Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Jason Nebergall was in full uniform when he grabbed a woman he had been previously called to help, touched her sexually and attempted to assault her from behind, a prosecutor said as his trial began Tuesday.
“She’s upset and she doesn’t know what to do,” Assistant State Attorney Marci Rex said of the woman after the alleged attack. “Do you call the police when the police is the person who just assaulted you?”
Nebergall’s trial started with opening statements before Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo. He is charged with attempted sexual battery with a deadly weapon and two counts of battery. He originally was arrested in 2016 and charged with two counts of sexual battery. Nebergall, a deputy since 2007, remains on unpaid leave.
“This is a case about power and control,” Rex told the jury. “He had the power and control.”
Michael Salnick, the attorney representing Nebergall, told the jury the evidence will show Nebergall was doing his job during the hours around the alleged crime. He said “there have been all kinds of accusations against police officers” and “animosity” against law enforcement, but there are many cases that turn out to be untrue.
Salnick said Nebergall never attempted to assault the woman. Instead, he said, the woman came on to Nebergall.
“Jason Nebergall was working. He did his job. He got off shift and believed he was done. This is the last place he thought he would end up as a result of working on that occasion,” Salnick said, looking back at his client.
Besides several deputies and a DNA expert witness, the woman who said she was assaulted by Nebergall took the stand. The Palm Beach Post is not naming her to protect her identity due to the nature of the crime.
She said she was in shock when it happened. When she reenacted Nebergall getting physical with her, she became visibly emotional.
She said she didn’t know what to do, but she didn’t want to go to police. Between what was going on in the news across the U.S. with police shooting young black men and what had just happened to her, she didn’t know who to turn to.
Eventually she did tell authorities. She said she was still skeptical of law enforcement, but she didn’t want this to happen again.
“I don’t want him to be able to do this to anyone ever again,” she said.
Between the late hours of July 20, 2016, and the early hours of July 21, there were three calls to the sheriff’s office about a shared mobile home near Greenacres. In the first incident, a tenant accused their landlord of stealing items. Another call went out and the landlord was arrested, according to authorities. The third time, a woman who was in the shared residence was allegedly attacked by the landlord, who had just been released from jail.
This third call is when Nebergall came into contact with the woman, according to authorities.
In court, Salnick said Nebergall had said his shift was nearly over and that he didn’t want to write a report, but instead offered to check on her later.
What happens next is at the center of the trial.
Salnick said his client did check on her because he saw a vehicle matching the description of the one driven by the landlord. Salnick said Nebergall and the woman spoke for a minute, then she lifted her shirt up and asked him if he wanted to pat her down.
Salnick said as Nebergall went to leave, the woman grabbed his arm and when he pushed off her to leave, his hand touched her breast. Salnick said that’s why his DNA was found on the woman.
But, Salnick said, there is no evidence to say for certain that the alleged crime happened.
“When a person is accused of something that they didn’t do and there’s no other witnesses, the only thing that someone in Jason Nebergall’s position can do is say he didn’t do it,” Salnick told the jury.
Rex said that when Nebergall came back to the woman’s home, he grabbed her by her hair and forcibly kissed her. Then he touched her inappropriately and put his mouth on her chest. A swab taken from there had traces of Nebergall’s DNA, according to law enforcement.
Finally, Rex said, when he went to assault her from behind, he said he needed a condom, then left, saying he’d check on her later.
“He chose her on the fact of his word verses her word,” Rex said. “Who would you believe?”
Nebergall was arrested Dec. 8, five months after the alleged incident.
Since Nebergall started with the sheriff’s office, he has had several written reprimands and suspensions for incidents including insubordination and pulling a gun on a fellow deputy.
Nebergall was previously accused of "sexual misconduct while on-duty in full uniform" at Sugar Daddy's Adult Cabaret in suburban West Palm Beach. Though the complaint — filed by a fellow deputy — was ruled unsubstantiated due to conflicting stories, Nebergall was given a written reprimand for allegedly getting a private dance and having sex while at the club.
Nebergall’s father, former deputy Carlton Nebergall Jr., is in jail without bail on first-degree murder charges in the Feb. 18 death of his estranged son-in-law, Jacob Lodge. Salnick also represents the elder Nebergall in his separate case.