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Salinas courthouse busy with Peninsula sex cases

By MARY BROWNFIELD

Published: July 17, 2009

- Judge sends Pollacci rape case to trial

THE EVIDENCE is strong enough to put Pebble Beach resident Tom Pollacci on trial for rape, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Russell Scott decided last Friday after a preliminary hearing in the case.

Prosecutor Cristina Johnson told the court Pollacci, who has a record as a sex offender, raped a woman at his family’s Pacific Grove liquor store and then left her at the hospital with a severe head injury in April 2008. Pollacci is charged with three felonies for the forcible rape of a woman who was unconscious and unable to give consent.

The lengthy hearing included testimony from three investigators who pieced together events through multiple interviews with the victim, identified as Jane Doe 1, and about other women whose complaints about rape and sexual assault by Pollacci will be heard as evidence of his past behavior.

Pollacci came to officers’ attention after he allegedly drove the woman to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in her own rental car and left her at the emergency room April 21, 2008, with a bloody head wound, bruises and scrapes, and a blown left ear drum. He was identified via surveillance images.

In interviews shortly after her arrival at CHOMP, the woman was incoherent and unable to answer questions clearly, according to testimony. As her condition improved, she became more clear as officers asked questions during her multiple-day stay at the hospital.

She told investigators she had casually known Pollacci, whose family owns several Monterey Peninsula liquor stores, for years and had consensual sex with him once in 1994 but had not stayed in contact with him after moving out of state in 1995.

On April 19, 2008, she came to the Monterey Peninsula to visit a friend and, after driving around, went into Ron’s Liquors to buy a pack of cigarettes, according to testimony by retired Pacific Grove Police Cmdr. Tom Uretsky. Pollacci recognized her, the two chatted for a few minutes, and she asked if he could get her through the gate at Pebble Beach. He told her he could and entered his number in her cell phone under the contact name, “Thomas My Love.” The following day, she tried to reach him but couldn’t. Later, he called and invited her to stop by the store, which she did.

At the store, he showed her a loft area with a one-way mirror so he could keep an eye on his staff. The low-ceilinged room was carpeted and contained a bed, a stereo system, a toilet and a sink. Upstairs, they drank wine, according to Uretsky, and then Pollacci proceeded to kiss her.

“He was very flattering of her, telling her she was beautiful. He kissed her on the lips, he tried to put his hand down the back of her pants and tried to remove her shirt,” Uretsky said. But she pulled away and told him to stop. “She pulled the shirt down and said, ‘No, Tommy. No.’”

And the next thing she remembers, according to Uretsky, is awakening in the hospital with a head wound.

At CHOMP, she was examined by a Sexual Assault Response Team nurse for evidence of rape, to which her response was that “there would be no way that Tom Pollacci’s DNA or sperm would be inside her, because she didn’t have sex with him,” he said, but the test revealed otherwise. She also reportedly said she would not have consented to sex.

During the investigation, police also contacted a Ron’s Liquors employee who said he saw Pollacci cleaning the area below the loft and was told not to speak of it to anyone. When investigating the scene later, PGPD detective Adam Sepagan, the lead investigator in the case, said the loft contained no bed.


Other victims?

In cross examination, defense attorney Andrew Liu suggested the woman probably fell down the liquor store’s stairs, which the victim had described as “‘hellacious, steep and not up to code.” Liu quoted her statement in an interview: “I do remember those stairs are really steep and scary. There’s a real possibility I did take a header down those stairs.”

He also pointed to inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s interviews with police, such as denying ever having sex with Pollacci and then later admitting it, and her varying recollections of her night in the liquor store.

The prosecutor and police suggested she probably had the memories of her two visits to the store confused, given her head injury.

Attorneys then argued whether the testimony of four other women who claim to be victims of Pollacci might be included during the trial. They were among at least 10 who contacted prosecutors after stories of his arrest broke in the media.

The alleged incidents span from the early 1980s to 2007, and include the forcible rape of a teenager on a riverbank, the assault of a woman at her home, and an attempted rape in a covered parking lot following a lunch date. The early-’80s incidents were not reported to police at the time, but the assault in the parking lot in the early 1990s resulted in Pollacci’s entering a guilty plea, according to investigator Ryan McGuirk. Another woman reported an allegation of inappropriate sexual contact by Pollacci in April 2007.

Liu said the alleged past incidents are impossible to defend, and he accused Johnson of merely trying to “fill the gap” in the current rape case. He said the past complaints and the current case were too dissimilar to warrant their inclusion.

“There is no testimony about a rape, so what the prosecutor is trying to do is fill that gap,” he said. The district attorney’s office is “saying he has propensity, and therefore that must be what happened — but we don’t know what happened.”

Johnson countered that the women’s experiences illustrate Pollacci’s character and past behavior.

The defense attorney argued the case should be dismissed.

“We have no evidence of force; what we have is evidence of sex, by DNA only. There is no other evidence,” he said. “All of the evidence points toward a consensual act, and the only thing the prosecutor can hang her hat on is she says she would not have consented.”

Scott was convinced enough evidence exists to proceed with the case.

“The court starts with the emphatic position taken by the victim that no sex took place — it just didn’t happen — and that position hasn’t changed,” he said, adding that Pollacci’s behavior after the incident, such as dropping the woman off at the hospital and then leaving without talking to doctors, also bore consideration.

He set Pollacci’s case for arraignment at 8:30 a.m. July 31.

- Tearful accuser in doctor’s sodomy trial

THE WOMAN who says physician Carl Bergstrom forcibly sodomized her in his Carmel home three months ago took the stand this week in a Salinas courtroom.

