SAN JOSE — A Santa Clara police sergeant was convicted Monday of misdemeanor indecent exposure by a jury convinced that he masturbated nude in front of a Santana Row sales clerk last year, likely ending a 24-year police career.
Thomas William Leipelt was silent as a court clerk read the jury’s verdict and bowed his head as he absorbed the gravity of the conviction. Judge Paul Bernal remanded him to jail. He was then handcuffed in the courtroom and taken into custody by a bailiff.
The victim, who this newspaper is identifying as Jane Doe to protect her identity, testified Leipelt propositioned her while naked and masturbating in the Annieglass boutique’s storage room after having sex in the restroom with his girlfriend, who also worked there as a clerk. At the time, Leipelt was having a secret extramarital affair that started about a year earlier.
Deputy district attorney Lindsay Walsh said the verdict was a sound rejection of the Leipelt’s starkly contrasting contention that he was simply urinating in restroom when the clerk walked in on him.
“I think justice was served,” Walsh said outside the courtroom. “This was very egregious since he was a police officer. It’s sad.”
Leipelt faces a maximum of 180 days in jail when he is sentenced, currently scheduled for Wednesday. But the more damning consequence is that he must register as a sex offender for life.
Leipelt’s attorney, Cameron Bowman, was stoic upon hearing the verdict and voiced his disapproval.
“I’m very disappointed in what happened here today,” Bowman said.
The veteran officer, with 24 years’ experience — 14 with the Santa Clara Police Department — has been on paid administrative leave since his arrest in July, about six weeks after the encounter the evening of May 15, 2015. The department has the final word on his future with the agency, but it is unlikely he could stay on given his imminent sex-offender status.
Lt. Kurt Clarke declined to comment on Leipelt’s conviction, citing it as a personnel matter, but said now that the criminal case has concluded, the department will soon “finalize” its administrative review of the sergeant.
The jury of six women and six men deliberated for about two days after a two-day trial that began last week. Both Leipelt and Doe took the stand in a case that, like most, came down primarily to a credibility contest.
Leipelt did not deny the woman’s accusation at the time. Instead, he just said he was sorry it happened and departed from Annieglass, which sells jewelry and handmade glass housewares. He testified under repeated questioning by Walsh that he didn’t proclaim his innocence because he wanted to be “respectful.”
“I used her bathroom and made an uncomfortable situation,” Leipelt said.
Doe initially testified that this was the first such incident she had experienced. But Bowman, Leipelt’s lawyer, produced evidence that she had filed a restraining order in 2009 against a former tenant who allegedly exposed himself in her home.
When questioned about why she didn’t divulge the previous incident earlier, Doe said several times, “I’m perimenopausal.” She also said it slipped her mind because it was her friends, not her, who were the victims. Bowman seized on that statement and noted that Doe had filed a restraining order after the previous incident, claiming under penalty of perjury that she had been a victim.
Walsh said the scrutiny of the victim was an anticipated defense strategy and credited the jury for seeing through Leipelt’s own explanation of events.
“(The victim) was very believable and was consistent the whole time,” Walsh said. “His story was completely unreasonable and unbelievable.”
Leipelt’s case marks the third Santa Clara police officer to be arrested or convicted in the past year. Officer Kiet Nguyen, a 25-year veteran, was given probation after pleading no contest in December to misdemeanor shoplifting and possession of burglary tools after he shoplifted a smartwatch from a West San Jose Target store in May.
And last week, Officer Tyson Green, who has been with SCPD for 14 years, was charged with running a chop shop and possessing stolen car parts.