Documents detail alleged ‘disturbing’ behavior by ex-police chief David Seastrand
One woman said he drove her to a hilltop, persuaded her to undress and then unbuckled his police belt, pressed her against his marked SUV and said, “I’m gonna take you.” Another said he sat uniformed in a chair as she modeled lingerie, in exchange for an assurance that her speeding ticket would subsequently be paid. A third said he offered her $200 to let him photograph her for “a friend.”
When news broke last spring that New London police Chief David Seastrand had abruptly resigned amid claims that he pressured a college student to pose for nude pictures, two questions lingered: Were there other alleged victims? And if so, would they step forward?
There were. They did.
But in December, the attorney general’s office announced that, after vetting three additional complaints, it would not bring charges against the former police chief.
“After thoroughly investigating each complaint, it was determined that the allegations, while disturbing, did not rise to the level of criminal conduct,” Associate Attorney General Jane Young said in a statement. “Moreover, each of the alleged instances involved actions by Seastrand in his personal capacity, and did not purport to be acts of his office.”
Last week, the Monitor obtained the details of those three women’s claims, as well as that of the 18-year-old student, Janelle Westfall, formerly a freshman at Colby-Sawyer College. In interviews with state investigators – the transcripts of which were disclosed by the attorney general’s office – Seastrand is painted as a brazen charmer who exploited his professional authority in the pursuit of sexual gratification.
Both Seastrand’s attorney, Nicholas Brodich, and the women’s attorney, Richard Lehmann, declined yesterday to comment for this story, explaining that they had yet to go through all of the documents released.
In an interview Monday, Young said prosecuting Seastrand would have been challenging for a variety of reasons. For instance, she said, the fact that Seastrand was supposedly in uniform and in his cruiser during the alleged encounters does not alone constitute a crime. She had previously said that neither would paying off someone’s ticket, so long as it was issued by an authority outside of New London.
“We have to look at the facts and then, No. 1, decide if there’s a crime, and then, if there is one, decide whether there is enough evidence to prove a case,” Young said Monday.
Seastrand resigned April 4, less than a month after Westfall told the attorney general’s office he had offered to drop criminal charges against her if she posed naked for him in a conference room near the New London police station. Westfall had been arrested in the early hours of March 3 and charged with underage drinking and using a false name. Seastrand, who made the arrest, had stopped her as she left a party and found a can of beer in her backpack.
Two days after the arrest, Westfall and her parents met with Seastrand. In an interview with state investigator Allison Vachon, she and her father said they discussed with Seastrand three choices for handling her case: proceeding to court, entering a monthslong county diversion program or completing upwards of a hundred hours of community service. They told him they preferred the volunteer work.
Seastrand said he would look into it, they said, and he asked to meet privately with Westfall the next day. “He wanted her to take responsibility,” the father said. “He wanted to, you know, work this out alone. And, we agreed to that.”
When she arrived at the department the next day, Seastrand led her into a conference room and said he had some bad news, the student said. After making a few calls, it seemed no one had an immediate use for a volunteer.
“He’s talking to me about, like, we have to think outside of the box,” she told Vachon, according to the transcript. “Um, it has to be something big enough for the charges. Like, he can’t let me get off scot-free. It has to be something that teaches me a lesson where I wouldn’t do it again.”
Then, she said, “he asked me if I would be willing to take nude pictures. And, um, and have him take them. And, he would take the memory card out instantly after, and hide them away for two years. And, then, everything would be dropped. All the charges would be dropped. And, he’d throw the pictures away.”
Westfall said Seastrand pitched the photographs as collateral against word leaking about the dropped charges. “He’s really, like, he really needs something over my head that’s to this extent,” she said. “Like, this extent, ’cause he knows I wouldn’t want that to get out.”
When she declined the offer, she said, Seastrand replied, “ ‘I’m not telling you the wrong thing. It’s technically all legal. You’re 18.’ ”
Seastrand has never publicly commented on Westfall’s claim. But in a taped phone conversation with the woman March 12, arranged by the attorney general’s office, he vehemently denied the accusation, Vachon wrote in an affidavit. “I don’t know what type of game you’re playing,” he told Westfall, Vachon wrote. “This is bull----.”
Seastrand was not the only one to question the validity of Westfall’s account. A month after the alleged exchange, on April 12, Vachon received a call from the mother of one of Westfall’s close friends. The woman “advised she felt responsible because a man’s reputation was at stake and she didn’t know if she believed Westfall,” Vachon wrote in an affidavit. Westfall had “lied so much in the past,” the woman said, and years earlier, she had accused someone at a camp she was attending of being a “sexual predator.”
