At ex-officer’s rape trial, woman testifies about fear, conflicted feelings before reporting incident; defendant takes stand and denies assaulting her
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World
Updated at 6:25 p.m. Thursday, May 25
Before she reported her allegations to police, a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by a Lawrence police officer in 2017 was scared, conflicted and struggling with whether what happened to her that night was her fault.
That’s what she told a jury in Douglas County District Court on Thursday at the trial of the former officer, 42-year-old Jonathan Mark Gardner, of Tonganoxie. He is accused of having raped the woman six years ago as he gave her a ride home on Jan. 1, 2017, after she had been drinking at a bar in downtown Lawrence.
Gardner is charged with one count of rape, 17 felony counts of unlawful use of computers and 17 misdemeanor counts of officer misconduct. The computer charges stem from allegations that he performed improper searches for the woman in police databases.
In her testimony on Thursday, the woman said she had often contemplated what had happened to her in 2017. She said she’d thought a lot about her own actions that night, and even about what she was wearing.
But she said she finally came to understand that she wasn’t to blame and that she was too drunk to have consented to anything that night.
As previous witnesses recounted, for a long time, the woman didn’t know the identity of the officer who drove her home that night and allegedly assaulted her. It was only in April 2021 that she encountered Gardner again, while she was at the police station to help a friend make a report in an unrelated matter.
Even then, when she had a name and a face to put with her memories, it was several months before the woman made her report in November 2021.
On Thursday, she said she resolved to report the incident when she started looking for jobs in another state. She wanted to get the incident on record before leaving Lawrence so that if the officer were to assault someone else, there would be a pattern of behavior on file.
When she reported the assault, she said, she still wasn’t sure if anyone would believe her, and she wanted to be cautious about what she told police because of the severity of the allegations.
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World
District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, who is prosecuting the case, asked the woman what was going through her mind between when she finally identified Gardner and when she reported the incident months later.
“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” the woman said. “I was just scared.”
It had been years,” she continued. “I didn’t know if it was my fault. I thought I would put a report in and nothing would happen.”
Valdez then asked how the woman feels now.
“I’m just disappointed and disgusted,” the woman said.
The woman said that she remembered drinking a lot at a downtown Lawrence bar on New Year’s Eve, and she realized the friend whom she had arrived with was gone. She had made some friends at the bar, and around closing time she left with them to go to a nearby hotel where they were staying.
“I just needed a place to get through the night,” the woman said.
She said that after they arrived at the hotel, there was some kind of incident. She said she didn’t recall what, exactly, but the police were called. Even though she was under the legal drinking age and on probation for a previous DUI, she decided to ask one of the officers for a ride.
“He put me in the front seat and said he would give me a ride home,” she testified.
Valdez asked if she remembered what he looked like that night.
“Vaguely; he reminded me of Paul Blart Mall Cop,” the woman testified, referring to a character in a 2009 film.
She said she didn’t find him attractive. Valdez asked what she remembered next from that night.
“I remember his hand on my upper thigh, and he fingered me,” she said.
She said she didn’t know if she gave consent in the moment and she didn’t remember how it felt but afterward she felt “gross — not regret but gross.”
She said that she remembered then getting to her grandma’s house and that Gardner walked her to the door. She said she realized she didn’t have her purse or keys. Shortly after, another officer arrived, put her in the backseat of his patrol car and took her to her mother’s house.
Valdez asked if she thought to tell the second officer about what had happened.
“Why would he believe me?” the woman replied.
She said that when she got to her mother’s house she immediately went to her mother’s bedroom.
“I went and got into my mom’s bed and told her I was sexually assaulted by a cop. I told her I didn’t want to talk about it,” she said.
“And did she respect that?” Valdez asked.
“She did,” the woman replied.
The woman then detailed when she disclosed the assault to some friends, a nurse OB-GYN and her therapist in 2017, all of whom testified at the trial.
She said she tried to identify the officer over the next few months by looking up pictures of Lawrence police officers online but she was never able to make a connection.
She said she was in college at the time of the incident, but when school resumed the next semester she began failing classes and losing interest. She said she ended up taking a couple of semesters off before returning to finish a psychology degree.
“I guess I just wasn’t OK,” she said.
She said that when she returned to school she was in a women’s studies class. There she met a friend who was having problems with a neighbor. She said she offered to drive the friend to the police station to make a report.
The woman said that it was a normal interaction with the officer taking the report, Gardner, until at the end of their conversation when he said, “By the way, aren’t you (woman’s name)? Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble. I gave you a ride home on New Year’s.”
“Oh my goodness,” the woman said she thought at that moment. “I kind of rushed out of there with (my friend) trailing behind.”
She told her friend about the assault in the car and asked to see the officer’s business card — and for the first time in four years she knew the name of the man who assaulted her, she said. She dropped the friend off and called her mother, and they met for lunch to discuss what happened at the police station. She said she still waited to report the crime even then because she wasn’t sure who would believe her.
