About 30 people waited outside Stamford Superior Court on Wednesday morning in anticipation of the arrival of Christopher von Keyserling and his attorney Philip Russell.
Mr. von Keyserling was charged with Sexual Assault 4 earlier this month for a Decemer 8, 2016 incident at Nathaniel Witherell nursing home in which he allegedly pinched a woman employee in the groin.
According to the warrant for his arrest, von Keyserling told his victim, “I love this new world. I no longer have to be politically correct.”
Attorney Russell arrived at about 9:30am, and told reporters Mr. von Keyserling would arrive separately around 10:00am.
At 10:05, Mr. Russell went out to the garage and escorted his client past the throng of mostly protesters, mostly women, several wearing pink pussy cat hats that were popular during women’s marches in DC, New York City, Boston and other locations on Jan 21.
As von Keyserling and his attorney passed by, protesters chanted “Do Not Touch Without Consent!”
Inside the courthouse room 1B, Judge Gary White approved an application from the victim for a protective order, and advised Mr. von Keyserling he must surrender all fire arms and ammunition and have no contact with the protected person.
Through his attorney, Mr. von Keyserling said he reserved his right to a hearing and would plea not guilty. A pre-trial date of Feb. 22 was set.
Outside the courthouse, Ivonne Zucoo, director of the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Education and Counseling (The Center) praised the courage of von Keyserling’s victim who was referred to by her initials judge White..
Zucco said there are several reasons sexual assault is the most under reported crime – only 40% of victims ever talk about what happened to them.
“This crime has become so normalized that people have a hard time realizing that what has happened to them is an act of violence,” she said, adding that when victims come forward, often the response is to minimize their suffering. “The victim ends up believing that they did something to make this happen.”
Zucco said that, under the law, grabbing, touching or harassing a person without their consent constitutes sexual assault.
“It is about time that the whole community stands behind and supports victims of sexual abuse when they come forward,” she said. “It is about time we all unite to support victims and make sure that the person who receives the punishment is the one who caused it to happen, the perpetrator.”
Sarah Darer Littman, an RTM district 8 delegate said she had been disappointed by the response of her fellow delegates to news of their chairman’s arrest.
“I can’t believe we’re still discussing in 2017 whether it’s an issue that women should have to face in the workplace – or anywhere, for that matter. And I’m tired of being told abut his contributions as if they outweigh what happened to the complainant,” said Littman who was wearing a hand-knit pink pussy cat hat, which symbolized opposition to sexual assault during last weekend’s women’s march in DC, New York, Boston and other cities across the country and around the globe.
“This is my pink pussy cat hat. It’s a reference to the President of the United States who said that he could grab women by the privates because he is a celebrity.”
Phylis Behlen, also of Greenwich was among the protesters. “This has to come to an end. This has to stop. This assumption that it’s okay to touch women inappropriately,” she said.
Behlen who also had a pink pussy cat hat said, “The march hat is relevant because it’s a reference to the Hollywood access tape and the right to do this exact same thing. This is exactly what Trump was talking about.”
“This victim represents all victims in our eyes,” said the head of the Center’s board, Gayle Weinstein. “Sexual assault happens all too often and we want to make it clear that this kind of action is not okay.”
The Center has a hotline, does counseling and advocacy, workshops and prevention education. They visit schools in their catchment area, which includes Greenwich, with age appropriate content. In high school the focus is on consent and sexual harassment. For younger children the focus is on what is appropriate versus inappropriate touching.
Samarpana Tamm of Greenwich said she was disgusted with Mr. von Keyserling’s behavior.
“You cannot say that sexual assault against a woman is politically correct,” she said. That is such a horrible immoral statement. Chris von Keyserling stands by that statement and has spent time protecting himself behind that statement.”
“I think because of Mr. Trump’s election, he feels he ‘s free to assault and harass women,” Ms. Tamm said. “This has to stop. A lot of us have been victims for a long time and women don’t speak out because it’s really hard. This is giving us a voice finally to stand up and speak out.”
Weinstein also said she was grateful to Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei for coming to the Center’s launch party on Tuesday for their new “Reveal to Heal” campaign, which has the goal of raising awareness of sexual assault. “Mr. Tesei said that Greenwich has a zero tolerance policy against this type of behavior.”
Still Mr. von Keyserling has yet to resign from his post as chair of RTM District 8, though he has temporarily stepped aside to allow the vice chair, Joshua Brown to assume duties of chair.
On Tuesday, the Greenwich Board of Selectmen released a second statement repeating their call to von Keyserling to resign from the RTM, rather than just step aside temporarily. Below is the entire statement:
“Despite a news story and three commentaries published this past weekend concerning the recent arrest of Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member Christopher von Keyserling, it is apparent that the full breadth of our statement was not shared in its entirety.
In light of Mr. von Keyserling’s admitted behavior we expected he would take the appropriate action and resign his position on the RTM. Since our expectations did not come to fruition we issued our statement requesting his resignation on Friday, Jan. 20: In the wake of (the Jan. 11) arrest of Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member Chris von Keyserling, the Board of Selectmen has received numerous telephone calls and emails from residents and people across the country expressing concern and outrage about the incident.
The members are troubled by the allegations surrounding Mr. von Keyserling’s Jan. 11 arrest on a fourth-degree sexual assault charge. Mr. von Keyserling has admitted to the inappropriate actions taken by him against a Town employee. The reputation of the Town of Greenwich has been sullied as a result of the admitted actions of Mr. von Keyserling. The Town of Greenwich has a zero tolerance policy for this behavior. It is imperative that our employees feel secure and protected at all times. We do not wish to allow a perception to be created that this behavior is acceptable. The Town requires all of its employees to undergo comprehensive training with respect to sexual harassment and discrimination with the objective of preventing this type of behavior.
While there is no legislative mechanism to remove an elected Greenwich official from office, the undersigned are calling upon Mr. von Keyserling to resign his position as a member of the RTM, representing District 8 — Cos Cob, and as chair of the RTM’s District 8 delegation.
While the undersigned appreciate Mr. von Keyserling’s years of service, it is now time for him to place the interests of the Town, its residents, employees and the Representative Town Meeting ahead of his own interests by resigning immediately. The undersigned hope the Representative Town Meeting and its leadership will support this call for Mr. von Keyserling’s resignation.”
First Selectman Peter J. Tesei, Selectman John Toner, Selectman Drew Marzullo