The three young women who accused former Lincoln County Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth Hatch III of sexually assaulting them expressed pain and frustration Friday, Jan. 26, when all counts were dropped by the Maine Attorney General's Office in exchange for a single charge of providing a place for minors to consume alcohol, a Class D offense, for which the Whitefield man got no jail time.

Hatch pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor count and was fined $1,000. A no contest plea results in a conviction.

Hatch had been charged with 22 felonies — 11 counts of sexual abuse of a minor, three counts of unlawful sexual contact, and eight counts of aggravated furnishing of marijuana. He was accused of sexually assaulting three girls and providing them marijuana and alcohol in exchange for sex.

At that trial, the prosecution said Hatch was a decorated officer by day, but at night was a different person, a man who preyed on girls for his own sexual gratification. Testimony during the trial stated that the sexual assaults occurred in his cruiser, his home, and once in a cubicle at the Sheriff's Office. One victim was 6 years old when the assaults began, the prosecutor said.

A jury in Kennebec County found Hatch not guilty Nov. 20 on one count of sexual abuse of a minor and one count of aggravated furnishing of marijuana. But the jury deadlocked on the other 20 charges.

According to Assistant Attorney General John Risler, the decision to make the plea agreement was based on the assessment that a retrial would likely not have resulted in a conviction.

Risler said the conviction on the Class D offense means that Hatch will not be able to work in law enforcement again.

The women who had come forward against Hatch, however, expressed their opposition to the agreement.

One of the young women spoke at the hearing and said the victims should have had a say in the decision. She said it was unfair that he was able to get away with his crimes because of his position as a police officer.

The woman said she knew it would be difficult coming forward, but that it was the right thing to do. She said Hatch betrayed her.

The mother of one of the other women read a statement from her daughter, who said her life will never be the same and that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, has anxiety attacks and horrible nightmares. Her daughter moved out of state because of what happened.

The victim witness advocate spoke on behalf of the third woman, who expressed similar feelings and said she felt betrayed.

Hatch said nothing during Friday's hearing, other than pleading no contest.

The Class D offense could have resulted in a year in jail. Justice William Stokes accepted the plea agreement and pointed out that the jury in Kennebec County had worked hard on the case.

Defense attorney Richard Elliott had said during his statements to the jury in November that all three accusers knew each other and had an ax to grind against the deputy.

Hatch was fired last month following a lengthy internal investigation. He had been on unpaid leave from the Sheriff’s Office since he was charged in June 2016.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills issued a statement Friday afternoon.

“We support the victims, these brave survivors. We believe them. Unfortunately, the jury did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hatch was guilty of these crimes. Fortunately, he will never work in law enforcement again.

"Now we must all work harder than ever to prevent this conduct from occurring in the first place. We must change the culture so that no one feels afraid to speak up, no one is coerced or intimidated into having sex without consent and no one feels they can use a position of power or authority to prey on others who are younger or less powerful than they.

"We applaud the women in this case for speaking up and only regret that the jury did not convict Mr. Hatch and that significant legal issues prevented a retrial," MIlls stated.