'This guy is straight-up weird,' juror in Hillsborough commissioner's sexual harassment case says

TAMPA — Kevin White was his own worst witness, at least according to one of the jurors who found that the Hillsborough County commissioner sexually discriminated against a former aide last week.

From his body language to his testimony, White put on a defense that was not believable, said John Shiver, 46, of Davenport, one of two men on the eight-person jury.

"We felt … his stories just didn't jibe," Shiver said Saturday.

His disbelief started forming when White said he never asked for a resume from Alyssa Ogden, the 22-year-old woman who claimed the commissioner fired her for rebuffing his repeated sexual advances. Nevertheless, he hired her over three other women with experience.

And Shiver said he didn't buy White's account of a trip to Atlanta that was at the center of Ogden's lawsuit.

Ogden claimed she was lured by White to accompany him on an overnight trip to Atlanta that took place just four days after she went to work for him in April 2007. She said White told her she would meet influential people.

They met up with one of White's uncles and C. Blythe Andrews Jr., the then 77-year-old chairman of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, a paper catering to Tampa's African-American community. They dined and shopped and late that night, Ogden said, White asked to share her hotel bed, which he denied.

White's account of the trip was that Ogden asked to go and Andrews volunteered to re­imburse her for her plane ticket. White, 44, a Democrat, had introduced the two days earlier and said he believed they developed a mutual romantic attraction.

Despite misgivings, he said he went along with the plan because Andrews is a powerful person whose newspaper endorsements are important.

"If what he's saying was true, he was pimping somebody," Shiver said. "Maybe I'm naive, but I just couldn't imagine doing something like that."

Shiver noted that White admitted taking a flight separate from Ogden, by his own account, to avoid attention. White didn't realize how those statements came across, said Shiver, who works for a company in Orlando that makes bottles for Pepsi.

Attorneys for White and Hills­borough County spent much time arguing Ogden's poor work performance. Shiver was convinced, but said it was clear to him that she was never hired for her work ability. And he said he couldn't believe White took six months to put his concerns in writing. His experience is that most employers have a 90-day probationary period with hires.

Shiver keyed on one thing that was clearly unintended by White's attorneys. White's wife testified on her husband's behalf, saying she was present at one of the events where Ogden said he made inappropriate remarks, but heard nothing.

Shiver said he couldn't help but notice similarities between the wife and Ogden — long dark hair, similar complexions and builds.

"She was a younger version of his wife," Shiver said, noting that the aide hired to replace Ogden, who was pointed out to jurors, also has straight dark hair and a similar build to the wife.

"I said, dude, this guy is straight-up weird," Shiver said. "He's going through some sort of phase or something."

A pivotal exchange came near the end of White's testimony, Shiver said. He had just gone on an unsolicited defense of his character, noting his police and military service and the notion he had never been so much as accused of spitting on the sidewalk.

But it opened the door for Ogden's attorney to ask him about admitting to falsifying campaign records around the same time the harassment began.

"Let's just put it this way: The slime meter went way up," Shiver said, noting how White kept stealing glances at the jury as he tried to explain himself. "That was pretty much the turning point right there. Now we really couldn't believe a word this guy said."

Shiver said he and the other jurors went into deliberations fairly split. Four felt fairly strongly that White was guilty, three were on the fence and one juror sided with White. When they started going through the evidence, their verdict came into place.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

'This guy is straight-up weird,' juror in Hillsborough commissioner's sexual harassment case says 08/23/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 23, 2009 12:53am]

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