Calls for resignation, due process after NH state rep accused of sex assault on 16-year-old
Lawmakers and organizations from the Granite State are responding to sexual assault allegations against a Republican state representative, but this isn't the first controversy to hit the House in the past year.
Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway announced Friday that state Rep. Eric Schleien, 29, R-Hudson, is charged with one misdemeanor count of sexual assault and two misdemeanor counts of simple assault.
Conway said the charges stem from a July 2016 incident involving a 16-year-old girl.
House Speaker Shawn Jasper said in a statement that these charges must be taken seriously, but that the public should let the courts handle the case before jumping to conclusions.
"The fact that the accusations against Rep. Schleien involve a 16-year-old girl is very disturbing, to say the least," Jasper said. "But we need not rush to judgement until the investigation is concluded and Rep. Schleien has had his day in court. Obviously if the charges are proven true, I would expect the representative from Hudson to resign from the House immediately.”
Former New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Kathy Sullivan called for Schleien's resignation in a statement released Friday afternoon. Sullivan also called on Gov. Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire Republican Party to condemn Rep. Schleien’s actions and demand his resignation as well.
"The drumbeat of Republicans who are forced to resign from year to year for their bad behavior is becoming a disturbing trend," Sullivan said.
She noted that Schleien voted against a ban on child marriage in the last legislative session, opting to leave the legal marrying age at 13. She pointed to decisions made by the Republican Party that she said led Schleien to believe his actions were acceptable.
"It's hard to ignore the signals in the Republican Party that led Schleien to believe his actions were acceptable," she said. "Eighty-six Republicans voted to allow ignorance as a defense for soliciting underage prostitutes. The 30 votes against a bipartisan rape shield bill to protect sexual assault victims were all Republican."
Sununu responded by applauding the legal system.
"Sexual assault will not be tolerated in New Hampshire, and I applaud the authorities for taking aggressive action to fully investigate these disturbing allegations," Sununu said.
Attorney Seth J. Hipple, Schleien's lawyer, issued a statement saying that Schleien denies all allegations.
"It is important to note that these charges are misdemeanors and do not allege that there was any sort of violence or threats," the statement read. "Mr. Schleien has pleaded not guilty, is cooperating with the process, and expects to be fully vindicated."
The capitol has seen its fair share of controversy in recent months though, with the resignation of Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia, over the "Red Pill" misogyny scandal and Rep. Thomas Katsiantonis, D-Democratic, being indicted for tax evasion and theft.
Another former state representative, Kyle Tasker, is currently serving three to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in May to charges of drug possession and trying to lure a 14-year-old girl over Facebook into a sexual encounter in 2016.
The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence released a statement calling the allegations against Schleien "alarming," but also said that he is innocent until proven guilty. They said a recent CDC study ranks New Hampshire as having one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the U.S.
"The Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence is working with state leaders to craft a comprehensive legislative agenda to address a number of inadequacies in our current sexual assault laws," the statement read. "In addition, we will work to help prevent sexual violence by working to establish opportunities for all students in NH to receive age-appropriate prevention education."
Schleien is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 2 at 8:30 a.m. in Rockingham County Superior Court.