Suzette Hackney Indianapolis Star
Published 6:00 AM EST Nov 20, 2018
Today, as Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill attempts to glad-hand lawmakers returning to the Statehouse for Organization Day — the ceremonial kickoff to the 2019 Indiana General Assembly legislative session — four women who say Hill inappropriately touched and groped them are calling for him to resign or be removed from office.
I echo that call. Time is up on Curtis Hill.
Hill is scheduled to host what is being billed as an “Attorney General Crime Prevention Meet & Greet” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Statehouse on Tuesday. It’s an unprecedented event for Organization Day and is being characterized by some as Hill’s attempt to ingratiate himself with legislators who could decide his fate.
Instead, members of the Indiana General Assembly must rebuke Hill and launch impeachment proceedings against him. Organization Day provides legislators an opportunity to meet with fellow lawmakers and staff to begin discussing priorities for the ensuing session.
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I can think of no bigger priority than Hill’s removal.
Hill can no longer adequately serve as Indiana’s highest-ranking law enforcement official. His duties encompass deciding which cases — including those involving allegations of sexual harassment and assault — the state will pursue in court. Because he has refused to step down, he must be removed from office for the good of the state of Indiana and its residents.
Hill’s behavior in an Indianapolis bar this spring — and his refusal to acknowledge his misconduct — shows that he willfully exhibits poor judgment and lacks ethical standards.
“He cannot betray the public trust and violate us in that way and believe he can continue to be an effective leader,” said Indiana Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, who has accused Hill of touching her back and groping her buttocks during an end-of-legislative session party in March. “I don’t think that’s possible.”
‘There is a clear pattern of behavior’
Hill has refused to resign, despite pleas from elected officials and fellow Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma, former Senate leader David Long, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Secretary of State Connie Lawson.
According to the Indiana Constitution, public officials can be removed “for crime, incapacity or negligence,” through impeachment by the state House or trial by the Senate, or a two-thirds majority vote by a joint resolution of the General Assembly.
Last month, special prosecutor Daniel Sigler announced that he would not issue criminal charges, because he didn’t believe he could prove Hill’s intent, which is required for a conviction on a charge of simple battery. Still, Sigler said he found the women to be credible.
Hill is far from absolved from the ethical requirements of public service. If he worked for a private employer or corporation, he almost certainly would have been fired by now. Why are we willing to hold an elected official to a lower standard? If the Republican-led General Assembly refuses to act against one of its own, its members are sending a strong message that they, too, condone Hill’s boorish behavior.
Niki DaSilva, a legislative assistant for Indiana Senate Republicans who accused Hill of moving his hand down her back and forcefully grabbing her hand to grope her buttocks, said one of the reasons she came forward was because a narrative was floating around the Statehouse — and being pushed by Hill’s backers — that the women were making false allegations to support a stealth political attack by Democrats.
“This has nothing to do with political affiliation,” DaSilva told me. “It was clear that that was not in the forefront of his mind that night. It didn’t matter who you were — a staffer, or a legislator or a lobbyist or a Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever. If you were female at that party, there was a chance that he might approach you. … There is a clear pattern of behavior. There were multiple instances in one night. Can you imagine how many times this has happened before then?”
That’s why all of these women say the bravery they have shown in coming forward is not about them. It’s much bigger than them. Reardon cited a 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report that found 85 percent of women in the workplace experience some level of sexual harassment. And within two years of experiencing that treatment, they leave their job.
That must stop.
“When you shine a light on a predator, you take their power away,” Reardon said. “They thrive in darkness and silence. We will not be silent because he cannot continue to do this.”
‘I have to walk by his office every single day’
Hill’s four accusers have taken the first steps toward pursuing a potential civil lawsuit. But no civil litigation will change the fact that if Hill isn’t removed from office, these women will have to see him and likely interact with him. Some of them have already had disturbing encounters.
Gabrielle McLemore, communications director for Indiana Senate Democrats, who accused Hill of intimately rubbing her back while she sat at the bar, said she and her then-fiance happened to attend the Indiana State Fair over the summer on the Office of the Attorney General-sponsored day. She expressed to her now-husband how uneasy she felt about possibly seeing Hill. And then their paths crossed.
“I don’t know if he saw me, but I felt like we made eye contact, and I felt like I had this anxiety attack,” McLemore said, crying. “I immediately turned around and ran in the opposite direction and got away as quickly as I could. … And that’s something that until he’s out of office, I’m going to have to deal with that every single time I see him. We work in the same building.
“I have to walk by his office every single day, in and out of the building,” she said. “And every day I try not to look over, just wondering if maybe he’s standing there watching me walk by.”
Similarly, DaSilva, who said she was so frightened in the weeks after coming forward with her allegations that she went to work every day and locked her office door, ran into Hill at a Colts game. She was standing outside of a suite talking to a few people when Hill, his wife and his son passed.
“So we just stared at each other,” DaSilva said. “He had a very grumpy look on his face and he just stared at me the entire time when he walked by. And I thought about what that encounter would look like since July. I’ve had the same anxiety walking by his office every day, wondering if I’m going to walk into a meeting and he’s going to be there or be out in the parking lot and walk by him.”
‘Why do I feel so much shame?’
For Samantha Lozano, who accused Hill of making lewd remarks to her and inappropriately touching her, she feels such great cultural and familial indignity that she has limited her interaction with people and spends most of her free time alone watching “Grey’s Anatomy” reruns.
Lozano first came to the Statehouse as a sophomore in high school as part of a Latino fellows program established by Reardon to encourage their involvement in public service and state government. Her family lives in Chicago and her parents have traditional values, she said. Lozano worries that they will think less of her or that the very public situation she is now in will ruin her professionally.
“I know I did nothing wrong, but why am I questioning myself about my actions?” she said, crying. “Why do I feel so much shame and embarrassment for what happened?”
Lozano said she has questioned the way she was dressed that night, whether she should have been drinking, if people think she did something to provoke Hill’s actions and whether she betrayed “the social norms in a Hispanic family that you’re not supposed to be around these men.”
“Is it my fault for going against what my culture has instilled in me since a young age?” she tearfully asked.
It’s heartbreaking that Lozano is blaming herself for something that falls squarely on the shoulders of Curtis Hill, a man who touched these women without their permission.
“Every day for the past six, seven months, I have wished that he would just say he’s sorry, that he didn’t mean it or that maybe he acknowledges that he acted in an inappropriate way — that he’s sorry, that he’s never going to do it again,” Lozano said.
But Hill isn’t stand up enough to do what’s right. So the General Assembly needs to help him.
Curtis Hill must go.
Editor’s note: This is the third column in a three-part series featuring the four women who have accused Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill of groping and inappropriately touching them at a party in March.
Email IndyStar columnist Suzette Hackney at [email protected] Friend her on Facebook at Suzette Hackney and follow her on Twitter: @suzyscribe.
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