After an hour and 40 minutes the jury levied a total fine of $1,091.67
By Nicholas Bostick
Six jurors found a former Brookhaven College student, Frank Fehmel, 71, guilty of three counts of simple assault after roughly an hour and 40 minutes of deliberation. The assaults occurred during the Spring 2014 semester in C Building.
The trial took place April 14, at the Farmers Branch Municipal Court at 3723 Valley View Lane, near Brookhaven’s Campus. The court only hears Class C misdemeanors, such as traffic violations and public intoxication.
Simple assault, or assault by contact, is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $500. The charge is defined as “intentionally or knowingly [causing] physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative,” according to section 22.02 of the Texas State Penal Code.
The victims are three women, aged 53, 22 and 21, and were Theatre Brookhaven students at the time of the incidents. One of the plaintiffs is also a student employee who acts as assistant to Darise Error, theater department chair.
Fehmel was fined a total of $1,091.67, which is comparable to the fine he would have paid had he pled no contest.
“This is not the case where Mr. Fehmel is accused of punching these people,” prosecutor Braden Metcalf said in his opening statements. “This is a Class C misdemeanor where offensive touching, as long as it should be known to be offensive, is still a crime.”
The actions Fehmel was convicted of include: placing his arm around the waist of one of the women, reaching out and grabbing another’s rib cage “as if to tickle” as she walked through a hallway and putting his arm around the third’s shoulders while reciting a Groucho Marx quote, “You’re only as young as the woman you feel,” according to testimony at the trial.
During the trial, all three women said Fehmel’s actions were unwanted and inappropriate.
Fehmel, believing himself to be innocent, opted for a jury trial instead of pleading no contest and paying the fine for each charge. He also decided to represent himself at trial.
“I spoke to a couple of attorneys, and the cheapest price I was quoted was $5,000,” he said in a post-trial interview. “I thought it was a little ridiculous to have to pay $5,000 to defend myself against charges that were untrue.”
Fehmel was also a student in the theater program and, at Error’s request, took photos of many aspects of various productions for the department’s Facebook page, Error said in her testimony.
During the trial, Fehmel appeared unfamiliar with court procedure. The prosecution became visibly unsettled by Fehmel, who was warned several times by the judge to follow proper legal procedure, avoid redundant or irrelevant questions and adhere to the question and answer format of the proceedings.
Fehmel argued that he had been cleared by Brookhaven administrators of any wrongdoing after an internal sexual harassment investigation conducted by Brookhaven Executive Director of Human Resources Terri Edrich and Oscar Lopez, vice president of student success.
The report concluded his actions did not constitute a violation of Brookhaven’s code of conduct. However, the charge of simple assault is a violation of the Texas Penal Code.
Fehmel also questioned why it took so long for the victims to report the offenses to the FBPD. The victims did not give their statements to the FBPD until September 2014, but the offenses took place in Spring 2014.
The prosecutor asked Brookhaven College Police Department officer Thomas Butler whether the internal investigation contributed to the delay.
Metcalf asked: “Would it have been better and more preferable if Brookhaven reported it immediately to the Farmers Branch Police Department?”
Butler said: “Yes.”
FBPD officer Eric Stokes, who took two of the plaintiffs’ statements, said: “I thought, ‘Well, if Brookhaven didn’t do what they needed to do then we would file it,’ because it met the elements.”
Frank has filed for an appeal and hopes to clear his name. “This whole thing amounts to he said-she said,” Fehmel said. “There’s no evidence, there are no eyewitnesses, there’s no evidence other than what she says versus what I said.”
One of the women, aged 22, said she believes other students were discouraged from coming forward with similar complaints, due in part to Brookhaven’s handling of the case.
“I would like to know why Brookhaven College did not handle the situation differently,” she said in an email to The Courier. “I was never satisfied with that treatment, and in fact very distressed by not knowing the status of our complaints for weeks until finally having them dismissed altogether.”
Fehmel said he believes the issue was caused by a dispute over the access he had been given to photograph the workings of the theater.
In an email to The Courier, Error said the incident has caused a rift in the theater department and was also partially responsible for the cancellation of the department’s production of “Equus,” which features mature content and includes nudity.
The victim, 22, also said in her email to The Courier that she has felt uncomfortable and “out of place” in the theater department since the incident. She added that she does not blame the department’s faculty or staff for these feelings, nor does she plan on leaving the program.
“A situation like this attempts to force people to choose one side and revile the other, which is a really uncomfortable spot to be in,” Error said in her email to The Courier. “While I’m sure some hurt feelings and anger persist, I also think we are resilient and on a healing path with goodwill prevailing.”
Editor’s note: It is the policy of The Brookhaven Courier not to name victims in cases such as this. The Brookhaven Courier will continue to investigate this matter and plans to update this