Tuesday morning at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, Special Prosecutor Dan Sigler addressed the assembled press gathered in the first floor conference room to announce no charges would be filed against Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.
Sigler simultaneously released a seven-page report to the Marion Superior Court Criminal Division regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct.
Then, four of Hill’s accusers, along with their attorneys from Katz Korin Cunningham, announced they were taking initial steps to proceed with a civil lawsuit.
Three of the women—State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster; Niki DaSilva, Legislative Assistant for the Indiana Senate Republicans; and Gabrielle McLemore, Communications Director for the Indiana Senate Democrats—had previously made their identities known to the public
A fourth accuser—Samantha Lozano, Legislative Assistant for the Indiana House Democrats—had been unnamed up to that point.
Simultaneously, the Indiana Office of the Inspector General released their own separate 25-page report announcing no charges would be filed.
Wednesday, Lozano, DaSilva, and their attorney, Kimberly Jeselskis, gave NUVO an exclusive phone interview in which they discussed their next steps, the reaction they have received, and the wider #MeToo movement.
[Editor's note: Hill has not responded to a request for an interview sent through his attorney Jennifer M. Lukemeyer of Voyles Vaiana Lukemeyer Baldwin & Webb.]
NUVO: Looking over the reports released yesterday, I keep seeing the words “intent” when they were talking about whether to charge Curtis Hill. How does anyone ever get charged with these crimes if that's the standard? How do you ever prove intent? Don't actions have any bearing?
Jeselskis: I'm not a criminal defense attorney. And, we're pursing the civil claims, which there is a different standard of proof. Generally speaking, though, in criminal cases they rely upon what's called—and even in civil cases—circumstantial evidence. So, he could say something, they could use evidence like that, which obviously didn't happen here, or have other witnesses' testimony attributing the intent to him. Apparently the special prosecutor doesn't think that that evidence was there.
RE: CRIMINAL AND CIVIL STANDARDS
NUVO: Could you explain the difference between the criminal standard and the civil standard?
Jeselskis: So, a criminal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a pretty high standard. The civil standard is the preponderance of the evidence. Which is usually, what attorneys like to say, it's a tipping of the scales, so it's a 51 percent, it could be that light of a tipping, but it's more likely than not. It's less of a onerous burden of proof because you're not talking about putting somebody in jail with a civil claim. That's why the criminal standard is much higher, because you're talking about putting somebody in jail for an extended period of time or not just depending on what the crime is.
RE: REACTIONS SINCE GOING PUBLIC
NUVO: What has been the reaction you've received from people since coming forward? Samantha, I know you just made your identity public, and Niki you've been public for longer, but what have people been saying to you?
Lozano: So, actually people have been very supportive and before coming out publicly I was very overwhelmed for what the response may be because that's not something I had dealt with before yesterday, but today I'm very happy and very content with my decision. And everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive.
DaSilva: I would say I had a fairly similar experience to Samantha. The day my story came out I got my wisdom teeth removed two hours after the story dropped. I didn't actually get to see any of the responses or anything for some time. I was in a dream-like state. But, I had hundreds of people between text messages and phone calls and emails. I received letters in the mail of people thanking me and supporting me and just wanting to let us all know that what we're doing is the right thing. Obviously on social media you see a lot of negative things. I think a lot of that comes from not understanding the full picture or having just a little bit of the information, making decisions based on headlines, but I think the majority of people are very supportive of what we're doing. So, I feel comfortable with this, and feel like even within my work I'm supported, too.
NUVO: Samantha, you chose yesterday to come out to the public and reveal your identity. Would you have still have done that if things had gone the other way and they did decide to charge Curtis Hill, or was this something tied to the decision not give him any charges?
Lozano: This is something I had already been contemplating that I was going to decide to do. And, yesterday morning I made the decision to come out publicly regardless of what the results would be.
NUVO: Niki, you were out before Samantha, so how did you feel about being public when people like her hadn't quite yet?