“(The woman) couldn’t believe something could happen to her twice,” Vachon wrote.
In an interview Monday, Young said prosecutors had weighed what evidence they would have were Westfall’s case to go to trial, and had decided that forcing Seastrand to resign – he also agreed never to return to law enforcement – was the most readily attainable solution.
“Getting him out of office immediately seemed to be the best way to protect the public,” Young said.
‘I was intimidated’
Two days before Vachon spoke with the friend’s mother, she contacted a woman in Virginia who she heard may have had previous encounters with Seastrand when she was living in New London. The woman told Vachon she had lived in New Hampshire with her husband and four children for about 11 years, until 2012, and had known Seastrand offhandedly for several of those. But when he approached her in uniform outside her son’s school in spring 2011, she said, the relationship began to change.
“He asked me what I was doing for work,” she told Vachon, according to the transcript. “I said, ‘Well, I’m doing housecleaning.’ And, he’s like, ‘Oh, you, you should not be doing housecleaning, because you are so beautiful. You can be a model.’ ”
The woman brushed the comment aside, she said, but Seastrand persisted in the days that followed. She said he told her he had a friend who was a photographer, and that he wanted to take pictures of her to send to the friend. She eventually gave in, she said, and agreed to meet Seastrand at the Exit 12 Park and Ride off Interstate 89. He was driving the same SUV he always drove, she noted, the one with “New London Police” on the side.
She got inside, she said, and Seastrand drove for a while, eventually turning onto a dirt road that led uphill through a thick patch of trees. When they reached the top, he parked the car, turned off the engine and asked if she was “ready to do this,” she told Vachon. They appeared to be alone.
“I was scared,” she said of the situation. “I was intimidated.”
Seastrand took out a small camera and began taking pictures of her in the front passenger seat. He asked her to take off her top; she complied, she said. He asked her to remove her bra; she complied. He asked her to move into the back and then fully undress; again she complied. She said they eventually got out of the car, and Seastrand told her he wanted to kiss her.
Then, she said, he put his hands between her legs.
“I pushed his hand away,” she said. “And, I say, ‘No. No. This is not right. I want to go home. I want to go home now.’ ”
“He pushed me against the cruiser,” she told Vachon. “And, next thing I heard, he’s unzipping his pants.”
The two had sex, she said, though Seastrand pulled out and masturbated, ejaculating on the grass. She said he then drove her home, where she took a shower and began weeping. Seastrand called regularly in the weeks that followed, she said, and reassured her that the pictures had been destroyed. She moved out of state the following year, and learned of his resignation last year from an online news report.
“You said that you never planned on coming forward,” Vachon said. “What made you come forward?”
“Um, this news,” she said.
But the woman’s claims might not have been the whole story. A close friend of the woman whom Vachon and an FBI agent interviewed in September said the woman and Seastrand had been in a serious and ongoing affair, which Seastrand ended shortly before she moved out of state. She said the two would have sex several times each week.
“They were doing it in the cruiser, up against the cruiser, whatever,” she said. She said the woman had described to her several of these encounters, including one in which they had sex inside a residence that Seastrand was house-sitting, and one in which Seastrand handcuffed the woman and pushed her naked body against a window pane.
“She started telling me, you know, that they were really starting to see each other and it was getting serious, and he was going to leave his wife and he was going to rent a place for them, and he was going to take care of her and the kids,” the friend told Vachon, according to a transcript.
“Then I guess someone told his wife and his wife found out, and she told him that he better end it now or she was going to ruin him, so he calls her and says we gotta end it and blah, blah, and so, um, (the complainant) was just like you know – that jerk,” she said.
$200 for a pose
On April 8, Vachon met with a woman in Springfield who had contacted state authorities and who said Seastrand had offered her cash to pose for him in late 2011. She did not specify the dates in her interview, according to a transcript, but she did say she was distantly related to Seastrand through marriage, and had seen him occasionally at family gatherings.
A few weeks before Seastrand’s alleged offer, she told Vachon, she had gone to the New London Police Department to file a report against a man who she claimed had accosted her at a gas station. Seastrand sat with her and took down her story. When she mentioned that she needed to look for a new job, he mentioned that he had a friend who was a photographer who might be able to help, she said, according to the transcript.
Weeks later, Seastrand called and said he’d set something up with the friend, she said, and he asked her to meet him at the Park and Ride off Exit 12. When she arrived, he was dressed in uniform and waiting in his marked blue SUV.
“I got in the front seat,” she told Vachon. “Again, thinking he’s a cop. He’s in uniform. And, I would have been fine.”
