Nearly one month after he offered his resignation with astonishing swiftness in the wake of allegations against him of sexual misconduct, the former attorney general of New Hampshire expressed relief yesterday at being cleared this week and questioned the origin of the investigation that prompted him to step down.
In a 20-page report made public Monday, a local county attorney found that Peter W. Heed, a onetime rising political star and respected legal figure, had done nothing criminal on the dance floor of a hotel lounge during a state-sponsored conference on sexual and domestic violence in May.
"My overall reaction is I am profoundly thrilled for my wife and family," Heed said in a telephone interview. "That being said, one of the things that certainly leaps out at you is the bizarre nature that this whole thing got started."
The report cleared Heed of wrong-doing, stating there was "no evidence of any physical contact between the Attorney General and any person that was unwarranted, unpleasant, or inappropriate."
But some said the exoneration raised the question about why Heed had been so quick to tender his resignation in the first place and why Governor Craig Benson accepted it, later refusing Heed's request to rescind it.
"The whole thing is bizarre," said Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, who at the time the allegations surfaced labeled them a black eye for the Republican administration.
Heed said he initially offered his resignation because the accusations as described to him by an administration official, whom he declined to identify, were of a serious nature, rising to the level of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
"I knew I hadn't done what they had said, but then you start thinking about how you're going to defend yourself against such things," he said. "Given the information I had, I just knew that it could turn into a criminal situation or that I'd have to fight for my bar membership. The ultimate decision-maker was what was best for the office. I could not stay and conduct a personal battle and drag down the office."
Heed, who held the high-profile office for 16 months, said the question that remains is why the governor did not allow him to rescind his resignation as he requested, as soon as the investigation called into question the initial allegations.
"Obviously, there had to be some other factor or agenda going on," Heed said. "Clearly, the governor and the council did not want to wait for the facts."
Alicia Preston, the governor's spokeswoman, said the decision to resign was Heed's and his alone.
"Peter Heed resigned," Preston said. "At the point that he wanted to rescind that resignation it had already been accepted by the governor."
The report states that on the evening of May 20, Heed touched the hips of Cheryl Reid, an employee of the Division of Children, Youth, and Families, on the crowded dance floor of a Mount Washington Hotel lounge known as The Cave. Heed's hands slid up to her rib cage, but did not touch her breasts, according to an interview with Reid and the conclusions of Marc Hathaway, the Sullivan County attorney who conducted the investigation.
Reid reported that she found the encounter inappropriate, but had not considered it an assault. She had not planned to report the incident, but did so when a colleague told her she was being reprimanded for taking a photograph of Heed dancing that evening. The report concluded that there had been no conspiracy on the part of the attorney general's office to punish the colleague for the photograph, which in fact had been taken by a friend of the colleague.
In addition, the report noted that some of the public speculation concerning Heed's actions had been based on "imprecise information." The report, for instance, said the attorney general never danced shirtless.
"To the extent that the report of the Attorney General dancing 'without a shirt on' has been interpreted to mean that the Attorney General was bare-chested, those reports are not supported by the facts," the report states.
Both Heed and the governor's office said Heed will not be returning to the administration. His old job is occupied by Kelly Ayotte, the former deputy attorney general who once served as Benson's legal counsel.
Ken Brown, a friend and legal counsel of Heed's, said the relationship between the governor and his former appointee, was "strained or nonexistent."
"Take your pick," Brown said. "Either would fit."
Heed's plans are still undecided. He is taking this week to relax with his wife and two children at their home in Westmoreland.
Heed said he was gratified to have his name cleared. But he added, "This really demonstrates the ultimate dangerousness of unchecked rumor." .
Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.