Lawmaker details groping by attorney general, who denies it

By BRIAN SLODYSKO, Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana lawmaker at the center of groping allegations against Attorney General Curtis Hill came forward Friday to accuse him publicly of groping her twice during a party earlier this year, increasing pressure on the embattled Republican to resign.

Democratic state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon published her own account of the March 15 incident, which occurred at an Indianapolis bar, in The (Northwest Indiana) Times newspaper.

She described Hill's behavior as "deviant" when she encountered him in the early morning hours after the legislative session ended for the year. She says he leaned toward her, put his hand on her back, slid it down and grabbed her buttocks. The Munster lawmaker says she told Hill to "back off," but he approached her again later in the night, put his hand on her back and said: "That skin. That back."

Hill was defiant Friday, saying he had no intention of stepping down despite calls from top Republicans for him to resign. He also called for the Marion County Prosecutor's office to conduct its own investigation, arguing that a similar probe by Indiana's Inspector General would not be "fair and independent."

"I am not resigning. The allegations against me are vicious and false," Hill said in a statement. "At no time did I ever grab or touch anyone inappropriately."

That's at odds with Candelaria Reardon's account, as well as those given by several other women to investigators who looked into the matter, according to a confidential legislative memo that was leaked to news outlets this week.

The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct or assault unless they come forward publicly, as Candelaria Reardon did.

"My name is Mara Candelaria Reardon. I am not anonymous. I am a wife, mother, business owner and a state representative. I am also a victim of sexual battery, perpetrated by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill," she wrote in the piece. "I speak out now, to support the other victims of Attorney General Curtis Hill, who have not yet found their voice."

Indiana law states that anyone who "touches another person's genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast when that person is unaware that the touching is occurring" has committed felony sexual battery.

In the article, Candelaria Reardon also suggested that there's actually a total of five women who were groped by Hill that night — not just the four mentioned in the memo.

A staunch social conservative who is married, Hill had been viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party since his election in 2016. The former Elkhart County prosecutor is an Elvis impersonator who holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has relished punditry appearances on Fox News. In May, he warmed up the crowd during a rally held in his hometown by President Donald Trump, who gave Hill a shoutout for being a "good man" who's "done a great job."

But he has also had a fraught relationship with fellow Indiana Republicans, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, whose policies on drug use and addiction the law-and-order Hill has criticized for not being tough enough.

On Thursday night, Hill found himself without allies as Holcomb and other top GOP leaders joined Democrats, who had earlier called for him to step down.

"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," Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement.

The call from high-level Republicans for Hill to resign came 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, which the GOP tried to keep secret. A Statehouse rally calling for Hill's resignation was being planned for Saturday.

While Republican legislative leaders tried to stay mum about the claims against Hill earlier in the week, they voiced outrage over the leak of the memo. They called it an "egregious breach of confidentiality" and vowed to investigate "the source of this breach of employee confidentiality and will react accordingly if the source is discovered."

That led some Democrats to charge that they cared more about the allegations against a fellow Republican being widely reported than the well-being of the employees and lawmaker involved.

Indiana's constitution allows for a public official to be removed from office, "for crime, incapacity or negligence" either by "impeachment by the House of Representatives, to be tried by the Senate," or by a "joint resolution of the General Assembly" with two thirds voting in favor.

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."

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