By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
Litchfield Police Chief Benjamin Sargent, 43, of Hudson has been charged with Official Oppression for allegedly sexually harassing a subordinate over a 24-hour period starting Dec. 31, 2021.
The criminal complaint alleges that between Dec. 31, 2021, and Jan. 1, 2022, Sargent, knowingly committed an act purported to be an act of his office to benefit himself by sexually harassing a subordinate in violation of an official policy.
Official oppression is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,200.
Attorney General John Formella’s spokesman said an interim police chief is now in charge at the Litchfield Police Department, but referred questions about Sargent’s employment status to town officials who couldn’t be reached Thursday evening.
Scott Gilbert, an investigator at the Attorney General’s Office, received complaints from attorney Andrea Amodeo-Vickery and ACLU-NH legal director Gilles Bissonnette on behalf of Litchfield Police Officer Taylor Dezotell alleging that from Dec. 31, 2021 through Jan. 1, 2022 Sargent used his position to sexually harass her.
According to Gilbert’s affidavit for Sargent’s arrest, on Dec. 31, 2021 at 10:20 a.m. the suicide prevention hotline reported to the Litchfield Police Department that Sargent was drunk and driving around with a pistol in his mouth.
When Litchfield police responded to Sargent’s residence, they found him intoxicated and aggressive towards them.
They stayed with him until about 5:30 p.m. and ultimately left him to “sober up,” but called him at 11 p.m. and described him as “still shitfaced,” the affidavit said.
During an investigation into the matter by the town, Sargent was interviewed twice by Attorney Talesha Saint-Marc who was retained by the town.
According to Gilbert: Sargent admitted to having a 30 minute phone call with the Alcoholics Anonymous hotline. He admitted that he disclosed that he was unable to stop drinking. He denied saying that he was suicidal or driving intoxicated with a gun in his mouth. Sargent admitted he was intoxicated during the relevant interactions with Dezotell although he described himself as legally intoxicated.
Starting Dec. 31, 2021, at 7:08 p.m. Sargent and Dezotell had four phone conversations and two text exchanges over the next day.
Dezotell reported that Sargent asked her about hearing he was driving around town with a gun in his mouth.
“Sargent explained (to Dezotell) that he was experiencing a lot of stress and that he had been drinking over the holidays and that his wife was not happy with him,” the affidavit said.
“Sargent stated that he felt everyone was betraying him and that he was worried Dezotell would betray him too,” Gilbert wrote.
According to Dezotell, Sargent continued to say that his wife was not happy with him, that he had a “Taylor problem” and that he had a “crush” on Dezotell, who tried to change the topic.
She repeatedly asked him what a Taylor problem meant and he eventually said it meant he loved her, the affidavit said.
According to Dezotell, Sargent told her to bring wine to his home after her next call and he would tell her about “his feelings” toward her in person.
She told him she couldn’t buy wine in uniform.
“When speaking with Attorney Saint-Marc, Sargent acknowledged making knowing and purposeful comments to Dezotell but disputed the purpose of his comments. Sargent generally denied expressing romantic or sexual interest in Dezotell during their conversations…” Gilbert wrote.
When Dezotell mentioned her husband and son in one call saying they were “good,” Sargent said, “Well that f—- up my shit because I’m getting a divorce.”
The fourth phone call was Jan. 1, 2022, at 12:50 p.m. in which, according to Dezotell, Sargent still sounded intoxicated, Gilbert wrote.
“Her move to the night schedule was discussed. Dezotell described being ‘bummed’ but understood. Sargent told her she should have come to him in advance as he could have helped her,” the affidavit said.
In the fourth phone call Dezotell said Sargent told her the Taylor problem definition: “It means I love you.” When Dezotell attempted to redirect the conversation, Sargent said he knows he’s “short and fat,” the affidavit said.
Sargent has been released on personal recognizance bail and is scheduled for arraignment in District Court in Merrimack Jan. 12, 2023, at 8:15 a.m.