No verdict in Harris case

Published 8:39 am Thursday, October 17, 2013

County Commissioner Charlie Harris appeared in court Wednesday in Troy’s Municipal Court on charges of harassment.

The charges stem from an incident on July 22 in which Harris is alleged to have forcibly assaulted a female Pike County employee by holding down her arms, kissing her, forcing his tongue into her mouth and pressing his genitals against her body.

The court session opened with the victim of Harris’ alleged assault taking the stand.

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The victim reiterated her claim that Harris assaulted her July 22.

She alleged that she first encountered Harris on the second floor as he was waiting to enter into the elevator of the Pike County Health Department Building on Franklin Drive while she exited onto the second floor.

The victim then claimed Harris asked her if she was OK. When the victim responded that she was fine, Harris is alleged to have pressed the issue, at which point the victim revealed she had been having marital difficulties.

The victim claims she and Harris went outside to talk about these difficulties, and Harris offered the victim fatherly advice. “I thought his concern was genuine,” the victim said. “He even said, ‘God will take care of you.’”

The victim then alleged that, when she and Harris reentered the building, the alleged assault took place in a corridor on the first floor of the health department building.

The victim estimated the attack to have taken no more than 30 seconds and her conversation with Harris to have taken about 15 minutes.

Following the attack, the victim went upstairs to get her paycheck, and commissioner Harris departed to attend to other business.

The victim’s attorney aditted photos that were taken about five days after the alleged attack to evidence that showed bruises on the victim’s right arm.

On cross-examination, the Harris’ attorney questioned the victim on why she did not call for help when she was assaulted and why nobody in the building saw the attack take place.

“He knew where he had me in the building,” the victim replied. “Nobody could see us in that corner. I panicked and didn’t cry out for help.”

The attorney also took issue with the victim failing to report the incident to any coworkers later that day.

The victim fought back tears on the stand. “I was embarrassed,” the victim said. “I was ashamed. I was mad. I spent three-to-four years volunteering at the commission. I love my job. I thought that I had done something wrong. I just wanted to get out of there. I didn’t even tell my parents until after I spoke to the police.”

Harris’ attorney began by calling Harris to the stand.

Harris relayed a different version of events for the courtroom.

Harris said he first saw the victim that day when he entered the elevator on the second floor of the health department building.

He said, when he first saw the victim, she was wiping her eyes as if she had been crying.

Harris claimed he asked her what was wrong, but did not press the issue with her.

Harris said he and the victim rode down in the elevator together, and, when they reached the first floor, the victim divulged her marital issues to him of her own accord.

Harris said he and the victim then talked about her issues and explained that he felt the victim was worried about her financial situation if she divorced her husband.

Harris said he did his best to reassure her and told her to talk to her parents about her marital difficulties.

At no point, Harris said, did he act in any inappropriate way toward the victim.

“I have had two back surgeries in the past two years,” Harris said. “I have difficulty even getting around. I walk with a limp. A man in my condition could not force himself on her.”

The victim’s attorney asked Harris if he recalled an incident that occurred in 2011, in which Harris is alleged to have hugged the victim, kissed her on the forehead, and caller her his “big baby.”

Harris responded that he has no recollection of formal complaints being filed against him.

Harris did say that he was aware that the victim had made complaints of harassment in the past however and that he was particularly aware of his behavior around the victim on the day in question because he was conscious of her history of complaints.

After Harris stepped down from the stand, his attorney recalled the victim and questioned her on an incident that happened last year in which she claimed an African-American man physically assaulted her in her office.

The victim confirmed that she remembered the event but also said that no police report was filed on the incident.

The court is taking the testimony into consideration and should rule on the case in a matter of days.