WEST FRANKFORT — Documents have revealed a recently-hired West Frankfort police officer resigned from his previous position in Mount Vernon after a sexual assault allegation was sent to the Illinois State Police for investigation. A civil case was filed Oct. 26 in federal court related to the same incident.
According to files obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, Cpl. Nicholas Gaines, who was hired full time by the West Frankfort Police Department in June, was investigated internally after a citizen complaint alleged that he groped and kissed a woman against her will while on duty.
A major complaint form filed Oct. 30, 2016, lists the sexual assault allegation as “sustained” and “pursuing criminal charges (ISP).” As of November 2017, Gaines has not been charged as a result of the investigation.
The summary of the incident in the complaint form indicates that Gaines “initiated contact” with an unidentified victim at her home to “inquire about her driving status.” The complaint states Gaines said he saw the victim driving and believed her license to be suspended. After the incident was settled, the report indicates the victim smiled at Gaines, who then used Mount Vernon Police Department Spillman records to acquire the woman's cell phone number, "which he used to ask her about the smile.”
Gaines then asked if he could return to the home to discuss the location of drugs that were collected from her garage, according to the complaint. It is there that Gaines allegedly “touched around her chest and buttocks area, manipulated her clothes and attempted to arrange a future meeting.”
The complaint form indicates that the victim initially consented but then “felt panicked" because she had a criminal record and felt she was being set up.
The complaint and affidavit for search warrant from ISP state that Gaines “told her during their phone conversation he saw her smile at him as he was leaving and wanted to know why.” It later alleges that Gaines told the victim he wanted to come by and talk to and to see the location where “some drug offenders left contraband in her garage.”
The document alleges that Gaines arrived while on duty, in uniform, in a squad car. Once inside the garage, the document alleges that Gaines began “asking her personal questions, began flirting with her, and she asked about him being married.” According to the affidavit’s narrative, Gaines told her he was 33 years old, was married and showed her a tattoo on his arm that said “DAD.”
“She said he pulled up her shirt to see her bra. She said he identified her bra as ‘Victoria Secrets’ brand, which it was. She said Corporal Gaines then turned her around, pulled up her panties, and also incorrectly identified them as ‘Victoria Secrets’ brand,” the document states. The account goes on to indicate that the victim said she “became uncomfortable, began to panic, did not ask to be touched, and tried walking out of the garage away from Corporal Gaines.”
The document states when she tried to leave, “Gaines grabbed her, prevented her from leaving the garage, pulled her back to him and told her he was not done.” The document states the alleged victim indicated he then began kissing her. The document said while Gaines was “forcing her to ‘French kiss’ she bumped his radio, causing a squelch break.” The timeline alleged that while Gaines was responding to a status check, she got away.
In Capt. Jeff Bullard’s narrative in the major complaint form, he said Gaines admitted going to the victim’s residence as well as using police department records to obtain her number and calling her “in part to inquire about the smile he saw from her” but also to try to “develop her as an informant, knowing she had past drug involvements, including the drugs she turned over to the police from her garage.” He also admitted to kissing the victim and to touching her on the chest, and admitted to her shirt being lifted by either herself or him to show her tattoos. He admitted that he also was interested “in pursuing something intimate, which later the same day he regretted. He said (the alleged victim) wanted to see him again but he had not had any other contact with her since 10/20/16.” The document states Gaines denied “forcing her to do anything.”
This was not Gaines’ first sex-related infraction. In 2013, a major complaint was sustained against him for sexual harassment while he was attending the Illinois State Police Academy in Springfield. The narrative of events indicate that Gaines was there for K-9 training. The complaint states that Gaines “continued a conversation with ISP employee (name redacted) about after work social contact to the point of making her uncomfortable enough to lodge an E.E.O.C. complaint through the ISP command staff.”
“Asking someone of the opposite gender to meet after work hours, during work hours, for social contact, can be perceived as a request for a date by the receiver,” the report states.
The report also indicates that other women had complained about Gaines to one another, enough to garner him the nickname “Creepy Nic.” The narrative also states Gaines had “been asked to leave the facility and banned from Academy property.”
A “last chance agreement” was provided to Gaines in August 2013 by the city of Mount Vernon as he had received two sustained major complaints that year — the sexual harassment complaint at the academy and a separate sustained complaint from a citizen that alleged Gaines used inappropriate language. The agreement stipulated that Gaines maintain a “clean disciplinary record for five years.”
The event sent to ISP for investigation last year would have been his third strike. Gaines was put on unpaid administrative leave and ultimately tendered his resignation Nov. 9, 2016.
Gaines was hired the following January by the West Frankfort Police Department on a temporary basis. In June, he was brought on full time.
When asked if he was aware of the marks against Gaines in his personnel file, West Frankfort Police Chief Mike Irwin said he was.
“We were aware that he had the issues, however, the issues had been investigated and no charges were filed,” Irwin said.
The 2016 sexual assault case was turned over to the Jefferson County State’s Attorney, who then gave it to the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office.
Irwin said in a Monday interview he called the prosecutor assigned to the case at the time, though he said he could not remember the prosecutor's name.
“My understanding was the situation had been investigated and prosecution had been declined,” Irwin said.
Representatives for the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office could not be reached for this report.
Irwin said a recently filed lawsuit against Gaines and the city of Mount Vernon would not affect Gaines’ post with the city.
“Officer Gaines has performed at a high level … we don’t see any reason that will change,” Irwin said, adding that he believes in second chances.
“This is the United States. You can’t really fault someone for trying to make a living and if they have made mistakes in the past they would have the opportunity not to make those mistakes again,” Irwin said.
A civil case was filed Oct. 26 in federal court by Steven Giacoletto, of Collinsville, on behalf of the alleged victim against Gaines and the city of Mount Vernon. The complaint document, obtained through PACER, details seven counts, including false imprisonment, sexual assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, all related to the alleged incident on Oct. 30 of last year.
The document indicated that the alleged victim is seeking “money damages and declaratory relief.” The document also asked requests a “trial by jury on all issues triable by a jury.”
There are currently no hearing dates set in the suit.