One Trial for Charges Against Michael Gardner

August 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF

August 21, 2011

The three charges of sexual abuse brought against Michael Gardner will be tried jointly.

The Arlington Circuit Court has granted a motion to combine the counts into a single trial.  During a hearing on July 21 defense attorney Peter Greenspun raised the possibility of trying the charges separately, but the Court last Thursday ruled in favor of the prosecution. 

Mr. Gardner is charged with two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one of object sexual penetration.  The offenses, involving two girls age 10 and one age 9, allegedly occured in the Gardner home on June 16 and 18.  He was arrested by Falls Church Police on June 22.

The proceedings are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, October 3, in Courtroom 10-D of the Arlington County Courthouse.  In July, Mr. Greenspun said that he expected the trial to last four days.

Blueweeds, Mr. Gardner’s often visited and sometimes controversial blog, had remained on-line for several weeks after his arrest.  However, it now appears that the site is no longer accessible.  He had last posted on the blog in June 2010.  Blueweeds, which debuted in July 2006, offered commentary on events in Falls Church City and, occasionally, on state and national affairs.

Million Dollar Gambling Bust at Eden Center

August 12, 2011 by · 31 Comments 

Chief Reitze and Task Force Members (Photo by Barbara Gordon)

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

August 12, 2011

Falls Church City Police, in conjunction with members of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, yesterday confiscated over $1 million in cash and 70 gambling devices valued at $200,000 in a raid at the Eden Center (6751 Wilson Blvd.).  Arlington and Fairfax County officers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation also participated in the investigation.

Police served felony search warrants at 13 restaurants and made numerous arrests during the raid, dubbed Operation Aces and Eights.  One warrant was served in Fairfax County.

Nineteen people were charged with various misdemeanor offenses including gambling, fireworks, and ABC violations.  Several felony arrests are pending.

Task Force members announced the results of the raid this morning at a briefing on the City Hall steps.  According to Chief Harry Reitze, FCPD first received reports of illegal gambling activity at the Center in 2010.  The Task Force was called in late that year to penetrate the operation.

“Yesterday’s arrests and property seizures will help stem the flow of money that often funds other illegal activity in the region,” said Reitze.  The investigation of criminal gang activity in the region is continuing, he said, and more arrests are pending.

Task Force commander, Lt. Dan Hess of  Prince William County, described the gambling devices, which were in plain sight, as resembling entertainment machines, but with a slot off to the side.  Hess said that the activity was controlled by a primarily Vietnamese-American gang known as the Dragon family and that its actions had “paralyzed the Eden Center community.”  He stated that a number of business owners and patrons thanked the police officers who were conducting the raid.

Chief Reitze said that the Eden Center has long had “a checkered reputation.”  Over the years it has been the site of both petty and serious crimes, such as assaults, robberies, extortion, narcotics sales, and homicides, mostly gang-related.

Officials observed that gangs have “long tentacles” and that they are capable of quickly shifting their operations from one jurisdiction to another, thus a regional approach to the problem is essential.   Chief Reitze acknowledged that City police could not have conducted the operation on their own.

Joe Price, Chairman of the Gang Task Force and Chief of the Leesburg Police Department, said Thursday’s raid was another significant milestone in the Task Force’s efforts to combat gang crime and to reduce the influence of gangs in the Northern Virginia region.  He said the Task Force has focused not only on enforcement but also prevention and intervention.

Teen-agers are especially vulnerable to gangs, as both victims and recruits.  Therefore, the  Task Force works with local organizations in efforts to mentor those at risk.  In Falls Church City, mentoring sessions for middle school students are held Thursday afternoons after school at the Community Center.

Businesses Raided – Search warrants for illegal gambling were served Thursday at the following Eden Center establishments:

Café Nho
Café Ha
Café Nha Trang
Café H20
Café Le Mirage
Café Quan 7 Lo
Café Bay 11
Café De Paris
Café Dang
Café Hoanh Qanh
Café Gio
Café Hai Lua
Café Vv – 6779

The Regional Gang Task Force – The Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force was initially funded with a 2003 Department of Justice Appropriations Bill. It is a multi-jurisdictional partnership comprised of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to address gang activity in Northern Virginia. The Board of Directors of the Gang Task Force are Chief Law Enforcement Officers of the following jurisdictions.

Arlington County
City of Alexandria
Town of Dumfries
City of Fairfax
Fairfax County
City of Falls Church
Fauquier County
Town of Herndon
Town of Leesburg
Loudoun County
Manassas City
Manassas Park
Prince William County
Town of Vienna
Virginia State Police
Town of Warrenton

Aces and Eights –  According to American legend, the Dead Man’s Hand was the pair Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot in the back in a saloon at Deadwood, SD in 1876.

