Sitting on a black ottoman in her living room, the same room where she says an on-duty Charlottesville police officer sexually assaulted her in November 2016, Ronna Gary draws invisible lines with her pointer finger to illustrate the ways she’s rearranged the space since the cop allegedly pressured her to her knees, unzipped his pants and forced her to perform oral sex on him right next to her exercise bike.
She ditched the bike, for the record. The new layout makes her feel more comfortable in the “crime scene” she avoided for several months.
The Shamrock Road resident doesn’t like reliving the early morning hours of November 18, 2016, when ex-cop Christopher Seymore responded to a drunk driving incident on her street and entered her house to ask about what she saw. He allegedly left some belongings sitting on the bicycle while he went out to sign for a tow truck, and when he came back inside to retrieve them, she noticed he had removed his body camera and covered his badge.
Gary testified in court that she was terrified, at eye-level with the uniformed officer’s handgun holstered on his belt, as he forcibly sodomized her. When the sun rose and he was off the clock, she says she awoke to the sound of Seymore beating on her bedroom window, and when she let him inside again, he led her to her bedroom and sexually assaulted her again.
“I should have never opened the door,” she says, wearing a gray, long-sleeve T-shirt with the words “Me Too” written across the chest, her back to a miniature Christmas tree with white lights and red and gold ornaments. She didn’t put up a tree last year—she wasn’t in the holiday spirit—but this year, she says she’s trying.
On December 12, Gary and about 15 of her supporters, with protest signs in-hand, rallied in front of the Charlottesville General District Court and police department to demand a new trial date for the man who is charged with two counts of forcible sodomy at her expense.
She thinks Seymore’s defense attorney, Liz Murtagh, is intentionally using stall tactics to prolong the trial, which was initially scheduled for the beginning of December and was continued.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” said local activist Jalane Schmidt at the protest.
Murtagh says the December 7 trial was continued because a subpoenaed police officer was sick. On December 18, the trial was rescheduled to start March 5.
“I just want the first available [trial] date,” Gary said before it was rescheduled, surrounded by a vast selection of scented candles and a dozen framed photos of her loved ones. “[Murtagh] gave this guy one more Christmas, and she took one more Christmas from me.” Gary says she put up a $10 tree from Dollar General. “I just figure, you know, he’s not going to get this Christmas.”
Pausing to blink back tears, she says, “I’m better than I was last year. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m not as bad as I was.”
In the past year, Gary has undergone extensive therapy through the local nonprofit Sexual Assault Resource Agency.
She says she’s gone days without sleeping, and had a hard time getting out of bed some mornings. She’s been told the alleged rape was her fault and she was “asking for it,” lost a job for missing work, had animal carcasses left in her front yard—”dead rats, because I told on an officer, so I’m a rat,” she explains. Her house has been shot with paintballs, her motorcycle vandalized and her tires slashed.
Now she has a surveillance camera peeking through her front window, and “shockingly,” she quips, knocking on her wooden coffee table, “the incidents have stopped.”
“And [the defense] is threatening me in court with bringing out stuff about my past,” Gary says. “There’s nothing in my past that I’m ashamed of. Not one thing. But that’s what they do to victims—they put you on the stand and they rip you in half.”
In an April 13 preliminary hearing, during which Gary gave an emotional testimony about the sexual assault for more than an hour, she says she saw Seymore for the first time since the incident in her bedroom.
“I wanted to look him in his eye when he didn’t have on that blue uniform and he didn’t have a gun,” she says. “It was important for me to look at his face.”
He looked at the ceiling and he looked at the floor, but Gary says he wouldn’t look back at her.
“I was disgusted and angry,” Gary says. “He took my spirit for a bit.”
Back in her living room, there’s a painting of a woman who looks much like the alleged victim, with light brown skin and boldly lined lips of a darker hue. The woman on the oversized canvas has lustrous tears pouring from sad brown eyes, and inside her pupils are small, circular cutouts of the faces of people Gary has loved and lost in her own lifetime, she explains about the piece of art commissioned from Maryland-based artist Geraldine Lloyd.
Gary has lived in town for nearly five years, but says she hopes to move back to Maryland where her two young daughters are currently located.
“I want out of Charlottesville,” she says. “I could fight harder and stronger if I weren’t here.”
To help her raise enough money to relocate, a friend of Gary’s has started a donations campaign called Get Ronna Safe on youcaring.com, a lesser-known crowdfunding site.
Gary encourages victims who feel like they don’t have anyone to confide in to reach her through the website.
“I’m proud of every woman who has come out,” she says about the #MeToo movement. “There’s safety in numbers.”
She adds, “I can honestly say I see why women don’t. You’re treated like hell.”