BENNINGTON -- A captain of the Bennington Rural Fire Department is facing felony charges of sexual assault and repeated aggravated sexual assault of a minor for acts he allegedly committed last summer.
Bryan Watson, 25, pleaded not guilty Monday in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division and was released without bail pending a weight of evidence hearing scheduled for next week.
According to an affidavit written by Bennington Police Det. Anthony Silvestro, a girl who was 13 years old at the time said Watson and she had participated in sexual activities more than 10 times in the summer of 2011.
The alleged victim said she was introduced to Watson by a mutual acquaintance about two years ago. The alleged victim said in the summer of 2011 she would visit Watson who was living in the basement of his parents' home on Chapel Road in Bennington. The girl told police when the acquaintance would leave Watson and her alone Watson would begin touching her. When the girl asked him to stop he would stop that day, although the same thing would happen the next time she visited, she told police.
The girl said one day she "just decided not to tell him to stop," and Watson proceeded to touch her inappropriately. Other times Watson asked her to perform oral sex on him, which the girl said she did.
The girl told police these inappropriate interactions happened more than 10 times before she stopped visiting Watson's house. When she stopped visiting the girl said the alleged abuse stopped.
Watson was interviewed by police Dec. 13 and acknowledged the girl used to visit and having been alone with her at times, but denied any inappropriate contact.
Initially Judge Cortland T. Corsones only found probably cause for the lesser of the two charges and not for the charge of aggravated repeated sexual assault because "every time the juvenile asked the defendant to stop he stopped. There was no force ... so it's a statutory rape case," Corsones said.
Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage pointed to previous cases in which the Vermont has set precedent that any repeated sexual assault against a minor is considered repeat aggravated sexual assault as a minor cannot give consent.
"The mere fact that she is under the age of 16 makes it not consensual and that she would not have the ability to consent," Marthage said, to which Corsones agreed.
Marthage argued Watson should be held without bail given that a conviction of aggravated repeated sexual assault caries a minimum punishment of 10 years in prison and maximum penalty of life behind bars.
However Watson's public defender Jeff Rubin argued his client is not a flight risk given he has never been convicted of a crime, has lived in Vermont his entire life, is employed full time, and the crime was not violent. Rubin also noted that Watson has not had contact with the alleged victim since the report was made to police in November and he lives with his parents and fiancé.
"It's one of those rare cases where the court could feel comfortable releasing Mr. Watson," Rubin said. "It sounds like he's got a very stable environment, which is far removed from the young lady described in the affidavit."
Corsones agreed with the defense to release Watson until a weight of evidence hearing Dec. 27. Until that hearing the court imposed condition of release that prohibit Watson from having contact with the alleged victim and any females under 16 years of age.
"I will exercise my discretion to not hold him without bail ... it's not intended to diminish the seriousness or the potential penalties because obviously they're extremely serious penalties and these are extremely serious charges, but the charges are now over a year old and he hasn't fled the area, he came to court voluntarily today knowing that he was faced with very serious charges," Corsones said.
Contacted after the hearing Monday, BRFD Chief Joseph Hayes said Watson is still a captain of the fire department he has served on about five years.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi