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Time Missing From Video Used To Prosecute Greenwich Official In Sexual Assault Case

David DesRoches
Lynn Mason sits with a stack of papers that highlight her experience with her employer after an alleged sexual assault by a public official.

Several people are raising questions about video evidence being used against a former Greenwich elected official who’s accused of sexually assaulting a town employee at a nursing home.

The surveillance video in question depicts an interaction in December 2016 between Christopher von Keyserling and the former employee, Lynn Mason, at a town-owned nursing home. Mason claims that von Keyserling, at the time an elected member of the Representative Town Meeting, grabbed her groin soon after saying that he “loves this new world,” and that he “doesn’t have to be politically correct anymore.”

The incident happened about a month after the presidential election of Donald Trump, who, only weeks earlier, had been outed in a recording where he casually discussed sexually assaulting women.

However, according to two people who have seen the nursing home’s surveillance video --  Mason and her husband, Steve Fry -- a crucial portion of the footage is missing.

“I don’t really know why those 10 seconds are missing, and I don’t really want to speculate. I have my theories,” said Mason, who called in sick to work after seeing the video, feeling “angry and disgusted” about the missing time.

Because of the camera angle, the missing portion would likely not have shown the actual incident, she said.

However, the missing time would have captured the moment when Mason’s boss, Mary Bruce, walked into the room before the incident occurred. Bruce left right before it happened, and her departure was recorded. Mason and Fry believe the omission could be used to question to Mason’s credibility.

“If you watch it and piece together a narrative, the narrative is that Mary Bruce was in there the entire time, which contradicts what Lynn says," Fry said. 

The incident happened at The Nathaniel Witherell, a publicly-owned nursing home. Greenwich Police provided the video to the state’s attorney’s office. Susan Campbell, the state’s attorney trying the case, declined to comment.

When police examined the video, the footage aligned with the alleged victim’s account, according to court records. Von Keyserling’s attorney, Phillip Russell, told WNPR that the video doesn’t support the allegations against his client, and that the entire case is built on a “political agenda.”

“I don’t think that the tape – in addition to not showing the physical contact complained of – the tape also doesn’t support” the charges, he said.  “I believe that the tape is subject to interpretation. And I believe that this is a complaint that has been given an extraordinary amount of attention, an extraordinary amount of town resources, and my understanding is that the complainant has received paid administrative leave from the town of Greenwich. So there’s a political agenda which is lurking behind everybody’s involvement with this case.”

Mason was on paid administrative leave for one month after the incident, and then took an additional three months through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was approved by a psychologist. She also used several of her vacation and sick days.

Von Keyserling has admitted to grabbing Mason, but says it was a “little pinch” and that it was a “joke,” court records show.

Russell refused to comment on any inconsistencies he might have noticed in the video when he first saw it.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment, except in the most general terms about this,” he said. He also would not address the claim that footage is missing from the video.

“I can say generically it would be” a big deal if time were missing, he said, “OK? I won’t comment on this videotape.”

Allen Brown, executive director of  The Nathaniel Witherell, said the software used to record surveillance footage “is designed to automatically discontinue recording after a period of time lacking motion.”

“The recording activates again when motion is reestablished,” he stated in an email. “I believe the ‘gap’ or ‘gaps’ you referenced resulted from that software design.”

Brown also said that his staff doesn’t have the capacity to “edit or modify the system’s recorded material.”

Greenwich Police Lt. John Slusarz declined to comment specifically on the missing time, but said the police are “impartial fact finders that gather evidence” to be used in court.

The “Greenwich Police Department is charged with the responsibility of keeping an accurate record of all property which may come into its custody as evidence,” Slusarz stated in an email. “The department has in place policies and procedures for the proper perseveration [sic] of property and evidence from the time it comes into our custody.”

Victoria de Toledo is a lawyer representing Mason. She has not seen the video, however she said even if the software does stop recording due to lack of movement, the missing footage would have included movement so the software should have captured it.

“We know that people were not just standing there, kind of doing nothing,” de Toledo said. “We know that things were happening.”

As for the missing time, de Toledo said “that’s outrageous.”

“How that came about is a big question,” she said. “If the deletion was intentional, that’s doubly outrageous. If it was a mistake, I kind of scratch my head and wonder how that happened.”

According to a surveillance footage expert familiar with the software used at the nursing home, it is possible, though unlikely, that the camera did not activate due to motion. It would depend on the camera's proximity to the movement and other variables. 

Mason said the missing time is part of a range of experiences that has left her feeling let-down by the system. In addition to filing charges against von Keyserling, she’s also filed a complaint with the  state's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, alleging the nursing home mishandled her case when she told them about the incident with von Keyserling.

“I just thought, ‘How much stranger can this whole thing get’,” she said. “It’s just exhausting.”

WNPR has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the video but was denied access. The radio station has filed a complaint with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

Von Keyserling has pleaded not guilty to fourth degree sexual assault, a misdemeanor. His trial is slated to begin in November of next year.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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