Former mayor guilty of sexual battery
Former Culpeper Mayor Chip Coleman was found guilty of sexual battery in General District Court on Wednesday and given a 10-day suspended sentence and a $2,500 fine.
Judge Edward Carpenter’s ruling came faster than the seven-second hug that precipitated the charge.
And that ruling came despite the fact that a number of defense—and prosecution—witnesses disputed key elements of the testimony of a Department of Human Services employee who accused her former boss of improper behavior.
According to her testimony, Coleman, who is the retired director of DHS, took what began as a consensual hug too far when he rubbed his chest against her breasts following a Christmas get-together at DHS on Dec. 20, 2013. She testified that the encounter lasted between seven and 10 seconds and that during this time Coleman told her, “You’re so sexy!”
She said she was pushed against the wall when hugged and said, “That’s enough, Chip!” She then said, according to her 90-minute testimony Wednesday, “Can somebody help me? This is sexual harassment.” She then testified that Coleman replied, “This is not sexual harassment; you no longer work for me.”
Then he backed away, made small talk and left the building, she told the court.
Under cross-examination, the victim said it was not uncommon for her and Coleman to hug but on that and one other occasion several years ago the defendant made her feel uncomfortable.
She said however, that she had never filed any reports concerning sexual harassment to her superiors, a statement that former Human Resources Director Terry Newberry corroborated for the defense.
The Free Lance–Star does not identify victims of sex crimes.
The victim also testified that Coleman had not touched her breasts with his hands but co-worker Mimi Moore said that on the day of the incident the victim told her that Coleman had touched her breasts during the encounter.
Teresa Jenkins, the only witness who actually saw the event, testified that it was “a traditional hug” and that she saw Coleman’s hands on the victim’s back.
“I saw no body movement,” Jenkins told the court. She added that until the victim came up to her moments later and acted distraught, “I thought it was all a joke.”
Almost every witness for both the prosecution and the defense stated that the victim and Coleman had had a congenial and at times somewhat flirty relationship when they worked together.
Foremost among these witnesses was Dorenda Pullen who said that sometime between 2003 and 2005 she saw the woman put her hands on either side of Coleman’s head and push his face into her chest.
On another occasion, while in an elevator, Pullen testified that the woman cupped her hands under her breasts and asked Coleman, “Do you like my boobs?”
Pullen added that the woman “made no effort to hide what she was doing.”
Defense attorney Rex Edwards argued that the victim’s response to the 2013 hug was monetarily motivated because, according to the testimony of DHS Finance Director Cindy Sims, the victim, then recently divorced, was past due on a loan she had received from DHS.
A woman who described herself as the victim’s partner denied that she had encouraged the victim to file a civil suit against Coleman at some time in the future.
The woman testified that it was about the same time, around January of 2013, that she and the victim had become romantically involved.
Immediately following Edwards’ final summation, Judge Carpenter, without hesitation, declared Coleman guilty.
“I find that there was some force and there was some sexual intent for his gratification,” Carpenter said.
Coleman made no comment following the five-hour trial that did not end until almost 8 p.m.
Later, Edwards issued a statement that read: “Mister Coleman maintains his innocence.
He said he is disappointed that the court elected not to accept the testimony of numerous witnesses who contradicted the allegations set forth by his former employee.
“He appreciates the overwhelming support that he has received from his family, friends and the county at large.”
Edwards did not speculate as to a possible appeal. Coleman served four years as Culpeper’s mayor. He was defeated in May of this year.
Donnie Johnston: firstname.lastname@example.org