In atrial characterized by excruciatingly clinical descriptions of sex,and that came down to ‘he said/she said,’ Santa Clara County Prosecutor Lindsay Walsh convinced the jury that off-duty Santa Clara police sergeant Thomas Leipelt had willfully exposed himself to the plaintiff, identified only as “Danette Doe,” in the back storeroom of Santana Row boutique Annieglass. Defense attorney Cameron Bowman’s efforts to undermine Doe’s credibility were unsuccessful.
A week ago, against the advice of his attorney, 24-year police veterantook a chance that a jury trial would clear him of a misdemeanor indecent exposure charge; choosing not to plead guilty to the lesser charge of lewd conduct. Both carry penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, but the indecent exposure conviction also carries lifetime registration as a California sex offender.
The dice didn’t come up in his favorand Monday afternoon a bailiff led the silent and downcast man away from a San José courtroom in handcuffs. He was found guilty of one count of misdemeanor indecent exposure, after a three-day trial and two days of jury deliberations. Sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
His conduct “was very egregious considering he was a police officer,” said Walsh after the verdict was read. “The verdict speaks for itself. His story was unbelievable and unreasonable and the jury reflected that by this verdict.” In her closing statement Walsh called Leipelt “a perverted, arrogant police officer, who violated the innocence of [the victim] in her workplace.”
Defense attorney Bowman declined to comment, as has the Santa Clara Police Department. However, it’s unlikely that the officer will keep his job.
Leipelt came to Annieglass, where Doe was an assistant manager, shortly before 5 p.m. May 15, 2015 to visit his girlfriend, Crystal Hardin, who had just started working there. Hardin had spoken openly and frequently about her boyfriend who was a Santa Clara police officer.
Leipelt testified that he had been legally separated from his wife since 2008, although he still lived with her. Court records show two divorce filings, in 2008 and 2015, with the parties showing separate addresses.
As it was her lunch break, Hardin suggested they go out to lunch. But Leipelt, who had just come from a “first responder” practice session, didn’t want to; saying that he wasn’t dressed properly and his pants had bright paint marks from the “simunition” used in the practice session. He was wearing regulation black cargo pants and combat boots.
Hardin then suggested they share her lunch in the back storeroom, and testified that Doesaid something like ‘have fun – if I hear breaking glass I’m coming in’ and winked at them. In the storeroom, “things got heated” according to Hardin, and after about 10 minutes she suggested moving the action to the toilet, which had a locking door. They testified that neither of them got undressed.
When friends of Hardin’s came into the store about shortly after, Doeknocked at the storeroom door and called Hardin out to the front. At this point,stories diverge. Hardin went out to see her friends, looking disheveled according to Doe. According to her friend’s testimony, she looked”normal.”
A few minutes later, Doe went into the back room where she said she was confronted by Leipelt, wearing nothing – “not even a sock” – and masturbating, and said something to her like “come over here” or “help me out here.” The incident, she said, “took five seconds.”
Leipelt’s account is that Hardin told him to wait in the storeroom. While waiting, he used the toilet, forgotten to lock the door, and Doe walked in on him.
Doe told Hardin what happened and Hardin apologized profusely, saying that if they had only gone out for lunch this wouldn’t have happened. Hardin testified she went into the storeroom, found Leipelt was dressed, and told him of Doe’s accusation. Leipelt said he was “dumbfounded” and just wanted to leave because he was already late for a family commitment.He too, apologized, saying that he had gone “too far.”
Neither of them denied the accusation at the time.
Nor did Doe call the police. Instead, the next day she emailed her friends – with a subject line “A good beginning wrecked” – and texted the store’s ownerabout the incident, asking whether she should fire Hardin. Based on Doe’s account, the store’s owners, personal friends of hers, decided to fire Hardin.
On May 26, ten days later, Doe called the Santa Clara PD to make a complaint. When she met with Officer Gary Hosman of SCPD’s Internal Affairs Dept., she gave her story. Hosman then called San José police because the alleged crime took place in San Jose.
When asked about the delay, Doe said that she was “scared,” and “torn between getting her [Hardin] fired and staying mum.”
“If you felt so threatened why didn’t you say anything?” defense attorney Bowman asked her.”Because I was afraid and shocked,” she replied.
When Hardin was fired on May 26, Doe said that seeing her brought back the distressing incident and it was then that she decided to call the police.
The defense’s case was built on the question of Doe’s credibility, and her statement to San José police that she had never before had a similar experience; when, in fact she filed for a civil restraining order in 2009 against a former tenant who she said had exposed himself to her.
“You said ‘that’s something I’ve never encountered,” Bowman read from a transcript. “It was the first time this ever happened to you.” Yet, he continued, “you made a claim of indecent exposure in 2009” against a “guy who lived in your house. What’s your explanation?”
“I didn’t actually see him expose himself,” Doe replied. “I forgot.” Bowman told her that when Doe asked for the restraining order, she said that she was the victim.
“Now I’ve reminded you,” he continued, the roommate “took you to small claims court. Did you tell him …you’d get a restraining order?” Court records show that Doe asked for the restraining order in June of 2009. In August the tenant filed the small claims lawsuit, apparently asking for the return of his deposit. “Why didn’t you bring this up?”
“It completely slipped my mind,” Doe said, adding that she often forgot things because she was peri-menopausal. “The likelihood,” said Bowman his closing statement, “that you would forget getting a restraining order against someone” was not credible. The restraining order complaint said “he drunkenly exposed his naked body and told me to ‘look at me.’ It’s exactly like this case.”
The jury’s deliberations turned on whether or not the events described could have taken place in the 15 to 20 minute space of time alleged, according to one juror. The previous restraining order “didn’t make a difference.”
The definition of indecent exposure in the California penal code is exposing one’s person, or the private parts thereof, in anypublic place, or in any place where there are present other personsto be offended or annoyed thereby.” “It is the manner,” Judge Paul Bernal explained, “not the locality.”
Lewd conduct (647.a) is engaging”in lewd ordissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to thepublic or exposed to public view.”