By Dan Seufert | New Hampshire Union Leader
Speaking publicly for the first time, Janelle Westfall said state laws failed her after New London’s former police chief made her a proposition: If she posed nude for him, the underage alcohol charges against her would be dropped. Because of Westfall’s complaint, David Seastrand will never be allowed to serve as a police officer again. She also received a $70,000 settlement from the town. But, she adds, “It just bothers me that it happened, and that they couldn’t prosecute (Seastrand). It bothers me that it could happen again to someone else.”
Because of Westfall’s complaint, David Seastrand will never be allowed to serve as a police officer again. She also received a $70,000 settlement from the town.
But as she sat down with her father and lawyer on Friday to begin a push for new legislation to improve state laws, it was clear that she’s still deeply troubled. Asked for her feelings, she began to cry, then paused.
“Scared,” Westfall said. “It just bothers me that it happened, and that they couldn’t prosecute (Seastrand). It bothers me that it could happen again to someone else.”
She paused again. “I’m sad and scared to drive through (New London), that there are going to be people who know who I am and think I’m a bad person. I miss my friends, but I can’t go back there, it’s all really uncomfortable.”
Westfall did not return to college in 2013 and hasn’t in 2014, and said she isn’t sure when she will be able to return. “I haven’t thought of it,” she said. “I haven’t been able to focus lately.”
“She’s been very brave,” said her father, Todd Westfall of Bridgewater, “but she’s been an emotional wreck.”
Westfall, who was 18 at the time, was arrested by Seastrand, then 50, on March 2, 2013, as she walked home from a party. She was charged with giving a false name and for being in possession of a beer can.
Four days later, Seastrand called her to the police station. The former chief told Westfall he needed to meet with her alone, and began discussing alternative measures of punishment, like community service, for the misdemeanors.
Westfall, who worked frequently as a babysitter, and who was planning to major in early childhood education, said she grew more scared.
Seastrand explained, she said, that they would go into the basement. “He said would grab the station’s camera to shoot a series of nude photos of me, and then he’d hold it over my head for two years to be sure I didn’t commit another crime,” Westfall said.
“That’s when it was really chilling,” she said. “He’s standing there in uniform, he had his gun strapped on his side.”
Seastrand told her he would deny the whole incident if she told anyone. She asked him to call her father, and she left the police station. She then called a friend, as well as her uncle and aunt, who are both police officers. They told her to write down everything she remembered. Her father, meanwhile, called state police.
Seastrand, who was not reachable for comment, and whose lawyer did not return calls asking for comment, resigned on April 4, 2013, surrendering his certification as a police officer after serving for 27 years.
State prosecutors, while calling Seastrand’s actions “abhorrent behavior and unacceptable behavior for anyone in that type of a position,” did not file criminal charges against him.
They later explained that the only law applicable to the case was the abuse of power statute, under which a public official is guilty of a misdemeanor if he or she knowingly commits an unauthorized act “which purports to be an act of his office” or “knowingly refrains from performing a duty imposed on him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office.”
The decision was explained to Westfall, but she didn’t like it.
“I was hurt, I was hoping for more than that,” she said. “I was ready to testify in court, though the thought of that freaked me out, even being in the same room with him again would creep me out.”
Westfall and her attorney, Richard Lehmann, say two things need to be changed by the legislature: the language of the law needs to be rewritten so prosecutors can more easily prosecute police in a case like this, and the penalty of the crime “has to be more than a misdemeanor,” Westfall said. It would also be good if all police were required to have on-body video cameras, she said.
Westfall said she is willing to lend her experiences and testimony to the new language or for a new law or set of laws. Now, she just needs one or more Granite State legislators to take the lead and come up with the needed legislation.
“We’re not trying to be anti-cop, we have cops in the family,” Todd Westfall said. “It’s just that the difference in power and prestige is so deep, a chief is going to be believed in a case like this and a young person may not be. There has to be an improvement somehow in this system.”
“It has to be tough for a young person,” Lehmann said. “As a child, we’re told that if anything is wrong, you should go find a police officer. It kind of shatters that image.”