Harford Co. councilman acknowledges touching custodian, denies sexual intent Mark Decker is accused of contacting her breast

trial likely to end today

March 26, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Testifying at his trial on a sex-offense charge, Harford County Councilman Mark S. Decker said yesterday that he briefly held a patch on the smock of a courthouse custodian but denied any sexual intent or touching her breast in an incident last year.

In the case moved to Baltimore County Circuit Court, the custodian -- who is not being identified by The Sun because she is alleging a sexual offense -- told how she was emptying trash bins when Mr. Decker took her by surprise in a hallway of the courthouse outside County Council chambers.

First, he touched a patch on the sleeve of her arm and asked what it said, she said. Then, she said tearfully, "He grabbed my breast and my name tag," which was attached to the smock just above her left breast.

"I felt violated. I couldn't believe that that had happened," the custodian, who left the job in June, told Judge John Grason Turnbull II. She said she regularly had a co-worker accompany her to Mr. Decker's office for cleaning because of comments he had made that she found inappropriate or intimidating.

Mr. Decker was charged with a fourth-degree sexual offense -- defined as touching an intimate part of a person's body for sexual gratification -- and battery in the alleged incident Feb. 7, 1995.

The custodian, who later was assigned to another floor, said she reported the alleged 6 p.m. incident to the personnel department hoping to have it documented in writing but not talked about.

However, she said, when rumors started circulating and she was unsure that a written report was filed, she went to the county sheriff's office.

Two eyewitnesses also testified yesterday.

James D. Vannoy, an assistant council attorney who said he was coming down a flight of stairs about 6 p.m. Feb. 7, said Mr. Decker "had a hold of her arm." When the custodian talked about it with him, Mr. Vannoy said, she did not use the word breast.

Kathleen Boyd, the custodian's supervisor, said she saw Mr. Decker grab the name badge with the same hand he had used to grab her arm. "She lost all color," Ms. Boyd said of the custodian, describing her as "scared to the point of tears."

Mr. Decker, elected in 1994, said he touched the Havre de Grace woman's sleeve but not her breast, and offered to apologize for making her uncomfortable once he learned she had accused him of sexual harassment.

Under questioning by his lawyer, Augustus F. Brown, Mr. Decker described himself as a 35-year-old married father of two and not aware that comments he made "would be offensive to anyone."

He said he was shaking hands with people at the time and "didn't want to ignore" the custodian, so he asked her about her patch.

"I just had it between my thumb and forefinger," he said, adding that he did not grab her arm or any other body part. "This whole thing took about five seconds," he testified.

Several days later, county officials went to his liquor store and told him someone had made an allegation of sexual harassment, he said. "I was floored," he told the judge. "I said, 'Look, I had nothing sexual [in mind]. I would be more than happy to apologize or whatever necessary to make them feel comfortable."

The trial is expected to conclude today.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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