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Courts and Crime

Fired Waterville Principal Charged with Misdemeanor

WATERVILLE, Maine — The former principal of Waterville High School is facing a misdemeanor charge of official oppression as the result of allegations that he solicited an 18-year-old female senior for sex last summer.

Don Reiter was fired from his position this week and is currently being investigated by New Hampshire authorities on similar allegations dating back more than a decade in that state. But Reiter's attorney maintains that there's not enough evidence to support the charge.

Under Maine law, the misdemeanor crime of official oppression can be brought against a public official who uses his or her office with the intent of benefiting personally or harming another individual. And as far as Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney is concerned, Reiter intended to achieve both of those goals when he allegedly solicited the student for sex in his office behind closed doors.

The young woman later reported him.

"Just because it's one person's word against another doesn't mean that a case shouldn't be brought," Maloney says. "You have to decide who you believe and that's my job, to decide who I believe, and then that's ultimately the job of the jury, to decide who they believe. So if I believe a victim in a case than I bring a case forward."

In the days since the Waterville allegations against Reiter came to light, former students in New Hampshire have come forward to make similar complaints against Reiter when he was employed at a regional high school in New Ipswich 17 years ago.

Maloney says the charge against the former educator sends the message that a higher standard of behavior is expected from those who are supposed to be in a position of public trust. The prosecutor said the student has agreed to testify against the former principal in a case that has divided the Waterville community.

"I obviously don't have a case without her cooperation, this has been extraordinarily difficult on her," Maloney says. "She has been ridiculed. She has been called a liar. And I can't even imagine how hard it has been for her going through this process. But through it all, she has gained even more strength in herself, and a belief in doing what's right and in pursuing justice."

"This is a case where the facts are disputed, the law is disputed and it has more issues than National Geographic," says Walter McKee, an Augusta attorney representing Reiter.

McKee says he will stage a vigorous defense for his client, who he says faces charges that can't be substantiated by the state.

"What happened in that room nobody even really knows — there are two different versions about what happened," he says. "But even assuming that everything that she says is 100 percent accurate, that's not the crime of official oppression. The crime of official oppression is something that's part of the anti-corruption statutes in our criminal code. It doesn't fit anywhere else. So even if you think that everything that she says is absolutely true — Don committed no crime whatsoever."

Maloney says she does not expect any further action in the case until after the first of the year.

The prosecutor says that while the crime does carry a jail term of up to six months, the penalty is rarely imposed. Instead, she says fines of up to $1,000 are more commonly assigned against those convicted of the charge.