COVENTRY — At age 15, Amber Soucier said she began having Facebook messenger conversations with local police Sgt. Michael Hicks — and quickly became uncomfortable with the communications.
Hicks’ father was a friend of her family, and the sergeant sought her out on Facebook, according to her mother, Jennifer Burdette.
“It was really stressful, honestly,” Soucier, 23, said in a telephone interview Wednesday from her home in Missouri. Burdette was on the three-way call in Andover.
Amber Soucier was recalling her nine-month online “conversation” with the sergeant that ran from April 2012 to the beginning of 2013.
“I wasn’t sure what the heck to do when there is a police officer who is supposed to be protecting you,” she said. She said Hicks tried to persuade her to send him explicit photos and attempted to groom her to have sex with him when she turned 16.
Police Chief Mark Palmer said Wednesday that a personnel complaint was filed against Hicks on Sept. 23 alleging that the sergeant “had inappropriate electronic communications through the Facebook messenger application with a juvenile” in 2012 and 2013.
The chief issued a statement about the matter a day after Burdette addressed the Town Council, accusing Hicks of using his police power to sexually harass her daughter.
Palmer told the JI that Hicks was placed on administrative leave with pay on Oct. 1 and will remain on leave until the internal investigation is complete.
“Certainly our staff is upset and concerned about this, and we will move forward with the investigation process and let the chips fall where they may,” the chief said.
State police Troop K conducted a criminal investigation into the matter.
Palmer said the Vernon state’s attorney’s office informed him on Wednesday that the criminal case was closed without charges being filed.
Burdette requested that the council ask the chief to take away Hicks’ service weapon.
Palmer said the department has Hicks’ weapon — not because officials feel he poses a threat to anybody but because the department is getting new weapons.
“We have not issued him a new weapon at this point,” the chief said.
Also Wednesday, Republican Town Committee Chairman Matthew O’Brien Jr., who is a member of the Town Council. called on Hicks to resign from the committee, effective immediately, in light of allegations against him.
“The Coventry RTC sincerely hopes that the investigation will be thorough and expeditious, and bring closure and justice to all parties involved,” O’Brien said in a statement.
Soucier told the JI that Hicks’ advances toward her were consistent.
Hicks explained to Soucier in messages that she and her mother provided to the JI that, as long as he didn’t ask for naked pictures or sex until she was 16, he was “all set.”
“I am playing by the rules, but calling you beautiful is legal,” he wrote to Soucier in April 2012.
Hicks kept mentioning December, when Soucier would turn 16. He then repeatedly asked her for photos, saying, “I can’t ask you for them, but if you send them it is not against the law, so long as I immediately delete them upon receiving them.”
Soucier says she didn’t feel comfortable sending photos, and she gave Hicks reasons why she couldn’t send them.
“Stop being lazy,” he said in response. “I want to see you dammit.”
He said he had to ask for a “non-sexy” picture of her to remain within the confines of the law.
“This is my job to investigate sexual assaults and statutory rapes and stuff so it would be kinda bad if I didn’t obey the law in that respect lol,” he wrote to Soucier.
Many times during the exchange with Soucier, when asked what he was up to, Hicks would say he was working.
“Just bored and lonely at work,” he wrote in one message.
In an April 28, 2012, message, Hicks asked to meet Soucier.
“So take a walk and come say hi, but it’s all good if you have other stuff to do,” he wrote.
Soucier says she grew more and more stressed as the exchange continued.
“It is the worst nightmare situation,” she says, recalling the photo Hicks sent of himself in front of a police car and how he kept telling her that trust is important.
This made her fearful to speak out, she says, adding that she didn’t share details of the exchange with her mother until last September.
“It almost gave me a false sense of safety, and at this time there was a lot going on,” she says. “It was never about trust. It was about secrecy and manipulation.”
Soucier ended the interaction with Hicks at the beginning of 2013. But she says now that it will always affect her.
“It is anxiety-ridden being around police officers,” she says. “It is really sad that it had to happen.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Sgt. Michael Hicks had been placed on administrative leave without pay. As the story above notes, he is on administrative leave with pay.