Fired JPS employee found not guilty of sexually assaulting psychiatric patient

Steven Ashley, left, looks over his attorneys’ shoulders Tuesday during his sexual assault trial.
Steven Ashley, left, looks over his attorneys’ shoulders Tuesday during his sexual assault trial.

A fired JPS tech who admitted on the stand that he had sexual contact with a psychiatric patient but claimed she initiated it and lied about the extent of it was found not guilty Wednesday by a jury.

Steven D. Ashley, who had been charged with three counts of sexual assault, told jurors that he had a single sexual encounter with the woman in February 2016, inside her room at the Trinity Springs Pavilion, an in-patient psychiatric unit of the John Peter Smith Health Network.

He cried on the witness stand, however, telling jurors that the woman was lying when she alleged that she gave him oral sex three days in a row in order to prevent him from having vaginal sex with her. He said she only used her hand.

“Absolutely, he regrets what happened,” Ashley’s defense attorney, Ray Jackson, said Thursday. “I think he made a mistake that several other people have made and they succumb to their feelings in a moment and then, after having a chance to think about it, regret it.

“He’s human in that regard. He definitely made a mistake, he definitely regretted it, and stood in front of the jury and told them the truth.”

In closing arguments, the defense attorneys argued that while Ashley admittedly had a sexual encounter with the woman, he could not be convicted of what prosecutors and the woman had accused him of — having oral sex with the woman.

The jury deliberated for a couple of hours before returning the verdict of not guilty.

Kacey Fickes, who prosecuted the case along with Kim D’Avignon, said the jury’s decision made her feel sick.

“We will always believe the victim,” Fickes said Thursday. “And it’s unfortunate that they couldn’t see past the issues she’s had in order to protect one of the most vulnerable members of our society.

“It’s tragic that the victim had to encounter the defendant that weekend and the system failed to protect her.”

The woman, now 33, testified Tuesday that Ashley, a patient care tech, had initially been kind and attentive while she was a patient at Trinity Springs Pavilion after a suicide attempt. But she testified that he later began hugging, then kissing her, and eventually pushed her into the room’s bathroom and began groping her.

She testified that she gave him oral sex in order to prevent him from having vaginal sex with her and thought he would leave her alone. But he returned the next two days, she testified, prompting her to have to give him oral sex again.

She said she initially kept silent about what happened but eventually broke down and told a crisis respite unit representative on Feb. 15, 2016, the day she was to be discharged.

Under cross examination, she began rambling about being awakened in the hospital by the voice of the angel Gabriel and being used as a tool by God for “work for the United States of America.”

Prosecutors had argued that because of her mental illness, Ashley saw the woman as the “perfect victim” because no one would believe her if she told.

During the trial, prosecutors had sought to bring in the testimony of two former psychiatric patients who had complained to JPS officials that Ashley had been inappropriate with them during their stays at Trinity Springs Pavilion.

JPS and court documents included in the case file had shown Ashley had been previously accused of “inappropriate interactions” by at least four other patients dating to 2013. He remained employed with the hospital, however, until after the sexual assault allegation arose in February 2016.

“Since hire, leadership has received several concerns from female patients regarding inappropriate interaction with Steven,” a supervisor wrote in an employee counseling form regarding Ashley’s termination. “These complaints create a concern for patient safety.”

Fickes said Thursday that prosecutors wanted jurors to hear from two of the women who had complained to counter Ashley’s testimony, which she said gave a “false impression” that he was a “model employee.”

“He’s got a pattern with these women,” Fickes said Thursday. “... It was his pattern, the way he ingratiated himself with them, then started doing what he does.”

State District Judge David Hagerman, however, would not allow the women’s testimony.

After the verdict was reached, Larry Moore, chief of the District Attorney’s Criminal Division, expressed disappointment with the judge’s decision.

“This defendant is a predator, preying on our society’s most vulnerable victims,” Moore said in a statement emailed to the Star-Telegram. “We are disappointed that the Court did not allow the admissible testimony of his other victims so this jury could have the entire truth on which to base their verdict.”

Jackson called Moore’s statement “B.S.” and “garbage.”

“One, the information wasn’t admissible. Two, they were false allegations. If they were not false allegations, the state of Texas should have brought them as claims,” Jackson said. “That comes from a place of someone who is hurt or disappointed that he lost. At the end of the day, it was about the facts.”

“The jury made the proper and right decision based on the facts and the evidence,” he added. “We’re happy with the jury’s decision. We have the best system in the world where an individual is innocent until proven guilty.

“They don’t start off guilty. They start off innocent unless and until the district attorney’s office can prove them to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury, having heard the evidence, said by their verdict that the state failed to do that.”

Tarrant County Prosecutor Kim D’Avignon describes the alleged sexual assault by Steven D. Ashley during the opening statement at his trial.

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