Judge denies motion to change venue in case of ex-Lawrence police officer accused of rape
photo by: Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office
A Douglas County District Court judge on Friday denied a request from a former Lawrence police officer accused of rape to try his case in a different venue.
The ex-officer, Jonathan Gardner, 41, of Tonganoxie, requested the change of venue because, as he argued through his attorney John DeMarco, he could not get a fair trial in Douglas County because the case had become too well-known.
However, Judge Sally Pokorny denied the motion, indicating that in her experience even in the highest-profile cases the court is able to find 12 jurors in Douglas County who had not formed an opinion on the matter.
Gardner was charged in March of last year with raping a 19-year-old while giving her a ride home after she had been drinking in downtown Lawrence on Jan. 1, 2017, as the Journal-World has previously reported. He was also charged with 17 felony counts of unlawful acts concerning computers and 17 misdemeanor counts of official misconduct, according to charging documents.
DeMarco filed several additional motions, including a motion to sever the charges. He said that the unlawful acts with a computer and misconduct charges had nothing to do with the rape charge and that the charges should be tried separately.
Pokorny denied that motion and said that the allegations that Gardner searched for the alleged victim within police record systems for personal reasons was directly tied to the allegation that he raped her, and unless Gardner had searched for the alleged victim in connection with another criminal case, which there is no record of, then Gardner would have no other reason to search for her name within the police database.
DeMarco also made a motion to suppress evidence relating to the allegation that Gardner turned off the GPS unit in his patrol vehicle during the time of the alleged assault. DeMarco said it was impossible to do so but that he did not come prepared to present a witness who could testify to that.
District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, however, called to the stand the Lawrence Police Department’s IT specialist, Jason Hodge, who testified that the vehicle’s computer system did not collect Gardner’s GPS or radio data between 3:51 a.m. and 4:55 a.m. the morning of the alleged sexual assault. Hodge said the data might be missing because of a bad satellite signal, a computer malfunction, or if an officer turned off or logged out of the computer in the patrol vehicle.
Pokorny did not rule on whether to suppress the GPS data but said she would allow DeMarco to find an expert who could contest what the IT specialist testified to.
The latter half of the motions hearing Friday was closed to the public and the press because the parties were discussing evidence that would be submitted under seal. Pokorny’s ruling on that evidence was not available Friday.
Gardner is currently on a GPS monitoring program and is out of custody on a $50,000 bond. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 27.
Gardner was sworn in as an LPD officer in June 2013. He resigned shortly after his arrest last year.
As the Journal-World previously reported, based on allegations in Gardner’s arrest affidavit, the woman accusing him of rape said she had been drinking at a downtown Lawrence bar on Jan. 1, 2017, and misplaced her purse and cellphone. She said she walked to a nearby hotel, where officers from the Lawrence Police Department happened to be. The woman asked an officer, later identified as Gardner, for a ride home. During the ride, Gardner assaulted her with his fingers, she said.
According to the affidavit, the woman said she did not report the incident because she “was worried about potential consequences given the fact that she was on probation and had consumed alcohol that night.”
The woman said she told her mother of the incident shortly after it happened, even though she did not report it to police immediately.
The woman said she remembered the incident when she was at the Lawrence Police Department four years later to make an unrelated report, in April 2021, and heard Gardner talk and ask her if she was the one he gave a ride to on that New Year’s Day. That’s when she realized he was the one who assaulted her, she said.
Gardner was questioned by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in November of 2021, and said he recalled interacting with the woman and said the woman grabbed his hand and placed it in her lap, but he pulled his hand back. He said he parked for some time to figure out where exactly she wanted to be dropped off and during that time the GPS was not working on his patrol car, and he denied deactivating it; he also said he did not recall manually stopping the dash camera in his car. He told investigators he thought he was stopped for just a few minutes.
The woman, meanwhile, told investigators that she did not remember being parked and that it was possible that she had passed out from alcohol. She wondered if she had been raped while parked there.
Gardner said he then drove her to a home but she did not have the key to get inside. He said she again hit on him, and at that point, another officer came to pick up the woman to take her to another address. That officer, when asked by KBI agents about the woman being “handsy,” as Gardner had claimed, said that he did not observe that sort of behavior in her.
The affidavit also indicates that Gardner searched for information related to the woman on the police department’s internal database multiple times between January 2017 and November 2021. He explained the searches as pursuant to “law enforcement purposes” and said he was contemplating off and on reporting that she had grabbed his hand during the ride.
The woman disclosed that she had been assaulted to medical personnel about a month after the alleged crime, KBI agents found, and she also told a therapist in May 2021 that she had been assaulted by a Lawrence police officer.