A former Powell police officer accused of having unwanted sexual contact with a woman while on duty in 2011 has pleaded not guilty to the felony charge against him.
The attorney for Kirk B. Chapman entered the denial of the allegations on his client’s behalf at a Wednesday appearance in Park County District Court in Cody. As is the norm at such arraignment hearings, Chapman spoke only to give brief answers to routine questions from District Court Judge Steven Cranfill.
The third-degree sexual assault charge alleges Chapman used his then-position as a police officer to get a Powell woman to submit to sexual contact in September 2011. The charge was filed against Chapman in July 2012 following a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and Park County Attorney’s Office review of the woman’s allegations.
Chapman had dropped the intoxicated woman off at her home after she asked police for a ride from a bar.
What happened later is what makes up the criminal allegations — and what is in dispute.
The woman says Chapman returned about an hour later. She told DCI investigators that Chapman kissed her, touched her body and genitals and rubbed himself up against her while in uniform. The woman said she told Chapman he should return to work before and during the contact, according to charging documents.
As for the allegation that Chapman used his position as a police officer to force the woman to submit, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters noted during a preliminary hearing last year that there are no allegations Chapman threatened the woman. However, the woman told DCI investigators she believed Chapman showed her a knife in his boot to intimidate her and believed he “used his position” to “violate” her, court records say.
For his part, Chapman flatly denied the allegations. He told DCI investigators he never returned to the woman’s residence after dropping her off. During the preliminary hearing, Chapman’s court-appointed attorney, Bill Simpson of Cody, argued the woman’s timeline of events doesn’t match up with police logs and questioned her credibility by noting past mental health issues. Simpson suggested the woman had been angry with Chapman over a misdemeanor, alcohol-related arrest from a year earlier.
Deputy Park County Attorney Sam Krone, however, highlighted a part of the woman’s account in which she recalled Chapman tripped the mic key on his radio while rubbing against her. She recounted to DCI investigators that Chapman had told dispatch he’d bumped his knee. The investigators found an audio recording of radio traffic from that early morning that appears to match the woman’s recollection of events, wrote DCI agent Andrew Hanson in the charging affidavit.
Wednesday’s arraignment had been delayed several times.
In late November, Simpson asked for the hearing to be pushed back. Simpson said he and prosecutors were “currently negotiating a plea agreement” that would take a few weeks to finish.
On Jan. 9, Simpson asked Judge Cranfill to schedule his client for a change of plea hearing — a hearing where a defendant typically switches their plea from not guilty to guilty or no contest as part of plea bargain. It was an unusual request because 1) Chapman hadn’t entered a plea to change, and 2) according to Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric, there was no deal in place. In a March filing, deputy county attorney Krone asked for the change of plea hearing to be scrapped, saying that “the parties have not entered into plea negotiations.”
Simpson didn’t respond to a request for comment about why he originally asked for the hearing.
Now that Chapman has pleaded not guilty, the case will be set for a trial.
Chapman began serving with the department in January 2007 and resigned in November 2011. The Powell Police Department placed Chapman on administrative leave after the allegations were reported in September, and he resigned without returning to duty, Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt has said.