Prior to the woman’s testimony, her mother testified that she remembered her daughter waking her up that night and telling her about the assault. She said she held her daughter in her arms the rest of night.
Valdez asked the mother why she didn’t report the assault.
The mother said that her daughter said she didn’t want to talk about it, so she respected her wishes.
“She deserved to have control over her own story,” the mother said.
The mother said she remembered getting the call years later right after her daughter encountered Gardner again at the police station. The mother said her daughter was “freaked out.”
“She kept saying the same thing: that he was the officer who assaulted her,” the mother testified.
Other testimony Thursday included the woman’s OB-GYN nurse, therapist and another friend to whom the woman had disclosed the assault.
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World
The state rested its case around noon, and attorney John DeMarco called two witnesses for the defense — Gardner’s mother-in-law and a family friend — and put Gardner himself on the stand.
Gardner’s mother-in-law and the family friend gave testimony about Gardner being of good character and being a protective father and family man.
When Gardner took the stand, DeMarco asked him why he decided to testify.
“I’m an innocent man,” Gardner replied.
Gardner said he grew up in Atchison and attended a few colleges before meeting his wife. He said they moved to Seattle for a few years before coming back to Kansas. He joined the Lawrence police academy in June 2013.
He testified that the night of the incident, he was on shift for the busy holiday. He said he was expecting to get off at 3 a.m. but realized he would likely log some overtime hours.
“Didn’t matter where you were assigned, you would be hopping all over town. It’s not bad, just busy,” Gardner said.
Gardner said he was dispatched to a hotel by the river for a disturbance involving people in the hotel elevator causing problems. Gardner said the elevator had two people in it, one without a shirt. He ended up writing a trespass order for that man while another officer dealt with a woman who was with the shirtless man. He said the shirtless man then asked for a ride home for himself and for the woman, the alleged rape victim.
Gardner said it was normal, for safety reasons, to give people rides home when it was that cold outside.
Gardner said he loaded the man into the back of the car after the man told Gardner he was a felon, and he loaded the woman into the front where both would have seat belts; the backseat only had one. He said he dropped the man off first and thought the woman would go with him, but she did not get out. She was wearing the man’s shirt and was reluctant to give it back to him until Gardner offered the woman his own jacket.
“At that point I thought they were together,” Gardner said.
He said he then radioed in his location and went to take the woman home. He said they made it to a parking lot near Peterson Road and Kasold Drive, and he stopped when the woman was unclear where she wanted to be dropped off. He said the woman was hoarse and hard to understand and at times wouldn’t speak at all.
He said that the woman was touching things on his radio, and he switched from the in-car radio to his body-worn radio. Gardner was adamant that he did not break radio contact with dispatch during this period. He said testimony from a previous officer about him being out of radio contact for almost 40 minutes was impossible because dispatch would have called, and if he didn’t respond, dispatch would have sent another officer to find him.
He said he didn’t know how or if it was possible to deactivate the car’s GPS until he heard Lawrence police information technology manager Jason Hodge talk about it in court. He said he thought the cameras in the patrol car were running and that there was no footage of the night because there was no crime and the video would have been purged from the system.
He said that while the two were parked and he was trying to get an address from the woman, she took his hand and placed it in her lap, but he immediately pulled it away. He finally managed to get an address from the woman for the woman’s grandma’s house, and he took her there and walked her to the door only to find out she didn’t have a key.
“I called for a locksmith and they wanted money. She had none,” Gardner said.
He said another officer had added himself to the call and was en route, so when the second officer arrived Gardner took his jacket back and sent the woman with the other officer. He said he went back to the station for another hour before going home around 5 a.m.
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World
On cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden asked Gardner why he searched for the woman on the computer so many times over the next four years. Gardner said again that it was for law enforcement purposes. He then said he was worried about the woman and wondered if anything bad ever happened between the woman and the shirtless man. He said he considered writing an informational report about her but never did.
Gardner said in the next few years he looked her up after seeing her at a couple of gas stations. He said once she gave him a long, glaring stare. He said he would regularly look people up who stared at him for too long because maybe there was a reason they were staring, like an outstanding warrant.
He said the last time he looked up the woman’s information was after the Occupy Lawrence incident in 2020 when protesters had set up camp on Massachusetts Street. He said that the woman called the police to report that she had video of an incident where protesters were run over. He said he called the woman back and she didn’t answer, so he searched for her information.
Gardner said that when he finally met the woman in person again in 2021, he took a report from her friend and afterward he introduced himself and told the woman he had given her a ride all those years ago. He said she looked surprised but didn’t take off running or act scared. He said he had gotten good at recognizing people wearing masks during the pandemic and remembered her face from searching her in the database.
The trial is set to resume Friday morning at 9 a.m., when the state and the defense will give closing arguments before the jury starts deliberating.
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.
• September 15, 2022: Former Lawrence police officer will now stand trial in rape case