Chattanooga: Witness says harassment never happened

Chattanooga: Witness says harassment never happened

July 10th, 2009 by Monica Mercer in News

A woman who worked at Big River Grille last summer has said that an alleged sexual assault of her co-worker by a local prominent attorney - who works in sexual harassment law - never happened.

In her recorded statement to a private investigator, Amber Kindred also said the accuser tried to recruit her to lie about the events of June 14, 2008, with the promise that the accuser would "split the settlement money" with her once she sued attorney Charles D. Lawson for damages.

Ms. Kindred said she didn't go along with the story because she knew it wasn't true.

"(My co-worker) said Mr. Lawson put his hand on her crotch, and I know for a fact that didn't happen," Ms. Kindred said in the recorded statement.

Her statement is part of the court documents that Mr. Lawson's attorney, Chris Varner, is expected to file today in response to the $500,000 civil lawsuit now pending against Mr. Lawson.

"Based on the evidence I've seen, it is very difficult for me to conclude that (this case against Mr. Lawson) is not a lie," Mr. Varner said.

Attorney Darren McBride, who represents the accuser, said Thursday he was not aware of Ms. Kindred's story and declined to comment further.

In her recorded statement, Ms. Kindred added that she witnessed the entire incident between the accuser and Mr. Lawson and told the investigating police officer the same thing in a written statement.

"He did put his hands around her hair, but even when he did do that, she didn't say anything," Ms. Kindred said. "She was just laughing."

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Lawson, who is a shareholder in the prestigious Chattanooga firm Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel P.C., was drunk on the last night of the 2008 Riverbend Festival when he tried to enter Big River with a mug of beer from a different restaurant. When the accuser, who was working security at the door, tried to stop him, Mr. Lawson "slammed" her against the wall and proceeded to fondle her, the lawsuit states.

The accuser filed a complaint with the police, after which the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office charged Mr. Lawson, 42, with sexual battery. The prosecutor dropped the charge to simple assault last fall, allowing Mr. Lawson to go on probation for six months and eventually have the incident expunged from his record because he had no prior criminal convictions.

Criminal defense attorney Jerry Summers represented Mr. Lawson in the criminal case. He said Thursday only that there were "conflicting accounts" of the incident, but declined to comment on Ms. Kindred's original written statement to police.

The statement still has not been found, something Mr. Varner chalked up to the fact the case is now expunged and no longer available on public record.

Mr. McBride had said earlier that Mr. Lawson's alleged actions were "violent against my client and against women in general. There's no place for this in our society."

Yet Mr. Varner said that Mr. Lawson always has denied that anything inappropriate happened, let alone something criminal in nature. He said part of Mr. Lawson's job is to counsel clients and provide training in the area of sexual harassment investigations and prevention.

"The damage to (Mr. Lawson's) reputation has been incalculable," Mr. Varner said.