On Thursday, July 2, a jury returned verdicts of "not guilty" on misdemeanor counts of assault and battery against Atherton public works supervisor, Troy Henderson. Mr. Henderson, a 33-year employee of the town, was accused of lunging at and grabbing Atherton police officer Pilar Ortiz-Buckley in an incident caught on the police station's surveillance video.
Mr. Henderson's defense attorney had a very different take on the misdemeanor assault and battery charges against her client: Ms. Ortiz-Buckley set up Mr. Henderson with an eye towards cashing in later.
Jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon, July 1, in San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City. The verdict was returned around 11 a.m. the following morning.
The charges stem from a June 3, 2008, incident, when Officer Ortiz-Buckley was sitting in the police station staff room and Mr. Henderson lunged at her and grabbed her, according to Steve Wagstaffe, the chief deputy district attorney of San Mateo County.
Ms. Ortiz-Buckley was lambasted as a lying opportunist who is interested only in money by defense attorney Jaime Harley in her closing argument. Ms. Harley speculated that Ms. Ortiz-Buckley lured Mr. Henderson into the staff room with the express purpose of creating a video that she could later use in an attempt to wring money out of the town. There is no audio, so there's no telling what was being said, Ms. Harley said. "She could have been saying, 'Come here, big boy,'" Ms. Harley said.
"Everything is about money, every lie she told," Ms. Harley told the jury. "She's thinking about the big payday at the end."
Ms. Ortiz-Buckley was aware that a new video surveillance system had been installed in the police station and deliberately positioned herself so that the interaction of Mr. Henderson could be recorded, Ms. Harley alleged. Because Mr. Henderson had previous complaints about sexual harassment made against him, she knew that he would be a vulnerable target, Ms. Harley said.
Mr. Henderson, 58, is old, in ill-health and confused by the strange incident, Ms. Harley said.
"I hope you gave your eyes a good rub, because you just had sand thrown in them," said San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Sharron Lee. "This defense is trying to re-victimize this victim at every opportunity.
Ms. Lee said Mr. Henderson lied repeatedly on the witness stand, and stared intently at his attorney as he tried to come up with the right responses when he was being cross-examined. She questioned how Ms. Ortiz-Buckley could have possibly manipulated Mr. Henderson as the defense alleged.
"Where are the puppet strings that made him lunge into her and grab her?" Ms. Lee asked the jury rhetorically.
"To say she's doing this as a diabolical plan to get big money? That is absurd," she said.
Ms. Lee also brought up the 16 sexual-harassment complaints filed against Mr. Henderson by Atherton town staff members.
Atherton Sgt. Kristin Nichols and former town employee Lois English testified June 30 to numerous incidents of sexual harassment by Mr. Henderson.
Ms. English said she filed numerous complaints about the almost daily pattern of sexual comments from Mr. Henderson during the 16 years she worked for the town. "His demeanor suggested he meant it (the comments) as sexual," she testified Tuesday. "He would stick out his tongue and flick it in a sexual way."
She said Mr. Henderson once put his hands down her shirt, into the top of her bra. The behavior only stopped after she cut him off and refused to talk to him, she said.
Sgt. Nichols testified she was standing in front of the police station in 2002 when Mr. Henderson pulled up. "He said he wanted to shake me up and show me how to feel good. He told me he'd be keeping his eye on me," Sgt. Nichols testified Tuesday. She filed a formal complaint about the incident.
Now-retired officer Ortiz-Buckley testified Monday that she "was standing up to a bully" when she shoved Mr. Henderson away during the incident.
She said she had always ignored sexual comments Mr. Henderson directed at her because she considered him a friend, but on that day, his demeanor and posture were different. She said she was shocked by the incident, and that Mr. Henderson threatened her after she warned him not to take her on.
Mr. Henderson testified on Tuesday that he didn't even remember the incident until he was later questioned about it and shown the surveillance camera footage. He never touched her and only stepped close to her, not because he was threatening her but because her voice had dropped and he couldn't hear her, he said.
Mr. Henderson testified that he never made any sexual comments toward Ms. Ortiz-Buckley, and wasn't seeking a relationship with her. "That's disrespectful to say to anyone," he said. He said he might talk about sex with his male co-workers but not the female ones. "I would never do anything to hurt Ms. Ortiz or disrespect her," he testified.
Ms. Ortiz-Buckley's ex-husband John Buckley was called to the stand as a character witness. He said Ms. Ortiz-Buckley had lied on many occasions, and he claimed that she frequently worked her side job of conducting background checks while on-duty as a police officer. He conceded that the divorce was not amicable and that there had been a custody dispute over their young son.
His testimony was countered by former Atherton police chief Bob Brennan, who was asked his opinion of Ms. Ortiz-Buckley's honesty. "I have the opinion that she is an honest and truthful person," he testified. Sgt. Nichols also testified to Ms. Ortiz-Buckley's honesty.
Mr. Henderson and the town of Atherton are named in a civil lawsuit Officer Ortiz-Buckley filed, alleging ongoing sexual harassment by Mr. Henderson. In her April 22 complaint, Officer Ortiz-Buckley said that once she reported the incident, she faced retaliation and disability discrimination related to the injury she suffered in the incident.
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