British Columbia

Crown appeals sex assault acquittal of Victoria massage technician

Prosecutors are appealing the acquittal of a Victoria massage specialist accused of fondling his clients, saying it's in the public interest to challenge the judgment.

Judge found John Heintzelman not guilty and scolded police for Facebook post seeking alleged victims

John Heintzelman was found not guilty last month of two sex assault charges. (Shutterstock)

Prosecutors are appealing the acquittal of a Victoria massage specialist accused of fondling his clients, saying it's in the public interest to challenge the judgment.

Late last month, provincial court judge Ted Gouge found John Heintzelman not guilty of two counts of sexual assault, in large part because of a Facebook post created by Victoria police.

Crown prosecutors confirmed they filed an appeal of that decision in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesperson for the B.C. Prosecution Service, wrote in an email that Crown has reviewed Gouge's ruling and is "satisfied that (1) the judgment reveals errors of fact and law; (2) a reasonable argument can be made that the verdict would not necessarily have been the same if the errors had not been made; and (3) the public interest requires an appeal."

In his Dec. 20 judgment, Gouge said he was concerned by investigators' public appeal for more alleged victims to come forward after one woman filed a complaint, writing that it included too many details about the allegations.

The judge said police should have written their post without including Heintzelman's name or the address of his in-home massage studio.

"If the police had published such a notice and received one or more complaints in response, it would have been possible for them to test the veracity of those complaints by asking the complainants for the name of the assailant and the address where the assault took place," Gouge wrote.

Heintzelman was arrested in the summer of 2017 after a client alleged he'd groped her breasts, inner thighs, buttocks and genitals during a hot stone massage. A second alleged victim came forward with a similar story immediately after she saw the post from VicPD.

In his ruling, Gouge said he found the two women and Heintzelman to be equally credible and, therefore, had no choice but to acquit.

A Victoria police spokesperson declined to comment on the news of the appeal, now that the matter is back before the courts.

A hearing on the appeal has been set for June 17.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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