Former mayor found guilty of sexual battery
Coleman considering an appeal
Former Culpeper Mayor Calvin â??Chipâ? Coleman, 65, was found guilty of Sexual Battery, a misdemeanor and sentenced to a suspended 10-day jail sentence and $2500 fine for the offense. The sentence came after an almost four hour trial August 20th in Culpeper General District Court.
It took substitute Judge Edward Carpenter less time than the disputed seven second hug, the reason for the charge, to decide Colemanâ??s guilt.
â??I find there was force. That it was done with intent,â? Carpenter said outlining his decision to the full courtroom.
Five witnesses including Jennifer Phillips, 36, the employee at the Culpeper Department of Social Services who made the accusation against Coleman, testified for the Commonwealth.
Colemanâ??s attorney, Rex Edwards, called five witnesses on his behalf, including Phillips.
Coleman did not take the stand.
Phillips testified that Coleman hugged her on Dec. 20th of last year after an office Christmas party and that the hug began to make her uncomfortable to the point that she called out for help. By her estimation, the hug lasted approximately seven to ten seconds.
Witnesses testified that she and Coleman often hugged as a greeting in the past. This time was different, according to Phillips, who testified that Coleman rubbed his chest against hers and said â??youâ??re so sexy.â?
â??I said, Chip, thatâ??s enough,â? Phillips testified. They bumped against a wall during the encounter she said in describing the incident.
â??Can someone help me? This is sexual harassment,â? she testified saying then.
Twelve feet away was Teresa Jenkins, a supervisor at the department, who testified she heard a â??thumpâ? and looked over to see the two hugging. She heard Phillips call out for help. â??At first I thought it was a joke. I thought they were playing,â? she testified.
â??When I looked at her face I knew it wasnâ??t a joke,â? Jenkins said.
Phillips said she â??tried to get her head around what happenedâ? and the same day reported the incident to her superiors.
Phillips later admitted upon cross examination by Edwards that the two had â??a fairly flirtatious relationshipâ? over the years.
Edwards developed this theme with the testimony of Dorenda Pullen, a director of Head Start who described herself as â??Facebook friendsâ? with Phillips. Pullen described two incidents between Coleman and Phillips. The first encounter was in a hallway where she saw the two talking when she â??witnessedâ? Phillips â??placing each hand on Chipâ??s head and pulling his head down to her chest.â? He â??shook it offâ? she testified, and said â??Damn!â?
â??There was a chuckling of all three of us,â? Pullen said.
The second incident occurred on an elevator, Pullen said, when Phillips asked Coleman did he like her â??boobsâ? then cupping them, asked did that action make them â??perky.â?
Phillips later testified that neither incident occurred.
Teresa Newberry, an HR administrator for the agency, testified that Phillips’s relationship with Coleman had been open and friendly but that prior to the incident Phillips was â??quieter in natureâ? and that she â??kept to herself.â?
Culpeper County School employee, Erica Jennejahn, called by Edwards, testified that she and Phillips had a romantic relationship that began in November of 2013 one month before the incident. She described Phillips currently as her â??partner.â?
Upon questioning by Edwards, Jennejahn said that she â??encouragedâ? Phillips to â??do what she thought was necessaryâ? in the legal system regarding the incident. Judge Carpenter would not allow Edwards to develop whether or not Phillips was contemplating a civil suit, disallowing such questions of Jennejahn or Phillips. Carpenter also barred any testimony about financial motivation for Phillips to file the charges, although earlier the court heard testimony that Phillips had been behind in loan payments to the department around the time when the incident occurred.
The parties left the courtroom immediately after the verdict was handed down.
â??Mr. Coleman maintains his innocence. He is disappointed that the Court elected not to accept the testimony of the 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 community at large,â? his attorney said in a prepared statement after the trial.
Coleman has 10 days to decide whether he will appeal the decision to the Circuit Court. He is reportedly conferring with friends, family and his attorney about filing an appeal as this story is being written. Coleman served four years as Culpeperâ??s mayor before being defeated in May. Prior to that, Coleman served as the director of Social Services for Culpeper County, winning national recognition for his work on welfare reform in Culpeper County.
Culpeper Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Jonathan Slater prosecuted the case. Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Angela Catlett did not participate but observed the proceedings.