San Francisco— A popular massage therapist accused of inappropriately touching a client’s breasts has been cleared of wrongdoing, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Tuesday deliberated two hours before finding Pete, 50, not guilty of one count of misdemeanor sexual battery. If convicted, Pete faced up to a year in jail and lifetime registration as a sex offender, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Will Helvestine.
Pete, a therapist at a lower Pacific Heights massage clinic, performed a full-body massage on a female client July 8. Pete completed the session, and the woman left him a tip at the front desk when she paid for the service, Helvestine said.
Hours later, the client told her boyfriend that Pete had run his hands over her chest and belly, grazing her nipples during the massage and making her feel uncomfortable. The man called 911 and reported his girlfriend had been sexually assaulted.
In the ensuing investigation, a police sergeant remained on the phone while the woman phoned Pete and confronted him about the massage. Pete explained that he was using a lymphatic drainage technique that involved the chest and under-arm area and apologized for making the woman feel uncomfortable, insisting it was never his intention.
He was arrested two weeks later and the woman filed a $3 million lawsuit against him and his employer.
During the trial, the receptionist testified the customer did not seem upset following the massage and never mentioned feeling uncomfortable. Pete also took the stand, testifying for three hours and conducting a demonstration of lymphatic drainage techniques for the jury.
Six character witnesses, including female clients, testified that Pete has earned a reputation for skill and professionalism during his 22-year career. The owner of the massage clinic testified that Pete was by far the most in-demand therapist and most of his regular clients were women. Dozens of supporters of Pete filled the gallery during the trial.
Helvestine argued that Pete did not fit the profile of a sexual predator and the incident was a misunderstanding, not a crime.
“A full-body massage, by its very nature, is an inherently intimate act. It’s easy to see how a client might mistakenly think a certain touch was sexual, when in reality the therapist’s intent was purely therapeutic,” Helvestine said. “Here, the jury was able to see that Pete had no sexual intent whatsoever. He was just trying to do his job.”
Adachi said the verdict allows Pete to put the ordeal behind him and get back his massage license, which was suspended while the criminal case was pending.
“Although this was a misdemeanor trial, the stakes were incredibly high. Pete’s career was hanging in the balance, and he risked being labeled a sex offender for life. Fortunately, his public defender was able to present evidence that cleared his name,” Adachi said.