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Ex-police chief in child porn case no longer under investigation for sex assault

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State prosecutors have ended an investigation into the sexual assault allegations against former East Helena Police Chief William Harrington, who recently pleaded guilty to a separate charge of distributing child pornography. 

The Montana Attorney General's Office Division of Criminal Investigation said the allegations of sexual assault were unsubstantiated.

"At the request of city officials, DCI investigated a report of sexual assault by the former police chief. At no point in the investigation did they find that the sexual encounters were non-consensual," attorney general spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell said in an email this week. 

Harrington resigned from his post as East Helena's highest ranking police officer March 5, after being put on administrative leave pending the investigation into the sexual assault allegations. 

The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office was initially brought in by city leadership, but Sheriff Leo Dutton said he turned over the case to the division of criminal investigation.

Shortly after his resignation, Harrington was arrested and charged with three counts of distributing child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography.

Harrington pleaded guilty to one count of distributing child pornography Tuesday in U.S. District Court. The government will seek the dismissal of the three other counts if the court accepts the terms of a plea agreement in the case. 

"At the same time, the investigation initiated by the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office into allegations of distribution of child pornography were substantiated," Cantrell said of the division of criminal investigation's work on the case. "The Department of Justice is glad he pleaded guilty in that case and will be held accountable."

The Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Bureau has put on hold its investigation into Harrington's conduct, according to POST Paralegal and Investigator Katrina Bolger. The POST Bureau will likely revoke Harrington's police certification following his sentencing, which is scheduled for April 13, 2022.

Bolger said that generally when criminal charges are pending, such investigations are put on hold to allow law enforcement officers and agents of the court to do their jobs.

A report resulting from a third-party investigation into workplace culture within the East Helena Police Department, which stemmed from the sexual assault claim and was filed May 11, outlined Harrington's meticulous efforts to isolate his officers and employees from other agencies and each other. The report also claimed Harrington installed video surveillance cameras in the department and GPS tracking devices within the squad cars, allowing only him to monitor employees remotely.

The report, filed by a Great Falls attorney, states "Harrington's tenure with the EHPD did nothing to address these problems (inadequate management and oversight; the failure to define roles and responsibilities; lack of training; outdated policies and procedures; burnout and stress) and in fact seemed to only worsen many of the issues."

Portions of that report, obtained by the Independent Record through a records request, were redacted "to protect the right to privacy of the alleged victim," according to East Helena City Attorney Peter Elverum.

East Helena Mayor James Schell and Mayor-elect Kelly Harris did not respond to requests for comment. 

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