Evidence presented at the trial of a local restaurateur accused of sexual battery by a woman who once worked for him, closed Wednesday with coworkers describing the accuser as a bad employee who was bossy and vindictive, according to one witness.
Sam Albert Gardian, 48, co-owner of the Southern Smoke BBQ & Brewhouse in Newhall, is charged with two counts of sexual battery and two counts of simple battery.
Gardian committed the four misdemeanor counts against Jessica Castillo during four separate incidents, according to prosecutors.
Victoria Tabak, who began working at Southern Smoke as a bartender and was later promoted to bar manager, testified for the defense that she worked with Castillo at the restaurant in April 2016.
“She bragged about bringing in a lawyer, getting her family involved, and how she was going to bring (Gardian) down, and how she was going to get him arrested,” Tabak told the jury.
Deputy District Attorney Taylor Carr asked Tabak: “You don’t like Jessica, do you?”
Tabak, who now works for a larger national chain restaurant, said she didn’t know Castillo personally, but on a professional level, she described Castillo as a bad employee.
“She was very bossy, and detrimental to our work environment,” Tabak said, noting Castillo often ate and drank at the restaurant while working “on the clock.”
The prosecution then asked Tabak whether she thought a woman deserved to be touched against her will just because she was bossy.
“Of course not,” she replied.
The two specific incidents of alleged sexual battery, each of which allegedly involved hand-held pieces of ice — one incident allegedly happening inside the bar and the other in the parking lot on the same day.
Regarding the first allegation, Carr has argued this week that Gardian, holding a piece of ice, shoved his hand down the back of Castillo’s pants, under her underwear and “up against her vagina.”
The second alleged incident happened after Gardian followed Castillo to her car in the parking lot.
“He leaned into the cab of the car and shoved his hand down the front of her pants, under her underwear with his hand lingering on her vagina — for what probably, to her, seemed like an eternity — for about four or five seconds,” Carr said when the trial began.
Orlando Rice, who worked as a sous chef at the Southern Smoke restaurant in 2016, was asked about the parking lot incident.
On the night the alleged sexual battery took place in the parking lot, Rice testified that he walked Castillo to her car because, he said, “It was not a safe place at night.”
Defense attorney David Diamond asked Rice what he heard.
“Just laughter,” he said. “I was still rather new. I didn’t know the history of the people.”
Diamond asked him: “When you were talking to Sgt. (Ron) Price, you told him you heard giggling, playful laughter and then you went back into the restaurant?”
Rice said: “Yes, sir.”
Carr asked Rice if he also told the interviewing sergeant that Gardian treats his employees disrespectfully.
“Correct,” said Rice.
Carr also asked him if he told the sergeant that Gardian was “hitting on” the waitresses and asking them on dates. He said he did.
Ryan Fulkerson, who has worked at the restaurant since it opened, was the last witness for the defense. He told the court he has seen no incidents of physical abuse or sexual abuse at the restaurant.
Carr asked him if he was concerned about his job if he testified saying something about his boss that was “not great.”
Fulkerson said: “I’m here to state the truth.”
Fulkerson conceded to Diamond’s suggestion that Castillo was a “bad employee,” adding “she was very controlling.”
Before Judge Robert J. Schuit instructed the jury, Carr called one last witness to the stand, Detective Victoria Lambrecht, an 11-year veteran of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, currently working with the station’s Robbery and Assault Team.
Carr asked her to reflect on the interviewing and note-taking done by Deputy Eric Capeloa, who testified Tuesday that Castillo had changed her story.
Lambrecht, who testified she’s worked on many sexual assaults, said: “In my opinion, it shouldn’t be a male taking a sexual assault report from a female.
“Female (victims) tend to clam up with a male,” she said. “They might feel embarrassed.
“Maybe she left certain things out and hadn’t said it all,” Lambrecht said.
“Their memories can be changed by trauma,” she added. “If her story came in the same each time, it would seem rehearsed.”
Lawyers are expected to give their closing arguments in the trial Thursday.
On Twitter @jamesarthurholt