Gardner Trial Set for October

July 21, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF

July 21, 2011

Michael Gardner’s jury trial on sexual abuse charges will be held in October in Arlington Circuit Court.  However, defense attorney Peter Greenspun said during this morning’s proceedings that each of the three counts “by statute” should be tried separately, rather than jointly as the prosecution prefers.  Presiding Judge Joanne Alper did not rule on the issue.

Most of the brief hearing involved disucussion of a trial date, tentatively set for October 3.  Mr. Greenspun said that he expected the trial to last four days.

The charges involve two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one of object sexual penetration involving three girls.  Two of the girls are 10 and one is 9.

Mr. Gardner was indicted by the Arlington Grand Jury last Monday.  The offenses allegedly occured in the Gardner home on June 16 and 18.  He was arrested by Falls Church Police on June 22.

The accused’s wife sat by his side during the proceedings.

Gardner Indicted on Three Counts

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF

July 20, 2011

Michael Gardner has been indicted on two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of object sexual penetration.  The Grand Jury of the Arlington Circuit Court handed down the indictments on Monday, July 18.

Mr. Gardner is due in Court tomorrow morning.  The judge will set a trial date at that time.

Gardner Case Referred to Arlington Grand Jury

July 12, 2011 by · 34 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

July 12, 2011

Michael Gardner, facing charges of sexual abuse involving three young girls, appeared today for a preliminary hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.  After listening to explicit testimony from each girl, Judge Esther Wiggins declared she had found probable cause and referred the case to the Grand Jury of the Arlington Circuit Court. 

The Grand Jury will convene on Thursday, July 21 and may hand down an indictment.  Mr. Gardner has been charged with aggravated sexual battery and object sexual penetration.  Two of the girls are 10 years old and one is 9.

Judge Wiggins initially closed the Court to all but those directly involved in the case and the girls’ parents.  However, after 40 minutes she reversed her ruling and opened the courtroom to reporters and spectators.

The girls, all of whom testified separately, were first questioned by prosecutor Nicole Wittman.  She asked relatively few questions, first requesting each girl to identify Mr. Gardner and then to describe the nature of the alleged abuse.

Defense counsel Peter Greenspun then cross-examined each girl, asking many more questions and meeting occasional objections from Ms. Wittman, which Judge Wiggins generally sustained.  Each girl’s parents accompanied them to the witness stand, sitting directly to their left.  All three girls maintained their composure throughout the questioning. 

One girl recounted two incidents, several minutes apart.  During his cross-examination Mr. Greenspun sought to determine the length of each by timing the girl’s recollection, first saying “start” and then waiting until the witness said “stop.”   Times of 19 and 24 seconds were recorded.

Another girl testified that the accused asked her “Did that feel good.”  She said she responded “No.”

The events at issue occurred on the night of June 18, when two of the girls attended a slumber party at the Gardner home, and on the night of June 16, when the third girl slept over at the house.  Mr. Gardner was arrested on June 22 and was released the following day on $50,000 bond.

At the close of the hearing Mr. Greenspun asked that the Court allow Mr. Gardner to see his two children, a restriction imposed on the condition of his bond.  However, Judge Wiggins refused the request, saying she would rather err on the side of caution. 

Prior to the hearing, Mr. Gardner sat with his wife Robin and his attorney.  However, she did not accompany her husband, either when he entered City Hall or when  he left. 

Mr. Greenspun, who has replaced Brian O’Connor as Mr. Gardner’s counsel, is a well-known criminal defense attorney.  Previous clients have included D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad and famed sportscaster Marv Albert.

The Gardner case has attracted considerable attention in the local news media.  Reporters from Falls Church Patch, the News-Press, and three area television stations attended today’s hearing.

Preliminary Hearing in Gardner Case Tomorrow

July 11, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

July 11, 2011

Michael Gardner is due in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court tomorrow morning for a preliminary hearing in connection with sexual abuse charges.  Mr. Gardner, 47, was arrested on June 22 and charged with aggravated sexual battery and object sexual penetration involving three young girls.  He has denied the charges, according to his attorney Brian O’Connor. 

The hearing is set for 11:45 am in the City Hall Courtroom.  Judge Esther Wiggins will preside.  No decision has been announced thus far as to whether the court will be open to the public or closed. 

Nicole Wittman, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Loudoun County, will serve as prosecutor.  Her assignment apparently is due to Mr. Gardner’s past contacts with Arlington County officials.  In January 2011 he and his wife hosted a fund raiser for the current Decmocratic candidate for Commonwealth Attorney in the Arlington district, which includes Falls Church City.

