SYCAMORE – During her Thursday morning testimony sitting across the room from her former boss, Shawn Thrower, the 15-year-old girl who says Thrower bit her neck and touched her inappropriately at work said she didn’t tell her co-workers initially because “he is a well known person in our town and I would think people wouldn’t believe me.”
“There was a quick moment of pause, and we laughed a little bit and the next thing I knew, I was being held against the table,” the teen recounted Thursday of the incident.
The victim and her mother, of Sycamore, who the Daily Chronicle will not be identifying because of the nature of the case involving a minor, both testified in front of DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Pedersen in courtroom 210 at the DeKalb County courthouse, where Thrower’s four-hour bench trial (without a jury) was held.
Shawn Thrower, 61, is the longtime owner of Shawn’s Coffee Shop and Princess Alex Ice Cream in Sycamore. He was found guilty of two counts of misdemeanor battery after police say he bit the girl on her neck, picked her up and smacked her buttocks during a shift at the cafe, according to DeKalb County court records. Pedersen set Thrower’s sentencing hearing for 9:30 a.m. Nov. 13, as the longtime business owner faces up to a year in jail and fines up to $2,500.
Thrower visibly broke out into a sweat as Pedersen read his verdict, at one point pulling his mask below his nose, placing a hand over his face and leaning back in his chair. He was unable to be reached for comment after the verdict.
“We’re very split with how we feel on the verdict,” the victim’s mother said after the trial. “We’re happy that we finally have the validation not only for my daughter but for the other girls that shed tears with us today over incidences that were not appropriate. They were inexplainable, inexcusable. It should not have happened around a trusted adult who had the ability to protect them and instead not only saw that line but he stepped over and stepped on it.”
Throughout the trial Thursday, Thrower’s lawyer, Liam Dixon, argued that Thrower’s actions Feb. 27 were the result of workplace banter, a consensual prank system participated in by both the boss and his employees.
In an interview with the Daily Chronicle in August, Thrower said, “There’s two sides to every story.” He said the trial would bring more details to light.
Testimony provided by the 15-year-old girl confirmed she and co-workers would sometimes hide in places around the building – such as under his desk, behind a refrigerator – to scare Thrower, and that he’d follow suit, sometimes scaring them in response.
The line was drawn, the teen said, when his reaction to her scaring him Feb. 27 was to pick her up and bite her multiple times near the jaw and neck, leaving red marks and a blister for several days after.
Thrower pleaded not guilty to the charges on March 9 and maintained his innocence as he took the witness stand in his own defense Thursday. When asked by his lawyer, Liam Dixon, whether he bit the teen at any time, Thrower said, “Absolutely not.”
He described his relationship with the teen as “good.”
“I basically let those guys be themselves,” Thrower said of his employees. “We just make an atmosphere where everyone is comfortable.”
During his closing argument, prosecutor Neil Michling said Thrower knew what he was doing wasn’t right.
“Those are the words of a man who’s trying to sweep what he did under the rug because he knows what he did was wrong, inappropriate and criminal,” Michling said.
It was Thrower’s testimony, in part, that played in to Pedersen’s verdict, the judge said, citing evidence, the teen’s own testimony, and that fact that Thrower changed his story three times since February.
Records corroborated by the testimony of the teen, her mother and Sycamore police officers Thursday show Thrower left a voicemail on the teenager’s phone saying he “just picked you up and kind of bit you.”
In an interview with Sycamore police detectives Feb. 28 at the coffee shop, he told police he “took a chunk out of her shoulder.”
“Then today, he says he didn’t do any of that, he didn’t bite her, even though he left a voicemail saying that he did,” Pedersen recounted in his verdict. “Based on those inconsistent statements, I don’t find his testimony to be credible.”
Pedersen said he had no findings to suggest the teenager had any motive to fabricate such a story to police or in the courtroom.
Inside the courtroom
The courtroom was outfitted with plastic barriers between judges, lawyers and their clients, with courtroom seating limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and all participants wore masks.
Outside the courthouse Thursday morning, protesters gathered, and one held a sign that said “I like my coffee served with justice.”
The 15-year-old’s mother testified first Thursday, detailing her account of the evening of Feb. 27, how her daughter told her what happened to her during her closing shift at the coffee shop that evening, and how she texted her mother to come pick her up after work.
They went directly to the Sycamore Police Department to report Thrower after the teen showed her mother what she says were bite marks on her neck from an incident about an hour earlier.
