2009-03-05 / Features

Complaint Against DA Rejected


PITTSBURGH (AP) - A private complaint by a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by a county prosecutor in his office after hours has been rejected by the state attorney general for lack of evidence, but her attorney said he'll push for a judge to approve criminal charges anyway.

Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins, who is married, has acknowledged having consensual sex at his courthouse office after a Republican fundraiser in July, but he denies raping or assaulting the woman.

But the woman's attorney, Thomas Crawford of Pittsburgh, said Higgins should be charged because he knowingly got the woman too drunk to legally consent to the sex.

Attorney General's spokesman Kevin Harley said the woman's complaint, filed Aug. 27, was not approved because of a "lack of physical evidence,'' a "lack of credible specificity'' and "significant evidence which contradicts the allegations'' in the complaint, filed more than a month after the encounter.

Harley wouldn't detail the contradictory evidence or what investigators found to be incredible because she still has the right to appeal the decision to a Common Pleas judge. The judge could order the criminal charges to go forward if the woman can provide probable cause.

Crawford said he'll push for that.

Higgins said he was relieved but not surprised by the attorney general's decision and claims the woman was lying to justify her behavior to her family.

"I was confident that the system works and the truth would come out,'' Higgins said. "It was unfortunate that rather than accept responsibility for our terrible behavior she sought to make these baseless allegations.''

Higgins, 34, who was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2007, said the criminal charges were a distraction from his job but, more importantly, a distraction from repairing the relationship with his wife and family.

"This decision certainly doesn't erase what I did,'' Higgins said. "I don't want to make this seem like a 'victory' here because it's not. I'm still focused on the fact that I did something terribly wrong to my family.''

Higgins said state prosecutors didn't tell him what prompted the decision, but he rejected Crawford's description of the incident.

"I picked up the (bar) tab for about eight people that night and it was about $50,'' Higgins said. "Now if that's me trying to get her drunk, well, you do the math and figure out how much alcohol was consumed by anyone.''

Crawford said the woman complained to the Bedford borough police the next day, but they referred it to the "state police who only wanted to talk her out of the investigation.''

State police Sgt. Robert Johnson, who heads the Bedford barracks, said the borough filed a written request asking the state police to investigate.

The local troopers, in turn, contacted their Bureau of Criminal Investigation to look into the complaint because of a possible conflict of interest between Bedford based troopers and the DA. But the woman signed a release saying she did not want state police to pursue it, Johnson said.

Bedford police chief Jim Sigler said the woman never complained to police in person, though her husband did. But Sigler denied ever filing a written request asking the state police to take over the case. Advised of that, Sgt. Johnson doublechecked the state police records and said a written referral was requested but never received from borough police.

Harley said the attorney general's office stands by its decision.

"It's certainly her right to appeal our decision, and we will present all the facts at a hearing before a judge,'' Harley said.

Higgins said the woman's claims of intoxication are exaggerated.

"She claimed to be so intoxicated she didn't know what she was doing, yet she drove herself here and drove home. She took a phone call from her husband while she was here, answered the phone call and spoke to him,'' Higgins said.

Harley wouldn't comment on those details but confirmed the woman is married with children.

Bedford County is about 85 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

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