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Pasco charity head convicted of battery for inappropriately touching massage therapist

The charge stemmed from a 2020 incident between Brian Anderson, the co-founder of Veterans Alternative, and massage therapist Mariah King.
Brian Anderson, head of the veteran’s charity Veterans Alternative, watches as potential jurors arrive in court as jury selection begins on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, at the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey.
Brian Anderson, head of the veteran’s charity Veterans Alternative, watches as potential jurors arrive in court as jury selection begins on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, at the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jul. 13
Updated Jul. 13

NEW PORT RICHEY — A jury on Tuesday found Brian Anderson, the co-founder of a Pasco County veterans’ charity, guilty of battery for inappropriately touching a massage therapist.

In at-times emotional testimony, massage therapist Mariah King described the October 2020 incident in which she said Anderson touched her hip and arm, put his arm around her and violated her personal space. She said that she was afraid Anderson would become aggressive and tried to end the encounter without provoking him.

“I was kind of like, deer in the headlights through those interactions,” King said.

Pasco County Judge Joseph Poblick moved sentencing to July 29, saying he wanted more time to think about the case.

Before deliberations began, prosecutor Caroline Chavez told jurors that any unwanted touch is battery under Florida law, even if it doesn’t cause an injury.

Anderson’s lawyers, Christopher Blaine and Marc Pelletier, described the encounter between Anderson and King as “reciprocal touching,” and emphasized that Anderson had not caused King physical harm.

The defense also noted that Anderson had not touched King’s breasts, buttocks or genitals or asked her to touch his private parts, and that he hadn’t asked for or offered to perform a sexual act.

Anderson served 14 years in the military and earned three Bronze Stars, including one with valor. On Tuesday, he wore a ring with a Special Forces Airborne insignia.

In 2014, Anderson co-founded Veterans Alternative, a nonprofit that helps veterans dealing with trauma.

But his defense couldn’t take those things into account. The prosecutors, Pota Papakos and Chavez, argued that his military service and charity work were irrelevant to the case, and Anderson’s lawyers did not object.

At the request of the defense, the trial also did not include information about other allegations women have made about Anderson’s conduct. Three other women have told the Tampa Bay Times that Anderson made unwanted physical contact and sexual advances while they worked at Veterans Alternative — allegations that Anderson has denied.

Without those outside factors, the trial hinged on King’s statements.

The first part of the massage was uneventful, King said. But after she put Anderson’s wrist on her knee, a standard part of the massage, he moved his hand to her upper thigh and squeezed.

“I was kind of just in shock and panic during that, alarms going off,” she said.

After King removed Anderson’s hand from her body, she said he grabbed her elbow, made the same “kneading” motion, and began to breathe heavily.

After the massage, she said he stepped close to her and told her, “Wow, you are something special.” He later stepped around a desk to put his arm around her.

Blaine argued that when Anderson stepped closer to King, he was only trying to get closer to a trash can to throw away a cup of water. He said Anderson’s remark was a compliment about the massage King had given him.

Anderson’s lawyers also emphasized that King placed Anderson’s wrist on her knee before he touched her, that she put her hand on his back after he put his arm around her, and that she never told him not to touch her.

“It’s totally benign,” Blaine said of the encounter.

But King said she was trying to resolve the situation without being confrontational because she was scared that Anderson, who is much larger than her, would become aggressive.

“I just panicked,” she said, choking up.

New Port Richey police officer David Crowell also testified, giving a description of King’s initial police interview.

As of May, Anderson was on personal leave from Veterans Alternative.

The nonprofit’s staff have sought his removal from Veterans Alternative and have accused board chair Thomas May and vice chair Patricia Thompson of trying to protect him. May and Thompson said in May that they took the accusations against Anderson seriously and were waiting for the conclusion of an outside investigation.

May and Thompson did not immediately respond to requests for comment, nor did Veterans Alternative attorney Caitlein Jammo.