BRIGHAM CITY — A local restaurant owner and Roy resident pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he allegedly sexually assaulted several of his employees.
A Box Elder County judge ruled that there was sufficient probable cause to move forward with charges against 33-year-old Dustin Brent Rallison, who owns restaurants in Ogden and Perry.
Rallison is charged with one count of object rape, a first-degree felony; three counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony; three counts of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony; and four counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor.
The Tuesday preliminary hearing saw testimony from five former employees of The Rusted Spoon, a restaurant in Perry. The former employees, all women, ranged in age from 17 to 21. The Standard-Examiner does not name the alleged victims of a crime, and will not name in this report who testified Tuesday.
The five women told similar stories of Rallison’s alleged actions while at the Perry restaurant. They recalled several encounters where Rallison would put them in chokeholds, making it difficult if not impossible to breathe. One woman recalled how her feet left the ground during one of Rallison’s chokeholds. Several of those who testified said that Rallison acted in a joking, playful manner when these alleged attacks at work occurred.
“Every time he put me in a chokehold, I would tell him to stop,” one woman said.
Another woman told the court that she “learned over time to just relax” when Rallison would allegedly put her in a chokehold, adding that if you tried to break away, he would tighten his grip.
During cross examination, several of the women testified that they thought this behavior was “normal” for a work environment, tolerating the abuse for months and dozens of instances of Rallison allegedly slapping them on the buttocks, grabbing their hips or punching their breasts.
One former employee tearfully recalled when she was at the restaurant when Rallison grabbed her backside and inserted his finger through her leggings and into the woman’s buttocks. Just prior, one of two defense attorneys for Rallison, Tara Isaacson, asked what clothing the woman was wearing that day, to which the woman replied she was wearing her work shirt and leggings that went down to her ankles.
When Isaacson later asked why it took the women so long to report the alleged abuse, the same woman said: “I didn’t want to be looked at as a victim. It was happening to everyone else, it made it feel like it was supposed to be normal.”
Another woman testified about a night where she and Rallison were the only two people left in the restaurant. The woman alleged that when she left, Rallison allegedly followed her to her car and began forcefully grabbing her breasts under her clothing from behind. The attack caused bleeding, and she turned over her bra with blood on it to police when she filed a report the following day, she said in court.
Another former employee testified that she was 15 years old when she was hired at the Perry restaurant, and told the court that Rallison allegedly hit her backside once or twice and put her in chokeholds while she was at work.
“He could definitely tell that I was uncomfortable about it,” she said.
During cross examinations, several women told defense attorneys, that while working, they would slap each other on the backside amongst themselves and talk about personal matters that could be deemed inappropriate at work.
These questions by defense attorneys were addressed by Deputy Box Elder County Attorney Brian Duncan during closing arguments.
“This isn’t about testing credibility of witnesses, this is about meeting elements of crime,” Duncan said.
Duncan said that the burden of proof for the hearing had been met through the women’s testimony, and said that it does not matter if the defendant thought his alleged actions were in jest. He later noted that one woman was as young as 15 when alleged incidents occurred. He went on to accuse the defense of attempting to frame the situation as a workplace where many, if not all employees, were acting inappropriately.
“It’s not fair to characterize it that way,” Duncan said. “The defense seems to be formulating that this was just the environment they worked in.”
Rallison, who was present for the hearing and is not in police custody, adhered to his attorneys’ advice and declined to testify on Tuesday.
Judge Brandon Maynard ruled there was enough evidence for the case to go forward, prompting Isaacson to enter not guilty pleas on behalf of her client.
Duncan also requested a no-contact order between the women who testified and Rallison, which Maynard accepted. He did add a stipulation that if any of the women were to go to the restaurant, Rallison may make contact if it relates to the business.
Rallison’s next court appearance is scheduled to be for a pretrial conference on Aug. 19 in Brigham City’s 1st District Court.