SYCAMORE – Standing in front of those gathered inside the DeKalb County Courthouse Friday morning, the 15-year-old victim of battery at the hands of her former boss, Shawn Thrower, told a judge the incident made her feel "helpless and dehumanized."
Shawn Thrower, 62, the owner of Shawn's Coffee Shop who was found guilty of battering the 15-year-old female employee after he picked her up, slapped her buttocks and bit her on the neck, won’t serve any jail time.
The teenager spoke to the Daily Chronicle Friday following the hearing.
“I guess in the end, I didn’t really care too much about how he was punished,” the girl said. “I guess the main thing I wanted was (for him) to own up for his actions, because that’s all it meant to me, that’s all I wanted out of this.”
In courtroom 200, the girl embraced her mother tearfully, as they held the hug for a moment, sitting masked opposite Thrower, who during the hearing stressed how his history of employing young girls was unmarred by complaints until now.
Addressing the courtroom Friday, Thrower appealed on his record, lack of criminal history and history of business in DeKalb County.
“I’ve been in this town for 26 years,” Thrower said. “I’ve hired a lot of people, a lot of teenagers, a lot of old people, middle-aged people, and I have never ever had problems with my employees, never. What happened at Shawn’s was unfortunate. It’s such a good environment. I’ve had people work with me — and these are girls who I hire at 13, 14, who work for me 10, 11, 12 years and never had a complaint.”
Thrower, the longtime owner of Shawn's Coffee Shop and Princess Alex Ice Cream in Sycamore, 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. He faced up to a year in jail.
He was sentenced Friday by Judge Joseph Pedersen to 24 months of court supervision, 120 hours for community restitution service, a $2,500 fine and ordered to pay $439 in court fees. The prosecution asked for that plus 180 days in jail.
But Thrower won't serve any jail time, and if he complies with the court-ordered community service and doesn't commit another offense in two years, the case won't count as a conviction on his record, Thrower's defense lawyer, Liam Dixon, said Friday.
In his ruling Friday, Judge Pedersen said his decision was based on Thrower's lack of criminal history, but that he'd 'utilized his position in the community' to cause physical harm to the teenager.
"Based on the testimony that I have heard, it sounds like the environment at the business which led to this event is not changed," Pedersen said. "So that's one thing moving forward that the defendant will have to take a serious consideration to, whether operating a business in such a fashion is appropriate. I do find the defendant demonstrated a complete disregard for the victim's emotional well-being. His actions were completely inappropriate."
Thrower testified in his own defense Oct. 15 in a bench trial with no jury and denied battering the girl, though court records show he'd previously told Sycamore police he "grabbed somewhere I shouldn't have." The victim and her mother, of Sycamore, who the Daily Chronicle will not be identifying because of the nature of the case and the involvement of a minor, both testified and were also present Friday for the sentencing.
After the sentence hearing, Thrower walked out of the courthouse with his family and was greeted by a crowd of supporters, who were cheering and clapping. He invited them back to the café.
It’s a narrative that’s been played out for months throughout the community: Thrower, a longtime, well-liked business man, a 1997 graduate of Northern Illinois University and a star athlete, and the victim, a 15-year-old girl in the first months of her first job, who during the trial and on Friday said she was hesitant to come forward with her allegations because of his public reputation.
"It's ironic," the teenage girl said Friday. "Even after I was pinned to the table, bit multiple times in the neck and slapped on my butt, I only thought about how he was a good man and everyone loved him. That's what made standing up for myself and going to the police that much harder. At first, I didn't want people to know because I felt that they would look at me as a victim. But now, thanks to the support I have received from my friends, family and the community, I know that I'm no victim, but I will be a survivor."
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 victim. Others have expressed strong support of Thrower, patronizing his businesses during the protests and condemning those who spoke out against him.
Emily Egerman took the witness stand Friday as a former employee of Shawn’s Coffee Shop, who said she worked there when she was 16 and up until she was 22. She was fired once in between that, and then rehired twice, quitting herself both subsequent times, she said.
In her testimony, she called the workplace at the coffee shop “a playful environment” and said employees and Thrower would frequently hug each other. She said that it wasn’t until later in life, spurred in part by the February incident with the teenager coming to light, that she realized it was inappropriate.
Egerman described an incident from July of 2014, saying Thrower would make sexual innuendos during work, and when asked whether there were any times Thrower made her feel uncomfortable, she said yes.
“I recall an instance where Shawn placed a cucumber under his apron and instructed me to look at his [male genitals],” Egerman said. “There was a time where he held up sliced roast beef and referenced it to a Black woman’s [genitals]. There was times where we sold vegetable beef there, and he called it [woman’s genitals] beef instead.”
In documents obtained by the Daily Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Act, records show a police complaint report was filled out June 29 of this year with detectives from the Sycamore Police Department which parallel the account Egerman testified about Friday, though names are redacted in the report.
“No allegations of sexual abuse or assault were made,” the report states. “Any other allegations made are beyond the statute of limitations and will not be further investigated.”
The girl was joined Friday by her mother, father and stepfather, all of whom read victim impacts statements prior to the sentencing.
“It felt really nice,” she said, about the support of all three of her parents. “I don’t know where I would be without the support system that I have. It’s been nice.”
Thrower was joined Friday in the courtroom by his family, wife Lorri Thrower and two children, and a current employee, Hanna Carraeger, 19, who testified on his behalf, along with family friend Denis Elwart, who also gave character testimony for Thrower.
After the hearing Friday, Dixon, Thrower's defense attorney, said he'll speak to the judge in a couple years to then have the whole case expunged from Thrower's record.
"I think the sentence was exactly appropriate," Dixon said Friday after Pedersen handed down the sentence. "He's gone 62 years without having an issue whatsoever. But we're going to do the sentence, and hopefully he can get this off his record and move on."
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 up the girl 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.
The next day, Thrower told police, “I grabbed somewhere I shouldn’t have,” records show.
A mother’s message
In the courtroom Friday, the girl's mother spoke directly to Thrower – who she’d considered a close family friend who gave her daughter her first ever job – and said she doesn’t regret coming forward.
“I’m sorry Shawn, I used to be a big fan and supporter, but the skeletons in your kitchen are out," the mother said. "You’ve had the chance to tell the truth one more time in a court of law, but you chose not to. I have a gut feeling that my daughter was not your first victim, but after all of this, I sincerely hope she’s your last.”
The mother said the sentence wasn’t as important as the public knowing now what her daughter and others went through.
“I’m praying for his family right now," the mother said. "I’m praying that people take the time to listen, that if something doesn’t sound right, to really give that some attention, some time, understand that these girls that are speaking, they have everything to lose, and to speak up takes so much courage."
She called her daughter “my hero" and said responding to someone who comes forward with trauma is vital.
“It can be the difference in how the rest of their life is played out, if they feel strong, respected, or if they feel something to be ashamed of by hiding something,” the teen’s mother said. “And they should never have to hide. That’s something I want girls to know, that no matter where you work, no matter what relationship you're in, you don’t need to hide. You can speak up when something’s not right. And this wasn’t right.”