Jury begins deliberating in restaurant sexual battery case

The Santa Clarita Courthouse. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal.


The fate of a local restaurateur accused of sexual battery by a woman who once worked for him is now in the hands of a jury.

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 allegedly committed the four misdemeanor counts against Jessica Castillo during four separate incidents, according to prosecutors.

On Friday, one week after Deputy District Attorney Taylor Carr presented her opening statements, she and defense lawyer David Diamond delivered their closing arguments in the case.

Once the arguments were made, jurors began deliberating about 4 p.m. Thursday, expected to return for further deliberations Friday.

“The credibility of the complaining witness will be the biggest factor for the jury,” Gardian’s defense lawyer David Diamond told The Signal outside the Santa Clarita Courthouse Thursday.

Carr presented her closing arguments Thursday afternoon, saying Gardian is guilty of four misdemeanor criminal courts.

In describing the two counts of “simple battery,” she told jurors in her opening statements a week ago that Gardian “smacked” Castillo in the back of her head and grabbed her tongue with his thumb and forefinger and shook it.

In describing the first of two counts of sexual battery, Carr said Gardian, holding a piece of ice, shoved his hand down the back of the woman’s pants, under her underwear and “up against her vagina.”

The second alleged incident of sexual battery happened, she said, in the restaurant’s parking lot as Castillo was getting into her car.

“He followed her out to the car and grabbed the driver’s door before she could close it,” Carr said.

“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.”

Once the prosecution wrapped up its case Tuesday, Diamond began calling his own witnesses, beginning with the deputy in training who took Castillo’s report in April 2016.

Diamond questioned him about reporting that Castillo changed her story.  He then asked the veteran deputy, in her capacity as field training officer, about the veracity of the trainee’s police report and the significance of its reporting a change in the victim’s story.

Diamond closed his case Wednesday by calling two former employees, and one current employee, to the stand, asking them each about Castillo’s character and that of Gardian.

Judge Robert J. Schuit delivered his instructions to the jury late Wednesday once both lawyers had wrapped up their cases, paving the way for closing arguments Thursday.

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