Sex crime charges dropped against Bennington Rural firefighters
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 03,2013
BENNINGTON — The state has dismissed charges against two members of the Bennington Rural Fire Department who were accused in December of having sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and who had both been charged with a crime punishable by life in prison.
However, both sets of charges were dismissed without prejudice which means they could be filed again in the future.
On Dec. 17, Bryan Watson, 25, of Bennington, was charged in Bennington criminal court with felony charges of sexual assault on a victim younger than 16 and repeated aggravated sexual assault.
Zachary J. Spaulding, 21, of Bennington, was arraigned in the same court on Dec. 21 on a felony charge of repeated aggravated sexual assault, a felony charge of sexual assault with no consent and a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Both were members of the Bennington Rural Fire Department in December and Watson was a captain in the department.
Bennington County Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Christina Rainville filed paperwork in both cases dismissing the charges without prejudice.
“The state is dismissing this case not because of any change in the evidence but rather because prosecuting the case is not in the best interest of the child-victim at this time. The state expressly reserves the right to re-bring the charges at any time until the expiration of the statute of limitations which presently would not expire until the victim is 24,” Rainville said.
Calls on Tuesday to the attorneys representing Watson and Spaulding were not returned.
The charges were based on information obtained during an interview with the girl by Detective Anthony Silvestro of the Bennington Police Department and Wendy Nolan, an investigator with the Vermont Department of Children and Families, in November.
The girl told investigators that Watson had initiated sexual contact with her more than 10 times during the summer of 2011 when she was 13.
In a separate interview, the girl said there had been two incidents during the summer of 2012 at her home involving contact with Spaulding. She claimed that Spaulding had been drinking both times before the incidents.
Silvestro said he interviewed Watson and Spaulding. Both men said they knew the girl and had spent time with her alone but both said there had never been any inappropriate contact.
Neither Watson nor Spaulding have criminal records.
Both had been charged with repeated aggravated sexual assault which is punishable by up to life in prison.
On Monday, Rainville said that the state sometimes dismisses charges when prosecutors believe it is “clearly in the best interests of the child” although she said it can be a “difficult decision.”
However, the charges can be filed again if the circumstances change. At least twice since she’s been with the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office cases have been revived.
“Sometimes children get stronger over time and with distance from the original trauma,” she said.