Editorial: A disquieting end to New London case
Did David Seastrand get what he deserved? Or did he get off easy?
The attorney general’s announcement on the matter of the former New London police chief left much to be desired. Without providing more detail, prosecutors left the public to speculate – and to assume the worst.
Seastrand made a deal with the state last spring that he would resign as chief and forfeit his police certification. The agreement came after he was accused by a Colby-Sawyer College student of offering to drop charges of underage drinking against her if she would pose nude for photographs. The chief didn’t face criminal charges, and the state closed its investigation.
Right after that, however, three additional women came forward with similar complaints. According to the AG, one woman said she’d had sexual contact with Seastrand while he was police chief. The second said Seastrand had paid a speeding ticket for her – in exchange for her posing in lingerie. The third said he had offered her money in exchange for photographs of her – an offer she rejected.
The state opened a new investigation and, this month, announced its decision not to prosecute. Although the state described Seastrand’s behavior as “disturbing,” it didn’t see grounds for criminal prosecution. “Each of the alleged instances involved actions by Seastrand in his personal capacity, and did not purport to be acts of his office,” the prosecutor said.
Among the details left unexplained by the state:
∎ Did the second and third alleged incidents occur while Seastrand was chief in New London – or was he serving in a different capacity at the time?
∎ Was the speeding ticket issued by the New London police or some other agency?
∎ Either way, if Seastrand was a police officer or police chief at the time, why wouldn’t such behavior amount to an abuse of power?
∎ How did the state determine that Seastrand’s actions “did not purport to be acts of his office”? The mere fact of his position as chief – in or out of uniform, on or off duty – creates an enormous imbalance of power. It’s easy to see how any of these women might have felt coerced by the chief, regardless of his intent.
Last spring, the state argued that the deal it struck with Seastrand was the right one: It ensured that he would leave office immediately, that he would no longer be able to prey on young women from his post as chief, and that he would no longer be able to serve in a law-enforcement capacity elsewhere.
Seastrand’s quick acquiescence to that bargain seemed to lend credibility to the first woman’s account – and to the notion that prosecution might well have succeeded. The three subsequent accusations, even in scant detail, seem to cast further doubt on the wisdom of that original decision.
Yes, the public has been protected from further abusive behavior from the New London chief. But Seastrand’s punishment, particularly in light of what may well have been a pattern of inappropriate use of his office, appears light indeed.
Seastrand’s accusers no doubt feel as if they’ve received something less than full justice in this case. Their recourse now lies in the civil trials that will likely follow.