DaSilva: When I came out with my story two other women had come out publicly. And, part of the reason why I did end up deciding to have my story published with my name was because there was a lot of rhetoric of this being some sort of political attack, and I wanted people to understand this had nothing to do with political parties or any sort of division. There was no sort of collaborative malintent here or any sort. And, so I wanted people to realize all sorts of women were affected by this. And, we're not the only women. And, I think Samantha had every right not to want to come forward. It's a big decision to put yourself out there like that. It needed to be her's alone. We were going to support her whether she was confidential or whether she decided to become public.
RE: MORE INCIDENTS, MORE ACCUSERS
NUVO: In addition to the four named accusers, the Inspector General's report also lists two other incidents involving accusations of Hill inappropriately touching four unnamed lobbyists in attendance. I wasn't aware of that part of it. It sounds like there may even be more accusers out there we haven't heard from yet. Have you been in contact with them?
Jeselskis: I have not been in contact with them. That was the first time that I learned about that, as well. It was a surprise.
RE: TORT CLAIM AND EEOC FILING
NUVO: Could you explain what your next steps are going to be as it relates to the tort claim notice and the EEOC charges?
Jeselskis: The four individuals can actually file a lawsuit in court depending on the types of claims they want to bring. They have to take certain steps to preserve that right. And, here one of the things we had to do was file a tort claim notice with the state, putting the state on notice, “Here are the claims we are going to bring against you in a lawsuit.” And, so the tort claim notice set out what had occurred and that the claims we intend to bring include things like assault, battery, defamation, false imprisonment. And, it gives the state an opportunity to investigate the claims, and they can respond. They don't have to respond, but they have a 90-day period of time to do something, or do nothing. The time period could just pass, and then we're free to go file the case in court.
And, the same is true with filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Any time an employee or an applicant feels that they have been discriminated against on the basis of a protected characteristic such as sex, they have to first file a charge with the EEOC, which is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. They can't just go straight into court and file their Title VII claims, they have to first go through this administrative process at the EEOC. And, once that process is complete they can then file in court. And, all of the claims that we're asserting will be filed at the same time in one document, which is called a complaint. That's what will be filed ultimately with the court that will initiate the lawsuit.
NUVO: How did the alleged discrimination manifest itself?
Jeselskis: I think what makes this case different is that the harassment or the assault took place outside of the actual office setting. It took place in a work function, but it wasn't from 9 to 5 in the office. That doesn't stop the law from being in effect. I think a good example is a holiday party. If you go to a work holiday party and somebody is groping you, they're not off the hook just because it happened at the holiday party after work hours. In this case, the sexual harassment, the battery took place after work hours outside of the office, and then once the women came forward and their complaints were made known, then the retaliation occurred. And, the retaliation that we're talking about is primarily the response that occurred from Curtis Hill. The response that he came out and called them liars. That the claims were false and vicious. That he was going to sue them. That sort of response to the complaints that were made once he knew about the complaints. Title VII prohibits sexual harassment. It also prohibits retaliation once you complain about discrimination or harassment.
RE: THE FUTURE OF #METOO
NUVO: In the larger debate over the #MeToo movement, do you feel women are being believed and listened to more as time goes on?
DaSilva: The #MeToo movement has been around for decades. It's only recently when Hollywood got involved that you see it go this spotlight in the national field, so to speak. ... And there's a really great NPR podcast if you want to learn the history behind #MeToo. However, I do think that recently and since the political landscape has changed, you have seen more people taking horizontal actions. More actions that are at a level closer to their life. And so I do think people are taking these issues more seriously. There is an Ethics Committee within Congress that's looking at this. I know Congresswoman Susan Brooks is on that. And they're really making headway at the federal level in addressing sexual harassment and workplace issues. And, I think this is a really good opportunity for us to as a state look at what we can do to make sure we're giving those same opportunities to people who work for the state of Indiana.
Lozano: It's important to note what is occurring at the national level, but those who are, not only us who are working at the state level, but you also have to consider victims at the local, city, county level who may feel like they don't have a voice and may not have the courage to come out and speak because if something happens to them, it doesn't matter because it wasn't a statewide official, or a congressman, or a Supreme Court justice. I really want to draw attention that this can happen to anyone regardless of where you work. It's great that it's getting national attention, but we also need to focus on those who don't have that kind of spotlight.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this story had part of a quote from DaSilva about the history of the #MeToo movement. This section has been updated.]