LISBON - A Canfield man charged with domestic violence told a Columbiana County Municipal Court jury Thursday a very different story from the one told a day earlier by his son, the alleged victim in the case.
The 36-year-old father denied he had any problems with his now 17-year-old openly gay son's sexuality. Instead he said he has had problems with the boy's behavior in at least the year leading up to the alleged crime in the parking lot of the Trinity Playhouse in Lisbon on July 30, 2011. The son has accused the father of punching him in the face and shoving him face-first into a minivan window.
The father described several past instances where the boy had become aggressive, including once chasing his mother around in an attempt to physically take a camera back from her after she found questionable photos on it. He also accused the boy of hitting him in the head with a mirror once, causing a scar which he still carries above his eye.
On July 29, 2011, the father said his son became so enraged the teen ripped a towel rod off the wall and came after him with it, took the glasses off his father's face before throwing them down the stairs and then spitting in his father's face.
On the day of the alleged incident, the father said the son, 15 at the time, was told not to go to the theater without talking to family, but went anyway while the rest of the family was out. He left a note and after they verified the teen was at the playhouse a decision was made by he and his wife to allow the teen to be in the play so as not to cause a problem for the other actors, but make him come home instead of allowing him to stay for the overnight lock-in party.
However, when the father arrived at the theater, the boy did not want to come home and the father even spoke to the director, Candice Cleland, trying to convince her to help him convince the teen to leave. The son took his father's phone into the playhouse to attempt to call his mother and the father waited in the parking lot.
The father testified he twice saw a vehicle pull into the parking lot and start flashing high beams and honking the horn before leaving. The father said he had served as a police officer with Kent State University and in Canfield, has taught criminal justice and currently serves as dean for an unidentified school. At that point, he said, his law enforcement background caused him to believed the worst, possibly the boyfriend of some girl in the playhouse was there unauthorized. He followed the vehicle from the parking lot around the block and when he came back he saw the person inside talking to two girls leaning in the window.
That was when his son came out and the father approached him questioning who it was. He said his son responded with vulgar language, telling him it was none of his business.
"I thought it was an adult male who had had a previous Internet relationship with (my son)," the father said, trying to explain his reaction. "I was convinced he was there to pick (him up)."
It was not that man, but the 18-year-old makeup artist who testified on Tuesday. The father said in case his son left with the man, he tried to take a photo of the license plate and the flash went off, alerting and enraging his son.
The father then described a physical confrontation. He claimed his son hit him across his forearms and knocked his phone from his hand. The son then put his hand on the door handle of the man's car and his father said he responded by grabbing his son's shirt. The boy turned around and punched him.
At that point, the father said he "posted him," which he described as a move to push the boy away and gain space between them. When he "posted him" the father admitted he made contact with his son and at that point his son asked a girl standing there if she had just saw his father hit him. She responded she had.
Then the father said his son charged him and he stepped aside, using the boy's own momentum to push him down to the side. He landed face-first in the parking lot and the father said he straddled his son, put both hands on his shoulders and tried to convince him to calm down. With his glasses knocked off, the father said he attempted to find his phone to call authorities, but had to get up to find it. Again the boy charged him, this time knocking his father to the ground and causing an injury to the father's elbows, he said.
Getting up again and walking toward the street, the father said he heard two thuds and with the second saw his son hit the back window of their minivan, causing it to shatter.
Under cross-examination by Assistant Prosecutor Virginia Barborak, the father said his son at first called himself bisexual at the age of 13, then later said he was gay. The family responded by getting the boy a counselor, joining a gay support group and finding a gay mentor for the boy. The father said the family battled what he perceived as discrimination when his son did not make the high school soccer team despite earning numerous awards for his play in the past.
Barborak questioned whether he planned to also find mentors for his other sons if they turn out to be heterosexual. He responded he would if he learned they were "in contact with a 30-year-old female waitress" while still teens.
The father said he pleaded with police investigating the incident to take photos of his own injuries, call Children Services and get background information about problems with his son. The father admitted he has been accused of similar incidents before, but has not previously been charged.
"It was never proven, because it didn't happen," the father said.
Prior to the father's testimony, the jury heard from the investigating Lisbon police officer Jordan Reynolds and George Pecoraro, who has a doctorate degree in glass sciences.
Pecoraro claimed the eighth of an inch, fully tempered safety glass in the back window "backlite" of the minivan could not have broken the way the boy described. He claimed a skull would break before the window would due to the square inches of the human face. Someone who struck such a window with his face with enough strength to break it would have concussions, black eyes, a broken nose and a skull fracture, Pecoraro said. Instead he claimed it was more probably a fist or smaller object would more easily break it.
Although he claimed his findings were similar to those by a local highway patrol trooper, who conducted a field experiment and was unable to break the glass, Pecoraro said there were differences also. The glass was in a different type of frame and did not have a hole cut into it for the windshield wiper. Barborak showed him a photo showing very little damage to the teen's hand and questioned whether the boy could have tried to protect his face by going through the glass with his forearm, which did have injuries.
Pecoraro was being paid by the defense for his analysis and testimony, although he claimed he only testified to what he saw. At one point he admitted to working with the attorney and father to come up with the best defense they could.
Reynolds testified how he conducted the investigation and based on the boy's injuries came to the conclusion that the father was the aggressor in the case. He arrested the father the same night.
When challenged by defense attorney Constant Prassinos about why he did not wait until medical results and all the witnesses could be questioned before making an arrest, Reynolds said in domestic situation it is often necessary to make an immediate arrest to protect the victim from further harm.
"So you are telling me in the good old USA," Prassinos challenged, "in the good old state of Ohio, in the good old town of Lisbon, someone like (the father) with his position and reputation can get arrested for domestic violence with no more evidence than what you testified to today?"
Testimony is expected to conclude today.