They drove to a secluded area, she said: “It was the middle of nowhere. There was a foundation being put into the ground. And, they were starting to build a house.” She had packed a sundress and a bathing suit, she said, per Seastrand’s request.
“He told me his friend was busy, so he had to, he was going to take the pictures, and bring them to him,” she said.
“I told him that I was, I had to get home,” she said. “Something had come up. . . . He then, came around, and sat in the driver’s side of the car. And pulled out his wallet. And, handed. Or not handed me. Creased in front of me, um, two 100 dollar bills. They were in a separate part of his wallet, not where your money goes. Um, hidden behind the credit cards and things like that.”
“What ended up happening from there?” Vachon asked.
“Um, I had to tell him that I was, I still had to go home,” she said. “And, that I would get back to him, and let him know. I didn’t want to piss him off. And, at that point, when . . . I was in shock. So, my first reaction wasn’t to say, no. And, get myself in a situation that I couldn’t get out of.”
“Again,” she continued, “he was completely in uniform, from the head to toe. Had the cruiser. Um, everything that is supposed to be on. Like, his computer, his radar. Everything was on.”
“Was he armed? Vachon asked.
“I’m not sure,” she said.
Later, Vachon asked, “Do you know if he picked up the police radio, at all, and made any contacts back to the police department while you were with him?”
“Ah, no. He turned it down,” the woman replied.
“Enough to, if something was wrong, hear it. But –”
“But, not to have it too loud?”
The woman said Seastrand then drove her back to where they’d met, and that she later shared what had happened with her mother and boyfriend. “They said, ‘Well, if that’s what you believe, go ahead and say something,’ ” she said. “But it’s an officer. One word against a citizen’s word. So, I just dropped it.”
At one point toward the end of the interview, Vachon asked whether there was anything else the woman wanted to add about the encounter. “Um, like I said, he wasn’t mean,” she said. “He wasn’t aggressive.”
A speeding ticket
Later on April 8, Vachon drove to the Warner Police Department and met with a fourth woman who had contacted investigators and who said Seastrand had struck a deal with her in early 2009 in which he would pay her speeding ticket if she modeled various outfits for him privately. “The whole time period is a bit foggy,” the woman told Vachon, according to a transcript. “Um, a while ago. It was, it was early ’09. I’m not actually sure when.”
She said a Wilmot police officer had recently charged her with a speeding violation and that she did not have the means at the time to pay the $100 fine. A few weeks later, she said, she ran into Seastrand at the Elkins Mini Mart and asked what would happen if she failed to pay the ticket by the 30-day deadline. Seastrand, in uniform, told her she could lose her license, she said.
“And, um, and, he said, ‘Well, come, why don’t you come and sit with me in my cruiser?’ ” she said. “So, I did. And, then, um, he. I don’t remember the exact wording of the proposal. But, basically, he said. Um, he asked me if. He said he would pay my ticket, if I would try on some sexy outfits for him.”
“Um, and, I said, yes.”
They met a few minutes later at the woman’s house, she said, and Seastrand sat in a chair and placed a pillow on his lap as she began trying on various ensembles. He never touched her or appeared to touch himself, she said – just watched and commented several times about her body. “Asked me some questions,” she said. “Like, how I stayed in shape, and whatever . . . that I had a hot body.”
“Again, at the time, I was, I was in a really low place,” she added. “So anything I heard from any man was boosting my confidence a little bit. . . . So I just kind of ate it up.”
“I don’t think that my part was right by any means,” the woman told Vachon. “I, my behavior was, was not right. Um, I’m ashamed of it. I’m embarrassed by it. I didn’t tell people about it, because it’s not the kind of thing you want people to know.”
Vachon asked if she recalled whether Seastrand had taken her ticket with him or had taken care of it some other way. The woman said he told her he would pay for it with a money order, and that she likely gave him a physical copy of the ticket.
“So, he pays the ticket? And, you haven’t, have you seen him at all, since?” Vachon said.
“Yes,” she replied. “And, he doesn’t even acknowledge my, that I exist. You know what I mean? He, I mean, he, it, it, it depends on the context. . . . If it’s in a public place, where he’s with somebody else, he looks right past me, like, I don’t exist. Um, if it’s at a Mini Mart, getting coffee, you know, he’d say hello.”
Vachon then asked what the woman had thought when she heard about Seastrand’s departure last spring. “What were you thinking?” Vachon said. “What was going through your head?”
“Um, my first thought was, Oh God! I’m not the only person that he’s done this kind of thing with.
“That, you know, that maybe, I opened a door for him, in making him think: I can get women to take their clothes off for me. . . . Or maybe it started before me. I think, I don’t know. But, I had a part in that. And, obviously, he’s still doing it.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)