No A-frame: Judge convicts dentist of farewell butt grab
It was a classic case of she-said/he-said. She said the farewell hug included a grope of her right buttock. He said it was a rub on the back. In Albemarle General District Court Wednesday, Judge Bob Downer found dentist George Tisdelle, 51, guilty of sexual battery, a Class 1 misdemeanor, and gave him 90 days, all suspended.
The young Ruckersville woman who filed the complaint testified that the groping took place on June 3, her last day working at Tisdelle's Ivy Road practice, where she'd worked for a year.
"He came in to say goodbye," Kristen Hanlan recalled. "He had his arms out and said, 'Can I get a squeeze or a hug?'"
Defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana noted that the written complaint filed six days after the incident only mentioned a request for a hug, not a squeeze. And throughout the 90-minute trial, Quagliana portrayed a mere "A-frame hug" that her client allegedly used, with hands on the shoulders in a position far north of the derriere.
Former employee Hanlan disagreed. She portrayed a devilish dentist who pointed out that she was thin and then awkwardly reached southward.
"He came around and grabbed my right butt cheek," she testified. "I was not expecting that."
She also testified about an uncomfortable interlude, a months-earlier incident in which Tisdelle allegedly made a laughing remark about putting a camera in the small room that the dental office provided for lactating staffers. During the same conversation, Hanlan testified, he complimented her shirt.
The defense contended that the assistant's work was unsatisfactory, an effort that seemed geared toward suggesting a motive to manufacture an incident as revenge. However, Hanlan testified that she simply gave two weeks notice because she found work 10 minutes from home rather than 45 minutes.
Christine Brown has been the office manager at the practice Tisdelle shares with his wife, and Brown said that in 11 years, she'd never heard of any fondling complaints about Tisdelle. However, Brown was within earshot that day, and she told the court that after Tisdelle went in to issue a farewell that she heard the departing employee yell out "hey." Another employee testified that she, too, heard a sudden "hey" from Hanlan during Tisdelle's farewell embrace. Both fellow employees say the victim told them what happened and demonstrated the allegedly errant hug.
"I was not expecting that," Hanlan testified. "I pushed him back."
In his own defense, Tisdelle took the stand to deny any groping. He insisted that, yes, he remarked that Hanlan was thin but he claimed he was properly confining his rubbing to her back when she inexplicably yelled.
Prosecutor Will Hendricks said he could have produced even more corroborating witnesses.
"It's an embarrassing charge," said Hendricks. "I think Dr. Tisdelle feels entitled."
Quagliana closed by once again demonstrating an A-frame hug–- "the hug you do when you don't want to touch–-" and maintained that the disparate stories had to raise reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge.
Not this judge. Downer found Tisdelle guilty.
"I don't have any doubts," said Downer. "I think he did touch her inappropriately."
Downer did, however, concur with Quagliana that the sexual battery doesn't amount to assault and battery, so he suspended the 90-day sentence on the condition of two years good behavior.
Tisdelle has filed an appeal.
Updated 9:15pm with the correct spelling of Will Hendricks' name.
August 24 Editor's note: The original version of this story did not include the victim's name because of standard journalistic practice to not identify victims of sexual assault. However, after several newsroom discussions, the Hook editorial staff decided that this case is a misdemeanor, and while its legal term is "sexual battery," it is comparable to other assaults for which victims are routinely named. At this point, the Hook will publish the names of those victims of misdemeanor assault including sexual battery.
September 22 Editor's clarification: Alerted to the fact that the crime of an adult uncle having sex with his teenage niece appears currently classified as a misdemeanor, the Hook stipulates that such crime would typically fall into the non-naming category.