Often distraught, she recounted an evening of socializing and drinking that ended with her crouching in the bushes outside his house and calling 911 from a cell phone she grabbed as she fled.

Arguments in the case began late Tuesday morning, following jury selection that lasted more than a day as potential jurors were dismissed after telling the judge they didn’t think they could participate in such a graphic case and remain objective. Many others were excused for planned vacations, family issues and other obligations.

With the jury and alternates sworn in, Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Cristina Johnson launched into her opening argument, quoting the cries of 43-year-old Jane Doe as she talked to an emergency dispatcher: “Come get me, please! Oh god, he raped me so bad.

She summarized the evening that began with the woman’s late-night dinner and a couple of glasses of wine at Jack London’s, where Bergstrom — whom she knew professionally through her work as a physical therapist — began chatting her up at the bar. They and his friends went for another couple of rounds and ended up in deep conversation at Ody’s Tavern, after which he invited her to go home with him.

At his Carmel Woods home, the pair opened a bottle of wine and talked, sharing more about their lives and pasts, including tough divorces and her injuries and depression. When she began crying, he hugged and comforted her.

They sat on the couch and kissed, but details are hazy after that, Johnson told the jury, given how much alcohol they had consumed. Suddenly aware he was sodomizing her as she was bent over the front of the couch, the woman “told him no, to stop, that he was hurting her,” Johnson said. “And he did not stop. She’ll tell you she tried to fight, to get away, but she wasn’t able to.”

When he eventually stopped, she grabbed his keys and cell phones off the kitchen counter, and fled out the door. Because of previous leg injuries, she couldn’t run and took refuge in his yard, calling 911, the prosecutor said.


‘Likes to party’

Defense attorney Carolyn Keeley painted a different picture, but still one that wasn’t exactly complimentary to her client. She described Bergstrom, 52 and single for 15 years, as a man who “likes to have fun.”

“He likes to drink; he likes to party,” she said. “He likes to have sex with women, and women like to have sex with him.”
That night, he became more attracted to Doe as the evening progressed, according to Keeley, and they were having a good time.
“She’s a pretty lady,” she said. “He thought she was fun.”

At his house, they talked and listened to music, and Bergstrom invited her to a gala to be held in Pebble Beach later in the week.
On the couch, they had sex, Keeley said, and after he initiated anal sex and realized she didn’t like it, he stopped and walked away.

“What she’s going to tell you when she comes to court, I have no idea,” the defense attorney said, referring to the victim’s “various stories.”

No one doubts she fled the house and called 911, Keeley said, but “what made her do that?”

“He could not figure out why this woman he was having a good time with freaked out and ran outside,” she said.


‘Walk around with shame’

On Tuesday afternoon, Doe took the stand and the repeated the story the prosecutor told the jury that morning. During the testimony, Johnson played the recording of her 911 call from Bergstrom’s cell phone. In the recording, Doe sounded hysterical and drunk, and told the dispatcher she was cold, scared and didn’t know where she was. She told the dispatcher, “He raped me so bad,” and said she was hiding so he wouldn’t find her. She identified her attacker as “Dr. Bergstrom,” (which the dispatcher asked her to spell correctly.) She said she couldn’t remember his first name, and told the 911 dispatcher, “It’s in the phone book, I’m sure.”

After Carmel police and then sheriff’s deputies arrived and questioned Doe and Bergstrom, an ambulance took her to CHOMP, where she underwent a Sexual Assault Response Team exam by a trained nurse who found injuries consistent with forcible sodomy. She spent seven days at CHOMP for treatment of various injuries and other conditions.

Johnson asked Doe about lasting effects of the incident. She said she has nightmares, can’t sleep, is isolated and doesn’t go out socially. “I feel like I walk around with shame,” she said. “And I know it’s a small community and everybody knows.”

‘I don’t recall’

In cross examination, Keeley focused on statements, some contradictory, which the woman made to police, investigators and the nurse after the incident and during the following days.

She raised the issue of Doe’s blood alcohol content, which was more than .20 percent five hours after her 3 a.m. call. Doe said she underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2005, making her body more sensitive to alcohol. (Bergstrom’s BAC was .17 percent, and he reportedly had Vicodin in his system.)

Keeley also sought to establish whether Doe knew of Bergstrom’s reputation as being “promiscuous” and whether she was having a good time with him. She questioned whether the woman knew how she would get home from Bergstrom’s house, since she doesn’t have a car and went there in his.

Keeley tried to get the witness to pinpoint details of the evening, such as how many people were in each bar and how many friends were with Bergstrom.

Upset and agitated, Doe repeatedly said she didn’t remember her answers to investigators and the nurse, but if they included such comments in their reports, she must have said them. When Monterey County Superior Court Judge Russell Scott intervened to explain the question was not if she said something, but if she remembered saying it, her answer to Keeley’s questions along those lines became, “I don’t recall.”

She frequently burst into tears during questioning and repeatedly referred to Bergstrom’s sodomizing her.

Keeley asked Doe about her week in the hospital after the incident, as well as what occurred during a prior visit, raising the issue of her taking prescription drugs for depression and being advised not to consume alcohol.

After answering a few followup questions from Johnson and a couple more from Keeley, Doe stepped down from the stand, and Johnson called SART nurse Sheree Goldman, who examined Doe for several hours and testified about her injuries.

The prosecutor also received permission from the judge to show graphic cell-phone videos indicating Bergstrom’s sexual tendencies and introduce the testimony of another woman who reportedly had a similar encounter with him. She is known as Jane Doe 2. The trial is expected to continue through next week.