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Ex-Lawrence police officer will face jury trial in on-duty rape case after mediation fails

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Post updated at 3:41 p.m. Thursday:

A former Lawrence police officer charged with raping a woman in his patrol vehicle will now face a jury early next year after mediation failed to lead to a plea agreement.

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Jonathan M. Gardner, 42, is charged with one count of rape and 34 counts of official misconduct and unlawful acts concerning computers after a woman filed a complaint late last year with the Lawrence Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability. Gardner joined the LPD in June 2013 and remained on the force until an investigation of the charges began in November 2021.

The case was sent to criminal mediation in May, but during a hearing Wednesday afternoon, the two sides announced that an agreement could not be reached.

“All parties willingly participated but no agreement was reached,” Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden said after the hearing.

The complaint against Gardner, which was forwarded by the LPD to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, stems from an incident in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2017.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Gardner picked up a then-20-year-old woman who had been drinking in downtown Lawrence but needed a ride home after becoming separated from her friends. The woman alleged that during the ride home at approximately 3:30 a.m., Gardner placed his hand on her thigh and penetrated her with his fingers while he was driving.

During an interview with the KBI on Nov. 5, 2021, Gardner said he recalled his interactions with the women in 2017 because the situation was “uncommon.” He alleged that he “thought she was hitting on” him and that she had taken his hand and placed it in her lap while the two were parked in front of her home.

The woman came forward after recognizing Gardner when he took a report about an unrelated issue from her at the police department in April 2021. She said she had not come forward earlier in part because she didn’t remember Gardner’s name after the incident, and also because she was worried about the “potential consequences given that she was on probation, had consumed alcohol and was under the legal drinking age,” according to the affidavit.

The case was originally set to go to a preliminary hearing on May 31, but a week prior, the case was referred to Independent Assessment Conference, the county’s criminal mediation program. After failing to come to an agreement, Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny gave the case priority setting and scheduled the trial for Feb. 27, according to Seiden.

Seiden said that although resolution prior to trial remains a possibility, it is not common after IAC mediation has failed to return an agreement. He said that since the IAC program was instated in October 2021, he had been involved in four cases that were sent to the IAC but ultimately went to trial.

“This is probably due to the nature of the cases referred to that program, as these cases tend to be the most complex and serious,” Seiden said.

Gardner’s defense attorney, John DeMarco, said via email, “The mediation process was not successful in resolving this matter. Mr. Gardner is presumed innocent and is innocent of these allegations. We were hoping for a resolution outside of a trial but that did not occur. The Kansas Rules Of Professional Conduct prevent further comment or discussion.”

A motions hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 27. Gardner has been out of custody on a $50,000 signature bond since March 4, the same day he was arrested.

All arrestees and defendants in criminal cases should be presumed not guilty unless and until they are convicted.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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