HELENA — Federal authorities say the former chief of the East Helena Police Department, who resigned earlier this year while under investigation for sexual assault, is now facing charges of distributing child pornography.
According to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana, 42-year-old William Harrington made an initial appearance in federal court Tuesday and was detained ahead of further proceedings.
The release says Harrington voluntarily surrendered Tuesday morning and was taken into custody by the FBI. It says it came after an joint investigation by the FBI and the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office as part of the FBI's Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force.
According to an affidavit filed in federal court, the investigation began in September 2020, after tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Court documents claim that investigation led to a Facebook account that used a fictitious name but was created by Harrington, and that Harrington sent images of child pornography to another individual on multiple occasions.
In March, Harrington resigned as East Helena police chief, after nearly two years in the position. According to documents MTN requested from the city of East Helena, someone had accused Harrington of sexual assault the month before, and the city had put him on paid administrative leave while investigating the complaint.
On Tuesday, East Helena Mayor James Schell released a statement on the allegations:
"The City of East Helena was not informed prior of the disturbing allegations against the former chief of police. We find the allegations as surprising and unsettling as anyone.
The prior employment investigation conducted by the City of the sexual assault allegation was, to the City’s knowledge, a completely separate matter and not associated with these new allegations.
Regarding the original complaint of sexual assault, the City took immediate employment actions to ensure the public’s safety while providing for a full and fair investigation. Mr. Harrington’s employment with the City ended with his resignation on March 5, 2021. The criminal investigation of the alleged sexual assault is ongoing.
As we have become aware of these latest allegations our thoughts and concerns are with the alleged victims.
Moving forward the City is committed to having a local police department its residents trust and respect. We will be seeking to hire a new Chief of Police in the coming months. During this period the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s office continues to augment our law enforcement officers and provides administrative assistance to the City.
We appreciate the team effort from the law enforcement community as we move through the rebuilding process of the East Helena Police Department."