After more than four hours of deliberation, a jury has acquitted former Charlottesville police officer Christopher Seymore of two charges of sodomy.
The trial against Seymore, 36, continued at a brisk pace Tuesday, with much of the testimony centering on the defense’s theory that the sexual acts were consensual and that the complainant, Ronna Gary, initiated the entire thing.
Gary is being identified publicly in this story because she previously has come out publicly about the events that led to Seymore’s arrest.
Seymore is accused of forcing Gary to perform oral sex on two occasions on Nov. 18, 2016. He faces two charges of sodomy. Upon his arrest, Seymore’s 18-month employment with the city police department was terminated.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania reacts to the verdict pic.twitter.com/4xB4wg6Xwi— Lauren Berg (@laurenbergk) March 7, 2018
The prosecution finished presenting its case early Tuesday afternoon and focused on the recorded interview Seymore had with two city police officers from the Office of Professional Standards. Lt. Cheryl Sandridge took the stand and said Gary cooperated fully with the investigation, going so far as to allow police to extract her text messages and phone records from her cell phone.
Sandridge and her colleague, Lt. Brian O’Donnell, recorded the interview with Seymore, in which they asked him about his encounter with Gary. Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania played the interview in court and, for the first time, the court heard Seymore speak about the incident.
In the interview, Seymore said he met with Gary and Ry Bergum, the man who followed a vehicle involved in a hit-and-run on Jefferson Park Avenue, outside of Gary’s apartment. Seymore said Gary seemed to be flirting with him before she decided to go back inside her apartment.
After speaking with Bergum, Seymore said he went to Gary’s home to ask her some more questions about the car incident. He said again that she was acting flirtatious and was “coming onto him pretty hard.”
After a short conversation with her, Seymore said Gary insinuated that she wanted to have sex with him and pulled her shirt up to show him she wasn’t wearing a wire. She had previously told him she sometimes worked as an informant for the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force, helping police identify fugitives and drug dealers.
Next thing he knew, Seymore said, Gary was performing oral sex on him.
After quickly cleaning up and apologizing to her, Seymore said he left. But he decided to come back as soon as his shift was over at about 8 a.m. because he wanted to tell her he was married and could not have a relationship with her, he said.
But once again, Seymore said, Gary “came onto him” and led him towards her bedroom.
At one point in the recording, O’Donnell broke in and asked Seymore if he understood that some people in Gary’s situation might feel like they couldn’t say no.
“She was definitely the aggressor, sir,” Seymore said.
Taking a step back in his story, Seymore said he was the one who unzipped his pants and pulled his penis out, but he said she took over from there. He also said part of the reason he went back was because he was interested in having a sexual encounter with Gary.
“I feel despicable,” Seymore said in the interview. “I made a bad decision. I should never have gotten involved with that woman. But I’m an honest person.”
Later in the interview, after O’Donnell told Seymore there were cameras in Gary’s apartment because of her role as an informant — which was not true, but was designed to draw out more information from Seymore, Sandridge said — Seymore admitted that he liked Gary’s attention and was hoping for sexual contact with her. That’s why he took his camera off when he first came to her apartment, he said.
Seymore said that when he went to Gary’s apartment, he told her she was attractive and that the two then “started hooking up.” He said they were hugging and kissing, and she was rubbing up against him before he unzipped his pants and she performed oral sex on him.
But after their encounter, Seymore said, he still felt nervous and anxious, and apologized for being unable to satisfy Gary after he was finished.
“Why were you so nervous?” O’Donnell asked. “You’re so nervous you go back? That makes no sense to me.”
Seymore said he just wanted to be honest with her and set “ground rules” for if they continued to see each other.
“Do you think it’s a possibility that she was trying to do whatever it took to get you to go away?” O’Donnell asked.
Both Sandridge and O’Donnell testified that Seymore’s body camera footage from when he spoke to Gary in the street was lost because of a miscommunication. But O’Donnell said he watched the footage shortly after Gary came forward and said that it appeared that she was intoxicated and acting in a flirtatious manner.
Detective Declan Hickey, with city police, also took the stand to talk about his relationship with Gary. Hickey said he has known Gary since he responded to a call in 2014 that involved her car. Since then, she periodically informed him about wanted subjects and drug dealers, he said.
She even had a nickname for him, “Donuts,” which appeared in some of the text messages Platania shared with the court.
“I’m not sure if it’s a cop thing or a fat thing,” Hickey joked on the stand.
Being one of the only police officers she felt she could trust, Gary told Hickey about her encounter with Seymore on Nov. 28, 2016. Hickey testified that he immediately contacted his supervisors and the investigation began.
After Platania rested his case, Seymore’s attorney, Elizabeth Murtagh, made a motion to strike the prosecution’s evidence. She said the prosecution failed to prove that Gary was overcome and forced to perform a sex act. She argued that the force had to be overt and not just emotional or psychological.
Platania argued back that Gary testified that she felt she had no choice because Seymore was a police officer. He said she was backed against a wall and saw a gun on his hip.
Circuit Judge Richard E. Moore denied the motion and said there were still enough opposing facts in the case that the jury could decide.
The defense brought Seymore to the stand at the end of its evidence, and he walked the court through the events of Nov. 18. Again stressing that Gary flirted with him and initiated contact, Seymore said he had been having a hard year in his personal life and that Gary made him feel wanted.
“She made me feel good, and I hadn’t felt that good in a long time,” Seymore said.
In his closing argument, Platania spoke about the power dynamics between Seymore and Gary, and how she said she felt pressure to comply with his wishes because of the gun at his hip and the authority he carried. Addressing some of the explicit text messages she sent immediately after the incidents and some of the behavior she exhibited, Platania asked the jury to remember what a traumatic experience could do to someone.
“Victims have complicated reactions to traumatic events,” said Platania.
Murtagh argued that people lie. Bringing up the false accusations in the infamous Rolling Stone article that centered on an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, Murtagh said it was incredibly difficult to be put in that situation.
“How do you protect yourself against a false accusation?” Murtagh asked.
Following the verdict, Platania thanked the jury for their time and consideration, but said these types of cases are difficult to prosecute.
"I think [Ms. Gary] is very upset," Platania said. "It's been a long journey for her and I think she's also going to take some time to digest it. It's an emotional evening for her."