County official says he won’t step down and vows to fight criminal charges
By Judy Harrison, Bangor Daily News Staff
The Penobscot County treasurer and Bangor School Board member arrested last week maintained his innocence on Sunday and vowed to fight allegations that he stalked and harassed a local woman.
John Hiatt, 38, of Bangor also said that he planned “to continue to carry out my oath of office as county treasurer and on the Bangor School Committee.”
He was arrested Friday afternoon by Bangor police and taken to the Penobscot County Jail. Hiatt was released on $5,000 bail about 24 hours after his arrest. The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the woman because she is the victim of an alleged crime.
Police said that Hiatt has been harassing the 34-year-old woman using his cellphone and the computer tablet issued to him by the Bangor School Department.
“Because I am innocent and have done nothing wrong,” he said. “I will cooperate with law enforcement and any prosecutor on the case. I believe in the American legal system.”
Hiatt said Sunday that he would fight the charges “with every bone in my body.”
Neither Peter Baldacci, chairman of the Penobscot County commissioners, nor Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine GOP, returned requests for comment. Hiatt is a representative to the state committee from Penobscot County.
He also said Sunday that on the advice of his attorney, Harris Mattson of Bangor, he would not address the charges directly. Hiatt claimed that he is the victim, not the woman.
“Two weeks ago I suffered a sexual assault by a close female friend of mine,” Hiatt said. “I have filed a police report and look forward to a law enforcement agency looking at my allegations the same way they would when a woman makes the same allegations. This is a person who has hurt me in the past.”
Hiatt obtained a protection order against the woman on Nov. 13, 2018, less than a week after the Republican, was elected as county treasurer and to the city school committee. It remained in place for a year.
On May 10 Hiatt sought a protection from harassment order against the woman, but it was denied because on May 6, four days earlier, the judge had issued a search warrant for Hiatt’s home and cellphone. Hiatt agreed not to pursue the matter.
Hiatt has been open about his autism and the challenges he faces as an elected official because of it. In the statement issued Sunday, he said his autism played a role in his interactions with the woman.
“Like many victims of abuse we go back to the people who have hurt us,” he said. “I consider myself a very smart person. But having autism, I don’t get people. On a personal level, I have opened myself up to be hurt and exploited many times.”
He is charged with one count each of aggravated invasion of computer privacy, a Class C crime, stalking, a Class D crime, theft by unauthorized taking, a Class E crime, and two counts of harassment, a Class D crime.
The Bangor School Department announced Friday about an hour after Hiatt’s arrest that it would cooperate with police and conduct its own investigation into the allegations.
“The Bangor School Department learned today that a Bangor School Committee member has been charged with a crime relating to use of an electronic device owned by the Bangor School Department,” Kathy Harris-Smedberg, interim superintendent, said in a notice posted on the Bangor High School Facebook page. “School committee members are issued tablets by the school department for use in carrying out their school committee responsibilities. We expect school committee members to observe the same requirements for use of electronic devices that are required of staff, including prohibiting any use that is illegal or in violation of other school committee policies.”
School board chairwoman Carin Sychterz said Saturday that “appropriate action will be taken based on the results of the school department’s investigation.”
Hiatt has announced on Facebook that he will seek a second term on the school committee and as county treasurer. In 2018 Hiatt beat incumbent Democrat Dan Tremble, who also serves on the Bangor City Council, for the treasurer’s seat.
While the school board election is non-partisan, the race for county officials requires candidates to declare their party affiliation or run as independents.
If convicted of the felony invasion of privacy law, Hiatt faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Class D crimes carry a maximum one-year term of incarceration and a fine of up to $2,000 and the maximum sentence and fine for a Class E crime are six months in jail and $1,000.