Defense attorney Michael Salnick told the jury Thursday there is DNA evidence and testimony from detectives to consider, but what the trial of Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputy Jason Nebergall comes down to is the testimony of the deputy and the woman who accused him of attempted sexual battery.
He said his client has come forward and told his side to them, and that’s the only thing he can do. There were no witnesses to the alleged crime.
“All he can do is come in here and tell you he didn’t do that,” Salnick said. “You have to determine who you’re going to believe.”
The state and the defense made their closing arguments Thursday afternoon in Nebergall’s trial. The jury will continue its deliberations Friday.
Nebergall is accused of going back to a woman’s residence in suburban Greenacres — after previously responding to an altercation there — and attempting to assault her in July 2016. The Palm Beach Post is not naming the woman to protect her identity due to the nature of the alleged crime.
The prosecution presented evidence of DNA on the woman’s chest determined to be Nebergall’s, which corroborates the woman’s story. The defense argues the woman made the story up. It said the DNA was on the woman because Nebergall pushed her away, touching her chest, when she allegedly exposed herself to him. When Nebergall was originally questioned about the incident, he did not tell investigators about the interaction.
Unlike his client, Salnick told the jury, the woman who accused the deputy “can’t get her story straight.”
“Is she upset because he was lazy (and didn’t write a report)? Is she upset because she flashed him and he did not want her advances?” he said.
Assistant State Attorney Chrichet Mixon said that if this was some scheme to get back at the deputy for not writing a report when he was called to the residence, why would the woman not make the story better? Why wouldn’t she say he raped her, Mixon asked the jury. She said it was Nebergall’s actions that were questionable.
“(Nebergall) didn’t write a report, but (he) decided to go back to this neighborhood to check on her?” she told the jury. “There was no reason for him to go and knock on the door, but he did.”
Before closing arguments, Nebergall, 39, was on the witness stand. Salnick asked him why he went back to the woman’s residence that morning to check on her after she had had an altercation with her landlord.
“Nothing more than my job,” he said.
Between the late hours of July 20 and the early hours of July 21, 2016, deputies were called to the mobile home three times in relation to an alleged theft and an altercation. Nebergall responded to the third call.
In court, Nebergall said he spoke with a woman and told her he didn’t want to write a report, but would check on her later.
The woman told authorities that when Nebergall came back, he forcefully kissed her, put his mouth on her chest and rubbed his exposed groin against her backside against her will.
In court Thursday, Nebergall said he went back and knocked on her door because he thought he saw the alleged vehicle of the landlord re-enter the community. After a brief discussion with the woman in front of her residence, he said she asked him if he wanted to pat her down and exposed her breasts. As he went to leave, he said she went to touch his arm. He said he turned around and pushed her back, touching her breast, and then left.
“It was really a non-issue for me at the time,” he said.
In court Wednesday, a taped statement between Nebergall and a detective in the days after the incident was played for the jury. In the recording, Nebergall was asked if he ever touched the woman or if she touched him when he visited her during the morning of July 21. He said no.
On Thursday, Salnick asked Nebergall to explain why he said that.
Nebergall said he was speaking with a detective in the sexual-crimes unit, so he interpreted the question as meaning if he touched the woman in a sexual manner or if she did the same to him.
Assistant State Attorney Marci Rex asked Nebergall why, when he was being questioned by a detective, he didn’t come forward right away about the woman exposing herself if that’s what happened.
“Knowing the gravity of everything that was happening, and knowing you are a police officer and you’re being read Miranda (rights) by a detective in the sex-crimes unit, and you are being asked about that specific thing, you never said a word about it, did you?” she asked.
“At that point, I did not,” Nebergall said.
In closing arguments, Rex said Nebergall’s statement is the only one that has changed.
But, she said, the woman’s story matches both her actions after the alleged incident and the DNA evidence.
Rex said in the hours after, the woman was afraid and didn’t want to go to police because it was a deputy who attempted to assault her. She didn’t know who to turn to. She didn’t want to give her name, only make sure the deputy couldn’t do this again. She didn’t think anyone would believe her, Rex told the jury.
“It was (the woman’s) story that is completely consistent with all the other evidence. And she told her story to you, knowing you would believe her.”