On Day 2 of ex-officer’s rape trial, witness testifies about woman’s reluctance to report crime: ‘I cannot call the police. He is the police’

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Jonathan Mark Gardner is pictured during his trial on May 23, 2023, in Douglas County District Court. Gardner is a former Lawrence police officer accused of raping a woman while he was on duty.

Story updated at 6:52 p.m. Wednesday, May 24:

A witness on Wednesday testified that her friend didn’t tell the police about being raped because the alleged rapist was a Lawrence police officer.

The officer, Jonathan Mark Gardner, 42, of Tonganoxie, who is no longer employed by the Lawrence Police Department, is standing trial in Douglas County District Court on one count of rape, 17 felony counts of unlawful use of computers and 17 misdemeanor counts of officer misconduct. The charges relate to an incident in the early-morning hours of Jan. 1, 2017, when Gardner is accused of having raped the woman as he gave her a ride home after she had been drinking at a bar in downtown Lawrence, as the Journal-World has reported. He is also accused of using police computers to get personal information about the woman.

The witness testified on Wednesday, the second day of Gardner’s trial, that she was the alleged victim’s best friend at the time of the incident but that because of the alleged rape the two had had a falling out.

“She said it was my fault. She said she was sexually assaulted because I left her at the bar,” the woman testified as she started crying.

The woman said that she and the alleged victim started drinking early that New Year’s Eve before going to the bar. The friend said she was so drunk that she blacked out before they rang in the New Year and she doesn’t remember leaving the bar. She said she woke up the next morning in a stranger’s bed and vomited everywhere.

She said that her friend, who eventually reported the crime in October 2021, didn’t immediately tell her about the assault, but a week later a mutual friend mentioned it, so the woman brought it up with her friend. The friend told her that she was mad at her because she had left her at the bar and that when she finally got a ride home, the police officer who drove her home grabbed her leg and sexually assaulted her, the friend said.

The friend shared her own story of sexual assault with the alleged victim and told her that she didn’t report her own assault for six years and that she understood why the alleged victim might not want to report it. The friend said she still urged the alleged victim to get a rape kit or to report the incident.

“When I suggested to call the police, she said ‘I cannot call the police. He is the police,'” the friend testified.

The friend said the relationship between them ended after that, and they have not had contact until recently when the friend received a subpoena for her testimony.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez addresses the court Wednesday, May 24, 2023, during the rape trial of Jonathan Gardner, left, an ex-Lawrence police officer. Gardner’s attorney, John DeMarco, is at right.

The Lawrence Police Department’s information technology manager, Jason Hodge, also testified on Wednesday about the ways that the GPS unit in a police car might be deactivated. The state has alleged that during the incident Gardner intentionally turned off the GPS and cameras in the patrol car, as the Journal-World has reported.

Hodge said that there were about a dozen ways that the cameras and GPS could malfunction. He said that turning the system off was also very easy and that an officer could log out of the in-car computer, turn off the in-car computer or unplug the GPS antenna.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden asked if Hodge knew of any outages or malfunctions that were reported the night of the incident by Gardner or any other officer. Hodge said he was not aware of any reported outages but that he was not asked by his superiors to check that information.

On Wednesday afternoon, three more of the alleged victim’s friends testified about when and how the woman disclosed the assault to them.

One of them said the alleged victim told her in the summer of 2017 that she was given a ride home by a police officer on New Year’s Eve and that something sexual happened. This witness said she didn’t press the alleged victim on the topic, and that the alleged victim couldn’t remember the specifics of what happened that night.

Another friend testified that before she knew about the assault, she had seen the alleged victim acting strangely on several occasions.

She said the woman would avoid police in traffic; would slump down in her seat and hide if she was a passenger in a vehicle and police were around; and once insisted that they leave a restaurant after two off-duty police officers walked in.

In the fall of 2017, this friend said she asked the alleged victim about why she acted this way around police. She said the alleged victim told her that she was assaulted by an officer on New Year’s Eve and that the only thing she remembered about the man was that he had reddish hair. The friend said the alleged victim was in constant fear that this officer would eventually pull her over in traffic.

This witness also testified about why the alleged victim didn’t want to report to police. What the woman told her, she said, was that she thought nobody would believe that a police officer assaulted her, and that she also might get in trouble herself because she’d been drinking on New Year’s Eve and was not old enough to legally drink at the time.

The third friend who testified said she was there on the day the woman met Gardner again and recognized who he was.

She said she and the alleged victim went to the police station in April 2021 to file a report about a person they knew who had been harassing her. Gardner was the officer who took the report, she said.

The state played body camera footage of that interaction in court. The witness and the alleged victim were in masks during the interaction, and the video ends when Gardner leaves the women to retrieve an application for a protection order.

The witness said that after Gardner gave her the document, he asked the alleged victim if he had met her before, and then said that they had met. When the two women got back to the car, the witness said, the alleged victim asked to see the business card that Gardner gave her. The witness asked why she needed to see it, and the alleged victim told her that she’d been assaulted and that she thought Gardner was the one who did it.

Testimony in the trial began on Tuesday, when law enforcement witnesses testified about their investigation and interviews with the woman and Gardner, as the Journal-World reported.

The state has maintained that Gardner penetrated the woman with his fingers and that the woman did not consent either because she was too drunk to consent or because she was too afraid of Gardner as he forced himself on her. Gardner has maintained that he did not assault the woman but that, on the contrary, she had tried to make advances toward him, which he rejected.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Jonathan Mark Gardner is pictured during his trial on May 23, 2023, in Douglas County District Court. Gardner is a former Lawrence police officer accused of raping a woman while he was on duty.

Gardner is currently free on a $50,000 own-recognizance bond, meaning he was not required to put up any money to be released from jail but may be charged that amount if he fails to appear in court.

Gardner’s case had gone to criminal mediation by agreement of the parties, as the Journal-World reported, and Gardner was offered a plea deal — to enter a no contest or guilty plea to a midlevel aggravated sexual battery charge and three counts of the felony unlawful use of a computer charge — but he rejected the offer.

Gardner was sworn in as an LPD officer in June 2013 and left the department shortly after his arrest in March 2022.

In January, a judge denied Gardner’s request to be tried in a different venue.

A female juror was dismissed on Tuesday for reasons that weren’t clear, leaving the jury with a majority of men: five women and eight men, including one alternate.

Gardner’s defense attorney is John DeMarco. Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez and Seiden are prosecuting the case.

The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Douglas County District Court and is expected to last through Friday.

More coverage: Former Lawrence Police Officer accused of on-duty rape

• May 23, 2023: Defense and prosecution provide differing accounts of night that on-duty Lawrence officer is accused of having raped woman

May 12, 2023: Former Lawrence police officer charged with rape rejects plea offer, says he’s ready for trial

September 15, 2022: Former Lawrence police officer will now stand trial in rape case

May 24, 2022: Case of former Lawrence police officer charged with rape is moved to mediation per parties’ agreement

May 3, 2022: Affidavit details allegations that led to officer’s arrest on rape charge


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