Indiana GOP leaders call on Hill to resign as lawmaker comes forward with groping claims

Amid calls from Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and the two GOP Statehouse leaders for Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill to resign amid groping allegations made by four women, including a lawmaker, at an Indianapolis bar, the lawmaker in question has come forward to share her side of the story.

In a column published by The Indianapolis Star on Friday, Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said Hill slid his hands down her back and grabbed her bare buttocks at a party on March 15, then attempted to do so again later the same evening.

“I speak out now, to support the other victims of Attorney General Curtis Hill, who have not yet found their voice,” Reardon wrote. “I call upon our Statehouse leaders to protect not only the young adult public servants, but State employees, and to create a method whereby deviant behavior is held accountable, no matter the perpetrator’s title.”

According to both Reardon’s column and a confidential memo prepared by Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, which was created at the request of legislative leaders, Hill also behaved inappropriately toward legislative staffers, including one of Reardon’s own staffers who witnessed the groping.

“Four women had the courage to step forward to report sexual harassment by the Indiana attorney general,” Holcomb said in a statement Thursday night. “The findings of the recent legislative report are disturbing and, at a minimum, show a violation of the state’s zero tolerance sexual harassment policy.”

Holcomb said he agrees with GOP Senate leader David Long and Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma that Hill should resign and supports “a thorough investigation by the state’s inspector general.” The inspector general’s office has since agreed to open an investigation.

Long and Bosma issued a joint statement Thursday evening, saying: “We believe that the women who came forward with accounts of inappropriate behavior by Attorney General Curtis Hill in the early hours of March 15, 2018, are telling the truth regardless of the attorney general’s denial of these allegations.”

A spokeswoman for Hill did not respond to a message seeking comment Thursday evening.

Two other Indiana Republicans — Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Secretary of State Connie Lawson — later called on Hill to step down, with Crouch saying in a statement late Thursday that “sexual harassment should never be tolerated.” Lawson said in her statement that “Indiana deserves a safe work environment, which extends beyond the workplace. … Our state leaders are held to a higher standard and must behave in such a manner.”

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus also called for Hill’s resignation in a statement issued Friday.

The call from high-level Republicans for Hill to resign comes after Democrats ratcheted up political pressure in an election year where female voters could make a big difference at the polls. Over the past week, Democrats have harshly criticized what they characterize as a lackluster Republican response to the allegations against Hill and have likewise demanded his resignation. A Statehouse rally calling for Hill’s resignation was being planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Statehouse, according to Democratic Rep. Linda Lawson.

Hill has denied the groping allegations, which were lodged by Reardon and three legislative aides, and on Tuesday said he had no plans to step down. The accusations against him were included in the confidential legislative memo that was prepared by Indianapolis law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP and leaked this week to news outlets, including to Indiana Lawyer.

Earlier Thursday, many Republicans either declined, or were reluctant, to comment on Hill. On Tuesday, Bosma and Long had said they had “no further public comment on the matter” but announced that they were launching an investigation into the leak of a memo outlining the allegations against Hill.

The document, which includes details from interviews with six women, offers a picture of Hill carousing during a party at a bar in the early morning hours of March 15, shortly after this year’s legislative session came to a close.

Reardon said Hill was “very intoxicated” when he slid his hands down her back, put them under her clothes and grabbed her buttocks, according to the memo. She told him to “back off” and walked away, but Hill again approached her, reached under her clothing and grabbed her again, according to the memo. However, Reardon’s column says she “recoiled before her could touch my buttocks again,” referencing the second time Hill is alleged to have to tried to grope her.

Democrats say Reardon’s allegations meet the legal threshold for a sexual battery charge.

Hill also gave a staffer a two-minute back rub, which made her uncomfortable, the memo states. Another staffer said Hill put his arm around her and slid his hand down her back. When she tried to remove his hand, she said he groped her buttocks, the memo says. He put his arm around a third staffer’s waist and “hugged” her close, according to the document.

Hill has called the inquiry by legislative leaders into his conduct a “prejudicial investigation that is deeply troubling.”

"At no time was my behavior inappropriate nor did I touch anyone in an inappropriate manner," Hill said in a statement.

Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney said that if Hill doesn’t resign, the Legislature should impeach him.

“I think there is an adequate basis and the law provides for that,” said DeLaney, a lawyer from Indianapolis. “I think he has no choice but to resign. But that doesn’t mean he will take that choice.”

Another matter that remains unclear is the future of the investigation by GOP leaders into the leak of the memo. Both Bosma and Long previously called it an “egregious breach of confidentiality” and vowed that they were “investigating the source of this breach of employee confidentiality and will react accordingly if the source is discovered.”

Hill, a staunch social conservative who is married, has been viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party. The former Elkhart County prosecutor, who is also an Elvis imitator, has visited the White House several times since President Donald Trump took office. In May, he warmed up the crowd at a rally Trump held in Hill’s native Elkhart.

But Hill, who has cultivated a tough-on-crime reputation, also has a complicated relationship with fellow Indiana Republicans, particularly Holcomb, and this week found himself with few allies. In the past he has vehemently criticized several policy initiatives Holcomb championed, including expanded needle exchanges to reduce the spread of infectious disease among drug users and a law legalizing the use of CBD oil, a cannabis-derived medicine that can reduce seizures but won’t get you high.

Look for more on the investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Curtis Hill in the July 11 issue of Indiana Lawyer.

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