A preliminary or probable cause hearing provides the accused and his counsel an opportunity to see a portion of the prosecution’s case.  However, as the burden of proof for the prosecutor’s evidence is lower than the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard required for trial, a prosecutor often will only present enough of the case for the judge to decide that there is sufficient evidence to proceed.

If Judge Wiggins finds probable cause based on the evidence presented, the case will be referred to the Grand Jury.  If an indictment is then handed down, trial will be held in the Arlington Circuit Court, which holds jurisdiction over felonies.  If the judge rules that probable cause is lacking, the prosecutor could still seek an indictment through the Grand Jury.

Mr. Gardner currently is free on a $50,000 bond on the conditions that he not reside in his Ellison Street home prior to Tuesday’s court date and have no contact with any minor children.  He has no prior criminal record. 

A well known Falls Church News Press columnist, blogger, and political activist, Mr. Gardner is married to a former City mayor and current council member.  His arrest, which stunned City residents, has attracted local and national media coverage.

UPDATE:  At 7:17 pm, July 11, a City spokesperson advised the hearing will be at 11:45 am, July 12, not 10:45 as previously indicated.

Falls Church City Arrest Shocks City, Garners Intense Media Coverage

June 24, 2011 by · 15 Comments 

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF

June 24, 2011

Michael A. Gardner’s arrest Wednesday on charges of aggravated sexual battery and object sexual penetration involving three young girls has stunned Falls Church City residents, from neighbors to those who know him through his political organizing and writing.

But the case also has attracted area and national media attention from The Washington Post, MSNBC, several local television stations, and the Associated Press, whose version of the story was published on the web site of the San Antonio Express-News in San Antonio, Texas, Friday morning.

Court documents say that Mr. Gardner, who is married to former Falls Church City Mayor and current City Councilwoman Robin Gardner, was arrested after two girls, ages 9 and 10, reported the assault to their parents “individually and separately.” The girls had been at Mr. Gardner’s house June 18 for a sleepover birthday party with Mr. Gardner’s daughter, according to a request for a search warrant filed by Falls Church Police.

A third girl under the age of 13 also alleged an assault in Mr. Gardner’s home two days prior to the sleepover on June 16.

In an interview with the Falls Church Times, Mr. Gardner’s attorney, Brian O’Connor, says Mr. Gardner is pleading not guilty to all charges.

“We deny the charges. This man would never harm a child,” Mr. O’Connor said. “That’s the way we see it. It’s all very preliminary at this stage as far as what the facts are.

“We take the charges seriously. But we don’t believe he did anything improper.”

Authorities disagree, and set bail at $50,000, which Mr. Gardner posted Thursday. As conditions of his release, he was not allowed to reside in his Ellison Street home between June 23 and July 12, when a preliminary hearing is scheduled in the case, and he is not allowed to have any contact with any minor children, the court documents say.

Mr. Gardner, who is 47 and has no criminal record, is something of a celebrity in Falls Church City. Not only is he a spouse to the former mayor, he also is a political activist on a variety of issues, and is a former head of the Falls Church Democratic Committee. He previously wrote a widely read local political blog, and until his arrest was writing a weekly column for the Falls Church News-Press.

He isn’t shy about expressing an opinion, and has called out a variety of politicians and local activists with whom he has disagreed.

Mr. Gardner initially declined a request for a DNA sample prior to retaining an attorney, but Mr. O’Connor, his attorney, told the Times that once he was representing Mr. Gardner, he called authorities to say they would not object. A saliva swab was taken via mouth Wednesday afternoon, court documents say. Authorities believe the sample will prove the girls’ allegations.

“Your affiant has probable cause to believe that a comparison of the requested saliva sample to DNA retrieved from the (sexual assault) examination and clothing of the victims will establish a connection between the victims and the suspect,” Police Detective Richardson wrote in requesting a search warrant.

However this case develops and whatever facts emerge, there will be fallout, both for the families involved and the community, which already has begun grappling with the case’s implications.

Falls Church Police Arrest Resident for Felony Sexual Battery

BY FALLS CHURCH CITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
June 23, 2011

On June 22, Falls Church City Police arrested and charged Michael A. Gardner, 47, with two felony counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of object sexual penetration in connection with incidents that allegedly occurred in his City of Falls Church residence last weekend.

Falls Church Police were contacted by the female victims who were at the residence and who told the police that Mr. Gardner had inappropriate physical contact with them. Following interviews with victims who were at the home, police obtained search warrants for DNA.

Mr. Gardner is being held in Arlington County Jail.

Anyone who has information that might be helpful to the investigation is asked to contact the Falls Church Police Detective Richardson at 703-248-5238 (TTY 711).

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  Because serious allegations which we cannot confirm have appeared in reader comments to this story, comments have been disabled for now.]

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