of a years-long ordeal following her decision to report the assault, spun around in shock and saw her boyfriend glaring with incredulity at one of them. The Bangor Daily News is not naming the woman because she is a victim of sexual misconduct.

It wasn’t until a few minutes after she was groped, in the privacy of a porta potty and sheltered from the crush of other concertgoers, that tears welled in her eyes. She realized something wrong had occurred and that she should tell someone.

Her decision to report her assault to the Bangor Police Department that night resulted in criminal charges against a man whom she later learned was Jeremy Judd, a member of the Maine Warden Service, and drew the public’s attention to one of the worst moments of her life.

While she never doubted what happened to her, she has wondered if the painful process of pursuing charges against Judd — which involved retelling her story over and over, while investigators decided if there was enough to make a case — was worth the emotional toll it exacted, she said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News, sharing the details of her experience for the first time.

She might feel differently if she hadn’t been so disappointed in the outcomes of the various investigations into Judd’s conduct. Judd, who has denied assaulting her but admitted to being extremely intoxicated with the cops who dealt with him, ultimately pleaded to lesser charges in criminal court. While he has faced some professional consequences, he will keep his job as a warden.

“I felt like it was a slap on the wrist, honestly,” the woman said.

She decided to speak publicly in the hope that sharing her story will shed light on what it’s like to report sexual misconduct and then grapple with the consequences. Over the past year and half, she learned firsthand how reporting an assault can subject victims to further pain, scrutiny and disappointment, she said. In her case, those feelings were especially powerful because her assailant belonged to the very institution, the criminal justice system, that was supposed to deliver her recourse.

“The system in general is built in a way that doesn’t always make it easy to be a victim of a crime,” said Sgt. Wade Betters, one of the Bangor police officers who investigated her assault.

“From being interviewed and re-interviewed, to having to relive an incident. And the court process can be hectic,” he went on. “A lot of times, people like to put that behind them.”

Betters has investigated many assaults in venues where people were drinking. “This is one of the particular cases where several of us spoke with the victim and the suspect,” he said. The woman was sober, “authentic, calm. Her story stayed consistent. Her boyfriend’s story stayed consistent,” while Judd was hostile with the police and extremely drunk.

“To put it simply, I believed her. I believed her story,” he said.

The grab was so intentional that, at first, she briefly assumed, with surprised indignation, that it could have only been her boyfriend, said the woman, who is in her 20s.

When she turned and realized it wasn’t, she yelled at Judd, “‘Did you effing touch me?’” she said, and he became “verbally defensive and denied it,” she said. The other man standing next to him said something along the lines of, “you’re just being dramatic,” the woman said.

Furious, she shoved Judd, sending his phone, as well as the beer she was holding, flying to the ground. She called him either “a perv or a creep,” she said, and walked away.

Inside the bathroom stall, her anger burned off, and a deeper hurt took its place.

“I broke down. I was really emotional,” she said.

She suddenly felt embarrassed, knowing that other people probably saw their confrontation. She couldn’t believe he hadn’t just apologized.

“When you think of someone grabbing your butt, most people may just brush it off, whatever,” she said. “In this case, it really upset me that someone would intentionally do that when, one, you’re not asking for it, and, two, it was just unwarranted. There was no reason for that.”

When she stepped out of the stall, her boyfriend noticed her tears and asked what she wanted to do.

“I said, ‘I want to let someone know, security or something. God forbid he do that to someone else.’”

A member of security notified a group of Bangor officers who were working at the concert. They interviewed her near the VIP section of the venue. On the other side of a gate, she saw the police had found Judd and were interviewing him, too.

He looked like he was getting aggressive. A Bangor officer later noted in a report that Judd appeared to be extremely drunk, told police he was a game warden, and called the Bangor cops a disgrace to law enforcement, “among other profanities.”

The woman began to feel herself pulled into a larger narrative about survivors of sexual misconduct, for whom proving their stories often comes down to their credibility. She had worked with sexual assault victims as a mental health professional. And she had seen enough examples in the news to know that coming forward could subject victims to painful scrutiny that rarely resulted in perpetrators being found responsible.

Betters, the Bangor sergeant, seemed to realize that, too. At one point, he let her know that he needed to take her picture. In an interview, he said he, too, was worried that if the case went to trial, a defense attorney might ask about what she was wearing that night or insinuate that her outfit might suggest something about her credibility. He thought taking a picture of her modest pair of shorts might be useful in knocking down any such insinuation, however unfair, although he realized taking the picture might make her feel uncomfortable, he said.

“I wanted her to know she did nothing wrong,” Betters said.

She remembered how the moment, however necessary, felt demeaning, but his empathy helped.

