Former Douglas County sheriff's deputy fined for battery

TUSCOLA — A former Douglas County sheriff's deputy accused of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman in Tuscola has been fined $2,500.

On Wednesday, Judge Dan Flannell fined Russell "Rusty" Stephens, 65, who listed an address in rural Pesotum. Stephens pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery on April 5.

As part of a plea agreement, charges of criminal sexual abuse, attempted criminal sexual abuse and aggravated battery were dismissed.

Special prosecutor Michael Vujovich had asked that Stephens be sentenced to jail time and 18 months of probation and be banned from ever serving as a police officer for the rest of his life.

Vujovich prosecuted the case at the request of Douglas County State's Attorney Kevin Nolan, who represents the sheriff's office as part of his duties.

Flannell declined all three of Vujovich's recommendations, noting that Stephens had what he called "an unblemished record" prior to this incident.

Flannell said he would leave it to individual police departments to make decisions on whether to hire Stephens, who resigned from the sheriff's office in May 2010 just before a sheriff's merit board hearing into the misconduct allegations was about to begin.

According to a police report, Stephens approached a female employee, who was 31 years old at the time, from behind at the Sav-Mor Pharmacy & Gift Shop, then at 123 Sale St., Tuscola, on April 23, 2010, while she was leaning over a counter.

The victim testified on Wednesday that Stephens, dressed in his full sheriff's deputy uniform, grabbed her shoulder and wrapped a leg around her thigh.

"He thrust himself in my behind with his pelvic area," the victim said.

She said the incident lasted about 30 seconds.

"I was shocked," she said. "I told him if he didn't stop I was going to call the police. He told me to get to work."

The victim said the incident has changed her life.

"I felt depressed. I didn't understand what happened. I get startled easily if someone comes behind me," she said. "My friends and family have had to deal with the emotional roller coaster of the past two years."

Stephens denied the victim's account of what happened.

Stephens said he was tired after taking care of his ill girlfriend and had come to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.

"I had a bout of vertigo, and I lost my balance," Stephens said. "I stumbled briefly, and I bumped into her to regain my balance."

Stephens said he was carrying a Taser, gun and pepper spray on a belt around his waist at the time of the incident.

"I couldn't lift my leg that far off the ground," he said.

During cross examination, Stephens admitted he had never mentioned the vertigo to his doctor.

Stephens said he also suffered from high blood pressure and restless-leg syndrome.

Stephens had worked with the sheriff's office for about five years.

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