Zen owner aquitted in sexual assault case

Posted: Sunday, June 27, 2010

A jury acquitted a Juneau restaurant owner June 11 of charges he sexually assaulted a female employee.

Yao Wen Hu, 52, who owns Zen and Jaded with his brother, was accused of fondling the victim while having post-shift drinks together Feb. 5, 2009, in Hu's office.

Hu confessed to police investigators of fondling the employee against her will, the prosecution argued. Hu told police when they interviewed him at his office that he was bored and his girlfriend was out of town, but that he'd made a mistake.

"Justice was served today," Defense attorney Natasha Norris said, her eyes tearing up. "I am overjoyed."

Hu declined to comment.

District Attorney Doug Gardner said he "always accepts the jury's decision."

The defense pointed out during trial Juneau Police Officer Jeremy Weske allowed the accuser's boyfriend to attend her questioning by police.

Norris argued that the alleged victim's boyfriend coerced her statements to police. She described the boyfriend as a jealous individual, who at one point became irate because the alleged victim received flowers at work. The boyfriend was, at the time of the alleged assault, employed at the restaurant and supervised by the alleged victim.

"There isn't a procedure, per se," Juneau Police Department Captain Jerry Vankervis said about the conduct of the interview. "The preferred method, in a perfect world, is to always interview your witness alone - a sterile interview. That is not always possible. While a sterile interview is preferred, getting an interview is often better than getting no interview."

The defense also referred to the post-shift beer between Hu and the accuser, arguing the woman didn't say "No" in a way that Hu could understand. Hu came to the United States 22 years ago and has spent the last 10 years in Alaska, but the defense maintained Hu still did not speak or understand English very well. An interpreter whispered the trial proceedings in Hu's ear throughout.

In a police audio recording with the defendant, Hu repeatedly was asked if he understood English. He said yes. Hu then said he stopped fondling the victim after she said, "No. I have a boyfriend."

A former employee of Hu's testified for the defense. She said a similar incident happened to her when she was mending a tear in her skirt near the crotch and Hu repeatedly tried to poke his finger in the hole.

This witness said she never pressed formal charges because she had worked in Kodiak among the toughest bar clients in the state and so could let Hu's advances roll off, but she said Hu was getting increasingly more friendly.

The alleged victim said after the trial she was ready to move on. Since the incident she has left Alaska.

"I just want this all to be over," she said. "I hope this has at least scared him enough so he doesn't do it again."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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