By The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana's attorney general is facing allegations of sexual harassment and defamation in a federal lawsuit filed by four women who say he drunkenly groped them during a party last year.
The women and their lawyers announced the lawsuit against Republican state Attorney General Curtis Hill during a Tuesday news conference. The women's lawyers said in October that they intended to sue Hill after a special prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges against him.
Hill is accused of touching the backs or buttocks of Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster and three legislative staffers in March 2018 at an Indianapolis bar. Hill has denied wrongdoing and rebuffed calls from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state officials to resign.
The lawsuit also accuses the state of Indiana of inadequately protecting Statehouse employees from sexual harassment and workplace retaliation.
Candelaria Reardon said the lawsuit seeks "institutional change."
"When an elected official betrays the trust, the public trust, in such an egregious way so as to commit sexual battery and assault and doesn't have the honor to resign, to maintain the dignity of the office, there have to be consequences for those actions and there have to be options to hold him accountable," she said.
The attorney general's office said it would "defend vigorously" the state and Hill in federal court.
"The lawsuit is related to allegations that have now been reviewed four times," the office said in a statement. "The investigations all concluded without any recommendations for further action."
Hill faces an October hearing on possible sanctions from the state Supreme Court on allegations that he committed professional misconduct at the party, which could lead to his disbarment as an attorney.
Hill, a former Elkhart County prosecutor who was elected in 2016 to a term that runs through the end of 2020, called the women's allegations "vicious and false" during a news conference shortly after they became public last summer.
The lawsuit maintains that Hill's comments to reporters and in social media posts defamed the women and hurt their professional reputations. It seeks unspecified monetary damages from the state and Hill personally, an apology from Hill for his denials and an injunction ordering the state to adopt tougher sexual harassment policies.
The special prosecutor noted that Hill didn't deny the touching occurred, but that he justified it as "incidental ... in the crowded bar" and "not intended to be disrespectful, sexual in nature or rude." A separate state inspector general's report cited eyewitnesses who called Hill's behavior inappropriate and "creepy" but said he didn't break any state ethics rules.
Niki DaSilva, a legislative assistant for the Indiana Senate Republican Caucus, described keeping her Statehouse office door locked when she was inside after her allegations against Hill became public in fear of Hill or someone working for him walking in. The women said they also faced offensive remarks and avoided some work-related social events because of uncomfortable reactions from legislators or other staff members.
Hannah Kaufman Joseph, an attorney for the women, said the state has no consistent policy regarding sexual harassment covering lawmakers, statewide elected officials, lobbyists and staff members and faulted it for not seeking independent investigations of such allegations.
"The state of Indiana has simply failed to adequately protect the individuals that work in and around the Statehouse — all of them — as required by federal law," she said.