EAST LYME – East Lyme Democrats said that they would not have nominated or endorsed Terence Donovan for Board of Selectman in 2021 if they had known he admitted to sexually assaulting a man in 2020.
East Lyme Democratic Town Committee Chair Jason Deeble said he first learned in April about the police report that detailed Donovan’s confession to East Lyme police that he sexually assaulted a man in a parking lot behind Niantic Cinema in October 2020.
According to a police report, Donovan confessed to police on Oct. 30, 2021 – three days before a Nov. 2 municipal election in which Donovan was a Democratic candidate for Board of Selectmen.
The New London State’s Attorney’s Office Declined to sign an arrest warrant for Donovan, despite his confession. Donovan was not elected to the Board of Selectmen.
Deeble said that, as far as he is aware, the only person on the Democratic Town Committee who Donovan told about the sexual assault before the election was Beth Hogan, an attorney who was chair of the committee.
Deeble said his understanding is that Hogan spoke to Donovan as a client, and did not disclose anything to any other member of the committee. Hogan died this January.
“I know for a fact that if this information came out prior to our nominating process, it absolutely would have changed the course of his nomination,” Deeble said. “I have every confidence that if this had come up, we would have asked Terry to resign.”
Wendi Sims, the East Lyme Democratic Registrar, is a part of the DTC’s governance committee, which is tasked with interviewing candidates before they are endorsed. She said the committee asks all candidates if there is anything in their past that could be used against them or the party.
She said Donovan did not tell them about the sexual assault or any other issues when they interviewed the candidates in April and May 2021.
Sims said she first learned about it when she read the CT Examiner article last week. She said she can’t support someone who has admitted to sexual assault, and she doesn’t support Donovan remaining in a “position of public trust.”
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Sims said. “I’m the Registrar of Voters, I run the elections here, and I had no idea. No one – we did not know. We would not have endorsed a candidate with this allegation.”
Deeble said he spoke to Donovan after the CT Examiner article was published, and said Donovan offered his resignation both from the East Lyme Zoning Commission and the DTC.
Deeble said he and the DTC want everyone to feel safe in the community and feel safe being involved in town politics. He said no one should have to go through what Donovan did.
“This is an unfortunate episode, and I wish there was a better outcome for all involved, and the town,” Deeble said. “But I think we’ve come to a place where we’re ready to move forward without Mr. Donovan, and we’re looking forward to earning the public trust that may have been lost during this.”
Known to be “difficult,” not criminal, say Democrats
Deeble said that if DTC members knew Donovan had admitted to sexual assault before the election, he believes they would not have endorsed him. But as far as they knew, he just had a reputation of being a “difficult” person to work with and be around at times, Deeble said.
“People have Terry Donovan stories. He’s out there in the world being himself, and that’s led him to have interactions that I would characterize as problematic, but not rising to the level of assault or illegal behaviors,” Deeble said.
Sims said she was aware of other accusations that Donovan had intimidated another person, but said that allegation was “disproved.”
Cate Steel, an East Lyme Democrat who ran for State Representative in 2020, said the DTC had discussed whether to endorse Donovan for selectman because they had more candidates than open slots.
Steel said she didn’t support him as a candidate in 2021 because she thought there were better candidates. She said she wasn’t aware of the sexual assault at the time, and it didn’t come up during the committee’s discussions.
“[He told us] that he was a common man and would represent the common folk,” Steel said. “We asked him, ‘What does that mean?’ And he’s just like, ‘The common man representing the common folk,’ and that he’d been in town for a really long time so he knew a lot of the history.”
Deeble said members had a positive view of Donovan’s work on the town Zoning Commission. He said Donovan has an “encyclopedic read on zoning,” and that the town government relies on that kind of expertise to make good decisions.
“I’m sure that members knew that Terry had trouble getting along with some people sometimes, but also knew that he was very good at his job – and was also well-intentioned, but sometimes made bad decisions,” Deeble said.