GREENWICH, Conn. -- Chris Von Keyserling was never shy about speaking in front of crowds on town issues, but the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting member had nothing to say as he walked past a crowd of chanting demonstrators on his way to his first court appearance on a sexual assault charge Wednesday morning.
With a hat pulled low, and wearing sunglasses and a trench coat, von Keyserling walked in to the Stamford courthouse with his lawyer Phil Russell. His court appearance came two weeks after Greenwich Police charged him with fourth-degree sexual assault for allegedly pinching a town worker in the groin after a heated political discussion in December.
In the courtroom, Russell entered a not guilty plea on Von Keyserling’s behalf as 14 protestors sat quietly in two rows of benches behind him.
The protest was organized by The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, along with some union members. About 30 protestors gathered in front of the courthouse at about 9 a.m., waiting for von Keyserling. Shortly before 10 a.m., he could be seen as a silhouetted figure — almost like a character from a film noir movie — deep inside the courthouse parking garage as he waited for Russell to fetch him for the walk past the protestors.
As von Keyserling walked into the courthouse, the sign-holding protestors chanted, "Do not touch without consent."
Later, the protestors shouted, "Shame, shame," as he and Russell walked back to the parking garage.
But while Von Keyserling said nothing Wednesday, protestors had a lot to say.
Ivonne Zucco, executive director of the Stamford-based The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, said they wanted to show support for the complainant and ensure that sexual assault crimes are dealt with appropriately.
"We really need to raise awareness so these types of crimes don't become normalized and people don't minimize the suffering of the victim," she said.
They decided to stage the protest because of the high national profile of the case and also because it's difficult for complainants to be believed in "he said, she said" cases, Zucco said.
Von Keyserling is accused of pinching a unionized town worker after an exchange of words during a political discussion that became heated at about noon Dec. 8 at a town-owned building, police said.
The incident began when the 57-year-old woman encountered von Keyserling in the hallway, the police arrest 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.
It was that comment that brought Lisa Stuart of Wilton to the protest.
"It just made me very angry," she said. "I just feel that there is a coarsening of discourse and a breakdown in civil behavior. And it comes from the top. And I want to protest it because I don't want my daughter to be out in the world with men like that."
According to the warrant, the employee 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.
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 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 reached in between her legs and 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. About a week later she decided to lay a formal police complaint against him.
Von Keyserling was arrested on Jan. 11 in Town Hall.
The Board of Selectmen have called for him to resign from the RTM.