11 a.m. update: GREENWICH, Conn. — About two-dozen protesters were marching and waving signs as promised to rally in support of sexual assault victims outside the Stamford courthouse Wednesday morning before the criminal hearing of Greenwich RTM member Christopher von Keyserling.
And the chanted "Do not touch without consent" as von Keyserling arrived at about 10 a.m. and went inside. His lawyer, Phil Russell, entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. Von Keyserling said nothing inside or outside of court.
His appearance was over by 10:40 a.m., and he left the courthouse through the phalanx of protesters. His next court date is Feb. 22.
The peaceful rally at the courthouse, in place by 9 a.m., was organized by the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education to draw attention to the arraignment of the Greenwich politician on a charge of fourth-degree sexual assault .
"We are gathering today to express our concern as advocates and community members about the behavior demonstrated by Christopher von Keyserling," The Center's Executive Director Ivonne Zucco told the gathering crowd.
"We want to make it clear to the rest of the community that any act, whether it is grabbing, touching or harassing a person without their consent under the law constitutes sexual assault," she said. "And it is about time that the whole community stands behind and supports victims of sexual abuse when they come forward."
Von Keyserling, 71, is accused of insulting and pinching the groin of a female Greenwich town employee on Dec. 8, according to police. He was arrested on Jan. 11 and released on $2,500 bond. He was scheduled for a court appearance at some point Wednesday morning.
The protesters were there to greet Phil Russell, the lawyer for von Keyserling, when he arrived at about 9:30 a.m.
Zucco praised the bravery of the victim in coming forward. And she blasted the statements of von Keyserling and Russell since the arrest.
"Plenty of people minimize [the victim's] suffering ... we have seen that clearly not only with the words of the predator but also his lawyer," Zucco told the crowd.
According to an arrest warrant, von Keyserling and the 57-year-old woman had a conversation about politics in a town facility before he said, "I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct." He later pinched her groin area as she walked by, police said. The woman reported the incident to police.
"Statements made by the accused and his attorney have minimized the trauma of sexual assault and harassment, and The Center is prepared to show support for this brave victim, and all victims of sexual violence," The Center said in its announcement.
Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei said Tuesday in a press conference at The Center that public support "is a very important step, to keep the pressure on that this behavior is not acceptable, it's not okay. Our primary focus is supporting the victim of the assault."
Von Keyserling also called the town worker "nothing but a bloodsucking lazy union employee," according to the police arrest warrant. The incident began at about noon Dec. 8 when the 57-year-old woman encountered von Keyserling in the hallway of an unnamed town facility, the warrant said.
The two briefly spoke about politics and the woman told him that "it was a new world politically" and he had to educate his fellow politicians, the warrant said.
He allegedly replied: "I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct," according to the warrant.
She told him that if he was "proud of that I can't help you," after which he called her a lazy, bloodsucking union employee, the warrant said.
She uttered "(expletive deleted) you" and walked into her office, the warrant said. She said he followed her into the office and said he wanted to talk with her co-worker, the warrant said.
When that co-worker walked in, she said she didn't have time to speak with him and left the office, the warrant said. The 57-year-old woman decided to leave with her co-worker because she didn't want to be alone with him, the warrant said.
As she walked by, he allegedly pinched her in the groin area, according to the warrant. She threatened to punch him if he ever did that again, the warrant said.
She said he "looked back with a really evil look in his eyes and said, 'it would be your word against mine and nobody will believe you,'" according to the warrant.
On the following day, the woman accompanied by a friend and the town's Assistant Director of Human Resources went to the police department to report the incident, the warrant said. She said that she didn't want to have a criminal complaint laid against him.
A detective called von Keyserling at 6:35 p.m. and told him he was to not have any contact with the complainant and to stay away from the facility until he was contacted by the facility's executive director, the warrant said.
He told the detective that he understood and that it was all a misunderstanding, the warrant said. "He related that he was sorry he pinched her, and ... it has gotten this out of hand," according to the arrest warrant.
On Dec 16, the woman returned to police headquarters because she now wanted to move forward with the complaint, the warrant said. She said she had originally been reluctant to go forward due to a fear of retribution and the possible publicity that an investigation could bring, the warrant said.
She told the officer that she learned he had allegedly acted in a similar way with other employees and that he had told other individuals at Town Hall that the incident between the two of them was a joke, the warrant said. She said she was compelled to come forward to prevent similar acts from happening against other women, the warrant said.
Police said video footage from a surveillance camera on the day of the incident is consistent with the sequence of events described by the complainant.
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