Indiana’s attorney general, amid calls for his resignation, denied claims Monday that he groped a legislator and inappropriately touched two legislative staffers at a party in March.
“We are living in a time where accusations alone have the power of conviction,” Curtis Hill said, lamenting that he had not been afforded due process and blaming a media “based on sensationalism nurturing an appetite for scandal” that can be satisfied only by the “complete destruction” of the accused.
“I now stand falsely and publicly accused of abhorrent behavior. These false accusations have irretrievably damaged my reputation,” he said during a news conference. “I was not afforded fairness in the investigation.”
Hill said he was particularly dismayed by the leak of a June 18 confidential memo outlining the allegations and alleged observations of five women who attended a March gathering at an Indianapolis bar celebrating the end of the legislative session.
The Taft law firm that composed the memo referred CNN’s requests for the document, which was printed in The Indianapolis Star, to spokeswomen for the state Senate and House Republicans. The former, Molly Swigart, told CNN last week that neither office had the memo, nor would they be releasing it.
In the memo, one woman claimed Hill rubbed her back in a way that made her uncomfortable, while another said Hill hugged her around the waist, forcing her to reposition herself to get away from him. Three of the women said they heard Hill tell women at the bar that if they wanted drinks, they needed to “show a little skin” or “more leg or knees.”
The most serious allegation came from a woman who has identified herself as state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon. She told House leaders that an intoxicated Hill “put his hands on her back, slid them down to her buttocks, put them under her clothes and ‘grabbed a handful of ass,’” says the memo published by The Star.
Hill did it again later, Candelaria Reardon told investigators, according to the memo. On both occasions, Candelaria Reardon said, she told Hill, “Back off.”
In an open letter published by The Star, Candelaria Reardon said that on Hill’s alleged second pass, he walked up behind her and said, “That skin. That back.” She “recoiled away” before he could touch her buttocks again, she wrote.
“To me, he was not the Attorney General, or a married man, or a religious man, or a Republican,” she wrote. “He was the man who put his hand on my skin and my buttocks, and I felt I needed to address it face to face.”
A few weeks later, however, she was lunching with a legislative staffer who said Hill had groped four women after Candelaria Reardon left the March 15 party. She decided to report his behavior to House leaders, she wrote.
“As I continue to deal with the harm perpetrated by Indiana’s top law enforcement official, I must also deal with the reality that there is no process by which Curtis Hill, an independently elected official, can be held accountable. No censure. No recall. Not even a slap on the hand,” Candelaria Reardon, a Democrat, wrote in her July 6 letter.
’I was trapped’
Hours later, The Star published another letter from Gabrielle McLemore, spokeswoman for state Senate Democrats, who alleged Hill approached her at the party and asked, “Do you know who I am?” before rubbing her back.
She worried that people at the bar would think she invited the contact, or that she was flirting with the attorney general, and mouthed the words “Help me” to an intern, who removed McLemore from the situation by requesting McLemore accompany her to the bathroom, McLemore wrote.
“These are not what any person should have to think about when another individual breaks their personal boundary and decides it’s okay to touch them without permission,” she wrote. “But they’re the only thoughts I had. I was trapped both physically and mentally by the state’s highest law enforcement official.”
Dozens of demonstrators rallied in support of Candelaria Reardon, McLemore and the other accusers over the weekend, according to CNN affiliate WSBT and other local media.
In his Monday news conference, Hill spoke largely in generalities, declining to take questions and saying he looked forward to the day he could “speak freely,” but he addressed Candelaria Reardon’s allegations. He called the lawmaker’s accusations “materially inaccurate” and pointed out that she claimed he had arrived at the bar alone when, in fact, he had arrived with GOP operative Tony Samuel.
“These calls for my resignation are unwarranted, and these calls should be rescinded,” he said.
’I want my name back’
Hill claimed that his friends had distanced themselves from him amid the allegations and demanded a thorough investigation.
Among those apparently distancing themselves from Hill are the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and his fellow Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long – all of whom have praised the accusers’ courage and called for Hill to step down.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable at any time, in any place,” Bosma and Long said in a joint statement last week. “Curtis Hill is not our employee; if he was, he would already have been fired. Because we cannot terminate his employment, we ask instead for him to own up to his actions, apologize publicly to the victims, and tender his resignation immediately.”
The legislators said they had asked state Inspector General Lori Torres. In a statement to CNN affiliate WRTV, Torres promised a “full and fair review of the facts.”
Hill, who said he learned of the accusations June 29, said he respected Holcomb but wishes the governor had reached out to Hill before demanding his resignation.
The Elkhart, Indiana, native and married father of five, who was elected to his present office in a 2016 landslide, has previously called for a probe into the accusations. In a Friday statement, he called the law firm investigation that spurred the calls for his resignation prejudicial and questioned how Torres could conduct an impartial investigation when Holcomb, who appointed her, has already determined the outcome.
“I am not resigning,” he wrote Friday in a statement posted to Twitter. “The allegations against me are vicious and false. At no time did I ever grab or touch anyone inappropriately. The lack of fairness and the failure to recognize my constitutional rights are a complete travesty.”
Hill cited a local news story in which Indiana University law professor Jennifer Drobac, who counts sexual harassment law among her areas of expertise, called the probe “whitewash” and “unfair” and said she’d never witnessed an investigation where the accused was not interviewed.
Doubling down on his innocence during his Monday news conference, Hill told reporters, “A week ago today, I had a name, and I want my name back.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to give the correct month of the party where the alleged groping of a state legislator and inappropriate touching of legislative staffers occurred.
CNN’s Carma Hassan contributed to this report.