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Posted at 07:32 PM ET, 06/28/2012

Pr. George’s state’s attorney investigator charged with assault, sex offense in alleged fondling incident

The now fired chief investigator with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office was charged Thursday with second-degree assault and fourth-degree sex offense, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly fondled a legal assistant at the Upper Marlboro courthouse, according to authorities and court records.

Police obtained a criminal summons charging James F. Artis, 61, of Hanover, in connection with the June 20 incident, court records show. An at-will employee, he was fired Friday while police pursued a criminal investigation against him, said John Erzen, a spokesman Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Angela Alsobrooks.

According to police charging documents, Artis approached the legal assistant from behind as she was sitting in her cubicle about 10 a.m. on June 20. The chief investigator pinned the woman’s arms on her desk, kissed her cheek, face and neck, and then fondled her breast, according to the documents.

Erzen said that the two worked in the same office, though the woman was a courthouse employee. He said the woman reported the incident to the state’s attorney’s office, which in turn asked the Prince George’s County Police Department to investigate.

“We take allegations like this very seriously, and when they were brought to our attention, we immediately reached out to county police, and we asked them to initiate an investigation,” Erzen said. He said a prosecutor from another county would be tapped to handle the case as it moves forward.

In an extensive interview, Artis denied that he sexually assaulted the woman. He said that as he was walking around his office, he noticed that she had a sad look on her face and only touched her shoulder or back to try to talk to her and comfort her.

“I saw the look on the person’s face. I’m the one that tried to stop to help her be OK, not to help her be miserable,” Artis said. “The whole situation was not about sexual assault. It was about me trying to calm somebody down.”

Artis said he did not recall the precise details of the encounter, which lasted only about 5 or 10 seconds, but he knew it was not inappropriate.

“Maybe I touched her on the shoulder, but I had a folder on my hand,” he said. “Maybe I touched her on the back. Maybe it slid down. I just don’t know that I did anything like that. It was not my intention to ever be disrespectful”

Artis said he felt the accusations were “more political than anything else,” though he did not know who would be motivated to hurt him or his career. He said he was seeking the advice of a lawyer.

“I just don’t understand this whole thing,” Artis said.

Artis was hired by the state’s attorney’s office in 1999, Erzen said. Before that, he served in the military and was the chief of the Berwyn Heights Police Department, according to news articles and Artis himself.

The legal assistant did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment for this story. The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sex crimes without their consent.

Staff reporter Mary Pat Flaherty contributed to this report.

By  |  07:32 PM ET, 06/28/2012

Categories:  Matt Zapotosky, Pr. George's, From the Courthouse

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