BEVERLY — The owner of a bartending school was willing yesterday to admit that he reached into student’s shirt and groped her breasts last summer.
But Hugh McGowan wasn’t ready to admit that doing that was wrong, or that he was guilty of a crime, his attorney said yesterday. He was asking that the charge of indecent assault and battery be continued without a finding for a year, an outcome that would spare McGowan, 64, of Peabody, from having to register as a sex offender.
That troubled the victim, a young New Hampshire woman who told a judge she was even more concerned when she learned that McGowan had been accused of doing the same thing to another woman a little more than a decade ago.
It also troubled Salem District Court Judge Robert Brennan. He called the July 17 incident at the Bar Time school in Beverly “beyond the pale” and among the most egregious cases of indecent assault and battery he has ever encountered in his career.
”It was aggressive, it was sexual, and it was offensive,” said Brennan, who indicated that if McGowan wanted to avoid a trial, he would have to agree to a guilty finding and a year of supervised probation and register as a sex offender.
During a hearing yesterday morning in Salem District Court, McGowan’s attorney, Marc Salinas, pleaded with the judge to continue the case, saying that McGowan suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, the result of his service in the Marines more than 40 years ago.
But Brennan was adamant, citing not only the facts of the case but the extent of McGowan’s behavior. “This is to me the very definition of an indecent assault and battery,” he said.
The woman told police that she had stayed after class to work on flash cards, prosecutor Heidi Sylvanowicz said.
Alone in the room with McGowan, she said, he asked her, “Why don’t you show me those triple D (breasts)?”
Then, she saw him walk to a door and heard a sound like locking, said the prosecutor.
That’s when McGowan walked up to her, reached into her shirt, pulled out her breasts and groped them. He also asked if he could take pictures.
The woman pulled away and left shortly afterward. She went to police with her mother later that day.
When approached by police, McGowan allegedly asked, “Does this have anything to do with that girl yesterday?”
”What if it happened to someone else?” said the woman, whose name is being withheld by The Salem News because she is the victim of a sex crime. “I thought, ‘How many times did it happen to someone else who didn’t say something?’”
In 2002, McGowan was charged with indecent assault and battery on a former employee at Roosevelt’s, a bar in Salem that he used to own. According to the police report in that case, the woman said McGowan grabbed her, spun her around, kissed her on the mouth and reached up her blouse.
That case was dismissed on procedural grounds. Instead, McGowan wound up paying a civil settlement in a sexual harassment case resulting from the incident, Salinas said.
Brennan said he was concerned that a letter from McGowan’s therapist, submitted by Salinas, indicated that he “feels innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Salinas acknowledged that McGowan still does not understand the seriousness of his actions. But the defense attorney said that allowing McGowan to continue his counseling will help him deal with the issue. “If there’s any silver lining in this, it’s that it’s brought Mr. McGowan to address the situation.”
At several points during the hearing, Salinas indicated that if the judge insisted on a guilty finding, he’d simply take his chances at trial. The judge then told the attorney that jury selection would start after lunch.
But when the lawyer and McGowan returned to the courtroom, he accepted the judge’s finding of guilt and the conditions, which also include continued counseling and an order barring him from contact with the woman.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.