“She was pale, shaking, having a hard time putting a sentence together,” the mother told the courtroom. She said her daughter had a black North Face jacket on that brisk February evening, zipped all the way up her neck hiding what she said were visible marks her daughter said were made by Thrower.
The teen had just started working at Shawn’s Coffee Shop, her first job. Her mother said she and her daughter considered Thrower a family friend, and had been patronizing his shop for years now, with weekly stops with her daughter for smoothies and then later, bagels. The teen was employed there for about a month and a half before the incident.
Two Sycamore police detectives also testified Thursday morning: Det. Sgt. Jeff Wig and Det. Sgt. John Keacher. Wig was one of the initial points of contact of the mother and teen when they came to report a battery Feb. 27. Wig took photos of the teen’s neck where marks could be seen, and Keacher interviewed the teen at the station, which was recorded via video and audio.
The following day, the detectives made their way to Shawn’s Coffee Shop, 204 Somonauk St., blocks from the police department to get his statement.
Although Thrower wasn’t initially there, Keacher spoke with him on the phone and Thrower said he’d meet them in 10 minutes at his coffee shop.
“He said ‘I know why you’re here,’ “ said Wig, recalling his conversation with Thrower Feb. 28. “He indicated that what [the victim] had said was the truth and didn’t want to discredit her because she’s a good kid.”
Wig, who said he knows Thrower, said Thrower told police he “took a chunk out of her shoulder” and in reference to police involvement said Thrower was “entirely cooperative throughout the whole thing.”
When asked by Dixon on the witness stand Thursday to explain his “chunk out of her shoulder comment,” Thrower said he meant it to mean “horsing around.”
“But I never did, like, open my mouth or bite,” Thrower said.
Thrower’s interview Feb. 28 at the coffee shop with Wig and Keacher was not recorded, confirmed both officers Thursday, and when asked specifically by Dixon whether either had offered to have Thrower come to the police station to have him reiterate his statement for the record to be recorded, both said they did not make that offer.
Detailing the incident
DeKalb County court records paint a picture of Thrower’s behavior beyond the February incident, which the 15-year-old girl told police made her uncomfortable. She also said she felt he was showing her favoritism. Court records from Sycamore police interviews with the victim allege Thrower would frequently pick the girl up while hugging her, and text her, calling her “queen,” “baby” and “his girl.”
During one of her closing shifts, about 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27, the teen popped out from behind a refrigerator to startle Thrower, records show, and “they laughed a little bit.” The teen told police Thrower then picked her up by the waist, pinned her against one of the mixer tables and started biting her neck while she tried to push him away.
When she wiggled away, Thrower grabbed her and smacked her across the buttocks multiple times, the teen told police.
Thrower left right after the incident. While she still was at work, the girl took photos of the bite marks on her neck, and when the teen’s shift was done, she went home and told her mother.
During her testimony Thursday, the teen’s mother said she and her daughter and the teen’s father helped craft a text message that the mom sent from her daughter’s phone the next day stating, “Hey I am not so good. Yesterday at work when you picked me up and got my neck you left these marks and my mom asked me about them also when you grabbed my butt I was really uncomfortable I’m not sure I want to come in to work again tomorrow,” records show.
Thrower then left a voicemail responding, “Hey can you have your mom call me? Gosh I’m really sorry about yesterday. Man you scared the [expletive] out of me, um yeah, I just picked you up and kind of bit you, but gosh I don’t want to go any further than that I’m really sorry about that, but um have your mom give me a call so I can talk to her about it to straighten all this up. Thanks sweetie, I’ll talk to you later, bye.”
He then told police, “I grabbed somewhere I shouldn’t have,” records show.
Thrower’s charges and court proceedings have led to strong reactions from the public, including several protests held by local activists standing up for Thrower’s alleged victim. Others have expressed strong support of Thrower, patronizing his businesses during the protests and condemning those who spoke out against him.
The teenager’s mother teared up as she thanked the community for their support over the past few months, and said she understands the heartbreak.
“I know it hasn’t been easy for everybody because he’s been such a figurehead in the community that it’s hard to imagine it happened,” she said. “But realizing we may not know what people are like behind closed doors is also a tough pill to swallow.”
She said she considered Thrower a trusted adult and her voice broke when she said she “used to be a fan.”
“I guess I just want parents to look for the red flags,” the teen’s mom said. “Listen to your children when they’re acting funny. Ask why, listen without judgment and continue to believe them.”
• Daily Chronicle breaking news reporter Katie Finlon contributed to this report.