“You could tell he didn’t want to take my picture, and he said it, verbally, that it was the worst part of his job,” she said. “He was very comforting in his demeanor and language and mannerisms. I felt like he was there to support me.”

The process moved slowly after that. The police decided to issue Judd a criminal summons for assault that night. A few days later, a member of the district attorney’s office called her to let her know that the man she reported was a warden, so the local press planned on covering the misconduct. After reviewing the case, the district attorney’s office decided to charge Judd with two additional counts, for unlawful sexual touching and disorderly conduct.

“I just kind of had this gut feeling that it was kind of pointless and not worth my time to go through this whole process when I know the result,” she said. “Why would [the system] work in favor of me now, when I’m going up against the warden service?”

Over the next few months, the woman spoke on and off with a victim’s advocate in the district attorney’s office, who let the woman know that the case against Judd would be stronger if she agreed to testify in court. It would put a human face to her story, she was told.

She ultimately decided against it. By the fall of 2019, the woman said she did not feel comfortable with the idea of sitting in a courtroom while lawyers peppered her with questions aimed at finding holes in her story.

Around late September, a private investigator working for Judd’s defense attorney started reaching out to her and her boyfriend. When they didn’t answer, he showed up to her parents’ house one night. Suddenly, she felt like she was the one under investigation.

On Oct. 3, the investigator sent her a Facebook message.

“I’d just like to gage (sic) what you feel is an appropriate outcome. Unlike most people, this is not (sic) only carries the charge but can also be career and pension ender,” the message read. “With all respect to you, I’d like to see if I can speak with you about the possibilities.”

She remembered thinking, “His career and pension? Are you kidding me?”

“I don’t want to ruin his life. God, that’s the last thing I ever wanted to do,” she said. “Honestly, I just wanted an apology.”

She didn’t respond to the message.

In January, the district attorney’s office let her know it had reached a deal with Judd that would bring the criminal case to a close. In exchange for pleading guilty to the disorderly conduct charge, prosecutors agreed to drop the assault and unlawful sexual touching charges. Judd received a deferred disposition, meaning if he stayed out of trouble for the next nine months and continued to attend counseling, he would only pay a $300 fine. He paid it in November.

The outcome disappointed her. She hadn’t realized that dropping the assault charge would be on the negotiating table. She wondered if she should have agreed to testify, though, even now, she isn’t sure the experience would have been worth the scrutiny.

“I look back on the last two years and think, would experiencing that be too traumatic for me? How would I have dealt with that?”

Months passed. In August 2020, more than a year after the assault took place, she learned that the body responsible for licensing Maine law enforcement officers was investigating Judd’s conduct. The Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s board of trustees would decide whether to penalize Judd or revoke his license entirely, potentially ending his career in Maine law enforcement.

Despite her misgivings about the court process, she had actually been looking forward to the meeting, which took place Oct. 29.

“I felt like this was my opportunity to really show them and talk to them and have them get to know me as a person,” she said.

But it didn’t go as she expected.

“It felt like an interrogation,” she said.

One person on the committee of people who interviewed her that day asked if she was sure that the man who touched her hadn’t just been trying to move through the crowd, she said. The question offended her because, after all she had been through, she wouldn’t be sitting in the room if she hadn’t been sure the grab was intentional.

Another person asked her what Judd was wearing. She dug back in her memory, more than a year old by that point, and said she thought he was wearing a hat — only for the panel to show her a picture of Judd that night. No hat.

She walked out of the room feeling foolish, like they’d tried to poke holes in her story and maybe succeeded.

There was one exception. The academy’s director, Rick Desjardins, had greeted her when she arrived at the academy’s Vassalboro campus and thanked her afterward. He spoke to her in a way that made her feel respected and supported, she said. She felt like she could open up to him, so much so that she teared up at one point.

She understood by then how some parts of the miserable process were necessary, if uncomfortable, to ensure a fair process for the accused. The way people spoke to her made a difference, she said.

In December, the academy decided that Judd inappropriately touched the woman, reaching a conclusion the court had not. While prosecutors needed to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt to win a criminal conviction, the academy only needed to prove the assault was more likely than not to have happened.

As punishment, the academy suspended Judd’s license for 120 days. When it is eventually reinstated, he will be allowed to return to work as a game warden.

Throughout the ordeal, what the woman wanted most was an apology, not to ruin Judd’s life, she said.

Still, “I don’t understand how someone can be not only disrespectful to other law enforcement, but disrespectful and inappropriate to civilians, and how can they still have their license?” she said.

She has a camp near Moosehead Lake, she went on.

“What if I run into him? I don’t want to run into a situation where he has authority over me,” she said. “That is an awful thought.”

Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.