Fire Chief Bryan Rickman found not guilty

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— West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman was found not guilty of sexual harassment charges Thursday. After only 45 minutes of deliberation, six jurors acquitted him of misdemeanor charges of unlawful sexual contact and harassment.

The charges stemmed from allegations of impropriety made by a former female employee, specifically that Rickman kissed the woman without her consent during a November 2007 training exercise taught at the West Routt fire station in Hayden, and grabbed her buttocks while on duty.

"The jury established it all - there was never anything there," Rickman said of the allegations. "I love my job, I value my job. I'd never do anything to violate that."

Rickman, 54, has been with West Routt fire since 1974.

During Thursday's one-day trial, prosecutor Ed Veronda painted a picture of ongoing sexual harassment by Rickman, dating back to the complainant joining the department a number of years ago.

The woman left the department in November, after a dispute with Rickman about her attendance at trainings. She reported the alleged harassment to law enforcement that same day.

The unwanted advances were getting "progressively worse," and she finally felt she had no other choice than to report it, the woman testified Thursday.

Rickman and defense attorney Erick Nordstrom maintained that any physical contact between the chief and his employee was consensual and that nothing criminal occurred.

He and the complainant were "very good friends" throughout the course of her involvement with the West Routt Fire Protection District, and it was not unusual for her to greet him with hugs and kisses, Rickman said.

"That may be inappropriate, but it's not criminal. We're not here to consider if it's inappropriate," Nordstrom said.

The jurors heard testimony from the complainant, Rickman and West Routt fire employees and volunteers. Hayden Police Chief Ray Birch and Officer Kelly Brady, who were involved in the initial investigation, also testified.

If convicted, Rickman could have faced up to two years in prison.

It is unknown what effect the criminal ruling will have on any future civil suit against the West Routt Fire Protection District. Earlier this year, attorney Charles Feldmann, working on the complainant's behalf, filed court papers indicating she plans to sue for more than $150,000 in damages.

- To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203 or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

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