Paul T. Rosynsky
A former San Francisco police sergeant who quit the force two years ago after being caught purchasing sex from a 14-year-old prostitute did not cause the girl emotional distress or inflict sexual battery, a jury declared late Monday.
The girl, who is now 16, said Donald Forte’s actions the night he paid $50 to have sex with her was an act of sexual battery that caused her emotional distress. But a jury decided Monday that Forte’s actions did not cause distress and that the former officer did not commit sexual battery.
The jury’s decision came just four hours after attorneys for the girl and Forte argued in closing arguments about why or why not it should force Forte to pay money to the girl for emotional damage.
“There is a child and an adult, the adults are supposed to know better,” said Marco Acosta, the attorney representing the girl, during closing arguments in the case Monday. “It would not be fair for this man to have done what he did and then walk out of this courtroom without paying for it.”
Forte, 58 years old when he picked up the girl near the corner of 17th Street and International Boulevard in June 2007, admitted breaking the law by hiring the girl for sex. But Forte argued, both when he was arrested and in testimony during this civil case, that the girl told him she was 18 years old and he believed her.
Acosta attempted to convince the jury that Forte should have know better and that his actions in June 2007 added a new layer of emotional damage to a girl already suffering from distress.
Meanwhile, Forte’s attorney Harry Stern argued that evidence showed the girl was a somewhat seasoned prostitute with existing emotional damage. He also argued the girl had lied in the past to make her case appear more damaging.
Acosta admitted his client stopped attending school and had already showed signs of emotional distress before Forte paid her for sex, but he said Forte’s actions made the situation worse.
Being a police officer for more than 35 years, Acosta said Forte should have realized his client was underage and should have acted responsibly by taking her to her home instead of paying her for sex.
“When a police officer chooses to violate the law, that is an outrage,” Acosta said. “Mr. Forte should have taken my client home to her parents and not engage in these disgusting acts.”
In addition, Acosta presented the case as a chance for the jury to provide justice because evidence of Forte’s criminal punishment was not allowed to be presented to the jury during the civil trial.
Forte was initially charged with committing a lewd and lascivious act with a child of 14 or 15 years old by someone at least 10 years older but eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor sexual battery. Forte, who is married, was also forced to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life.
“If a police officer can come into our county and break the laws and not have any consequences, that will be a sad day in Alameda County,” Acosta said. “We are dealing with a young person and the laws of this society are designed to protect the young.”
But Stern, a partner in the same law firm that is defending former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle against murder charges, said the girl is not the innocent, first-time prostitute described by Acosta.
Although Stern admitted his client acted shamefully, he said Forte should not pay for damages that he did not create.
“As a lawyer, you know you are in a challenging case when your client’s defense is: ‘I meant to be with an adult prostitute,'” Stern said to the jury. “Mr. Forte is no hero, but the consequences (of his actions) are not found in this case.”
Stern pointed to the girl’s statements to police after the incident and in a sworn deposition later to show that she was willing to lie to make her case more compelling.
The girl told police she was 18, and in her deposition for the civil case, the girl said she was a virgin before she had sex with Forte.
The statements were not true, the girl admitted during testimony in the civil case, and Stern suggested the girl lied to bolster her assertion that Forte caused emotional damage.
Stern also suggested that Forte was not the girl’s first customer, as she and her attorney assert. Stern suggested the girl was an active worker on the streets of Oakland, pointing to evidence that showed she had stains on her underwear not related to the case.
Stern suggested the jury send a message that the civil courts should not be used by those who seek to unfairly gain financially from incidents.
By denying monetary damages to the girl, Stern said the jury would be sending a message to her that she needs to find other ways to “get her life together.”
“Doing anything else will be the absolute wrong message. You would, in fact, be endorsing her actions,” Stern said.
Acosta, however, argued that the jury should consider the fact that his client was barely a teenager when the event occurred and could not think rationally during, before or after the act.
“We are dealing with a young person,” Acosta said. “We are talking about one of the most vulnerable and weak.”