A City of Falls Church spokesperson confirmed to the News-Press Wednesday afternoon that City resident and prominent citizen-activist Michael A. Gardner is due in a Falls Church courtroom at City Hall July 12 to face charges of sexual assaulting three young girls in alleged incidents at his home on two separate occasions earlier this month.
Gardner’s arrest last week sparked regional and national coverage, given his role in the community as husband of former mayor and current City Council member Robin Gardner, and as a past chair of the City’s Democratic Committee, and high-profile blogger and local-issues columnist who wrote in the News-Press. It also provoked a firestorm of mostly angry reactions on websites reporting the arrest, including at the News-Press’ website, FCNP.com.
However, Gardner’s attorney, former Falls Church Mayor Brian O’Connor, insisted in an interview with the News-Press on his client’s innocence, saying Gardner “has categorically denied any criminal behavior and would never knowingly harm any child.” He added that Gardner’s wife “is very supportive of Mike.” Gardner pleaded not guilty to all charges last Thursday, and has been released on $50,000 bond.
Gardner’s arrest took place at 5:24 p.m. Wednesday, June 22, four days after the second of two alleged assault incidents, on two counts of sexual assault and one count of object sexual penetration of minors. A press release detailing the charges and identifying Garder was issued by the Falls Church City Hall Office of Communications within minutes of his arrest. O’Connor said he was first contacted by Gardner on Monday, June 20.
Gardner, who according to police records reported by the Associated Press, was charged with sexually abusing three girls, two of whom, ages 9 and 10, attended a birthday slumber party for his 10-year-old daughter Saturday night and a third, also under age 13, in a separate incident earlier.
He is slated to appear in Juvenile Domestic Relations Court in Falls Church June 12, but in keeping with all proceedings in that court, it will not be open to the public. The prosecution, although under the auspices of the Arlington Circuit Court, will be conducted by Nicole Wittman, a prosecutor from Loudoun County.
According to unofficial reports, Arlington County Attorney Dick Trodden requested of his Loudoun counterpart that Loudoun handle the prosecution because of the long history of Gardner’s political associations with the county attorneys offices of both Arlington and Fairfax County.
O’Connor told the News-Press in a telephone interview yesterday that he still has not been able to sit down with the prosecution to assess the evidence. “This is a devastating accusation to have, and it has been a nightmare to this point for Mike, Robin and their kids,” O’Connor said. “My advice has been to try to live as normally as they can.”
The family remains in the area, although not at their Ellison Street home. Robin Gardner did not attend this Monday’s City Council meeting, as of press time she had not replied to a written inquiry from the News-Press about her plans to attend future meetings.
O’Connor, in comments to the News-Press last week, said his client “is someone who has never had a whiff of scandal” around him, and “has an excellent reputation in the community for his character.”
“We will deal with the facts as they unfold,” he said. There is no indication, he said, that the court’s request for a DNA sample from Gardner had anything to do with a suggestion of actual sexual contact. He said that Gardner “is determined to fight this case.” Said O’Connor, “I am going to help this man.”
The Gardners are the parents of twins, one male and one female.
According to reports, shortly after the alleged incident Saturday night, June 18, the nine-year-old girl was taken to a sexual-assault nurse specialist at the Inova Fairfax Hospital where an examination was performed.
According to the City of Falls Church, police conducted a number of follow-up interviews with the alleged victims and others attending the slumber party, and a saliva sample for purposes of DNA testing was taken from Gardner.
Interviews with neighbors to the Gardners indicated shock but a willingness to presume innocence until proven guilty. They also expressed concern for the fallout on Robin Gardner’s political career in the City. She served as mayor from 2006 to 2010 and continues as a member of the Council.