Samuel E. Shropshire, the Annapolis alderman who was a contender for mayor this fall, was convicted Thursday of groping a Naval Academy midshipman, a crime for which he could be sent to prison for more than a decade.
Shropshire, 61, was convicted during a bench trial on charges of second-degree assault and fourth-degree sexual assault for grabbing the crotch of a 21-year-old midshipman whom he mentored in an academy sponsorship program.
"The defendant should have known better," said Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. "He should have separated himself from the situation. I do believe the victim was vulnerable because of his age and intoxicated state, and I think the defendant seized on that opportunity. He made improper advances."
The maximum combined penalty for the misdemeanors is 11 years in prison.
Because Shropshire ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the Democratic primary, he could not seek re-election to the city council. His tenure on the council ends Monday, when his successor, Ian Pfeiffer, will be sworn in to represent Ward 7.
Nick Berry, the chairman of the city's Democratic Party, said that Shropshire had "served the city well."
"I just feel very sad for him," said Berry. "He's been very innovative on the environment, combating AIDS, unemployment. He has a sterling record in politics."
Montgomery County Assistant State's Attorney Robert Hill prosecuted the case to avoid any conflict because of Shropshire's role in local politics.
The midshipman, a junior, testified that he called Shropshire on the evening of May 14 after attending an academy event and asked him to go out drinking. The student, who had turned 21 a few weeks before, said he consumed three to five drinks at the academy event and wanted to continue drinking.
Shropshire picked him up and the two had drinks in the basement bar of Rams Head, a popular restaurant in downtown Annapolis. The mid said Shropshire suggested going to TGI Friday's, a few miles from downtown, and he agreed, although he reminded Shropshire he had to be back at the academy by midnight.
The mid said by this time, he was "drunk." After drinking more at Friday's, the two drove back to the academy, during which time the mid said Shropshire touched his leg and began to grab his genitals.
The mid continued: "I placed my left hand to grab Sam's hand, to move it away, but he grabbed my hand and squeezed it."
The student said that Shropshire then touched his genitals a second time; the mid swore at him, and Shropshire apologized "and continued to drive on."
The mid, who said he was "in shock and in disbelief," immediately told his roommate and reported the incident to academy officials.
Shropshire, who took the stand in his own defense, countered the mid's account, claiming that the young man was flirting with him, and though he acknowledged that the two had "held hands" in the car, Shropshire said he did not touch the mid's genitals.
Shropshire, who is married but said he is openly gay, said he was under the impression that the mid was also gay. The young man says he is not.
Shropshire's defense attorneys, Drew and Gill Cochran, attempted to attack the mid's credibility, saying he concocted the story to avoid getting in trouble with academy officials for excessive drinking, which could have derailed his goal of becoming a pilot.
Drew Cochran also alleged discrimination on behalf of his client because of his sexual orientation.
But prosecutors presented text messages from Shropshire to the mid. Shropshire texted "Sorry!" to the mid minutes after dropping him off at the academy, according to the prosecutor.
The judge cited the text messages and a phone conversation between Shropshire and the mid, calling them "somewhat incriminating statements" as strong evidence in the case.
In the phone conversation, during which an Annapolis police sergeant and Naval Academy investigators listened in, Shropshire said, "I hate who I am. I touched you. I remember. I hate who I am when I'm drinking."
Sentencing is set for Feb. 22.