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Saratoga County deputy pleads guilty to sex abuse charges

Saratoga County deputy pleads guilty to sex abuse charges

A Saratoga County sheriff’s deputy pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of third-degree sexual abus

A Saratoga County sheriff’s deputy pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of third-degree sexual abuse for coercing four different women into sexual contact with him while he was on duty and in uniform from 2007 through last summer.

Donald Harder III, 29, of Lake Luzerne, pleaded guilty to six charges in Saratoga County Court, including a felony charge of first-degree menacing and official misconduct.

Harder was arrested in August after a woman filed a complaint saying that she had been forced to perform oral sex on the deputy after he answered a call on a civil matter in Edinburg.

District Attorney James Murphy III said that when news of Harder’s arrest became public, three other women notified police that they, too, had been forced to have sexual contact with the deputy while he was in uniform.

The other cases were in Corinth and Greenfield and occurred in August of 2007 and June and July of last year.

Harder was indicted on 11 counts and could have faced up to seven years in prison if he had been found guilty of all of them.

Murphy said the plea deal ensures that Harder will spend time in jail and will never again be allowed to work as a police officer.

His agreement with the district attorney’s office includes an expected sentence of six months in the Saratoga County Jail and five years of probation.

Judge Jerry Scarano said Harder will also be required to submit a letter of resignation to the sheriff’s department. Harder has been on unpaid leave since his arrest.

Because the sexual abuse charges are misdemeanors and each of the victims was over the age of 18, Harder will not have to register as a sex offender. However, Murphy said, Harder will be required to submit his DNA to the convicted offender databank maintained by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Harder is free on $25,000 bond, and orders of protection have been issued for his four victims.

His attorney, Tucker Stanclift, said his client pleaded guilty because “he feels sincere remorse for what he did.”

Harder said he was sorry he betrayed the trust of the sheriff’s department and his family.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Buckley said some of the criminal incidents occurred when the victims were in Harder’s custody and some involved criminal investigations conducted by Harder in which the women were not suspected of any wrongdoing.

Sentencing has been set for May 13, and Scarano told Harder he could be sentenced to as much as 11⁄3 to 4 years in prison if he has contact with any of his victims or breaks any other law before he returns to court.

Murphy said the menacing felony plea stems from the incident in Edinburgh, in which “[Harder] placed the victim in fear of physical injury if she did not comply with his demands, all while wearing a deputy sheriff’s uniform, wearing his service weapon on his gun belt and while standing next to his marked patrol unit while on duty.”

Harder had been with the department for three years and was generally assigned to the northern part of Saratoga County, including Edinburgh, Corinth, Day and Hadley.

Murphy said the victims were satisfied with the plea and Sheriff James Bowen was consulted and is in agreement with the proposed sentence.

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