ORLANDO, Fla. — A 13-year-old girl testified Monday that a Walt Disney World worker dressed as the beloved character Tigger fondled her breast while she posed for a photo with him and her mother.
“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say,” the girl said during the first day of Michael Chartrand’s trial on battery and lewd and lascivious molestation charges.
Earlier Monday, Chartrand, 36, rejected a plea deal that would have spared him prison time if convicted.
Prosecutor William Jay offered Chartrand one year of probation and 50 hours of community service if he accepted the plea agreement for misdemeanor battery. Under the terms, Chartrand also would have been banned from theme parks and required to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.
“He didn’t do it,” said Jeffrey Kaufman, Chartrand’s attorney. “We’re going to fight it.”
Chartrand now could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Chartrand, suspended without pay, was accused of touching the girl’s breast while he posed for a picture with her and her mother last February at Mickey’s Toon Town in the Magic Kingdom. After his arrest in April, other women filed complaints alleging similar conduct.
‘Knew where his paws were’
During opening statements, Jay described Chartrand as “as 36-year-old man who abused his Walt Disney World job to steal the innocence of a child.” The prosecutor also disputed claims that Chartrand didn’t know where he was placing his hands because of the bulkiness of the costume’s paws.
“This defendant knew where his paws were,” Jay said.
The Tigger costume will be shown to jurors on Tuesday, and they will be allowed to try it on in the jury room during deliberations.
Kaufman tried to raise doubts about the girl’s credibility. He told jurors that the girl switched stories about the number of times she was groped and the order in which photos were taken of her with Tigger, a character from the “Winnie the Pooh” books and Disney movies.
Accuser’s motives questioned
The defense attorney also suggested that the girl and her mother were pursuing the criminal case to help in any civil case they filed against Disney.
Kaufman said he expected jurors to handle the Tigger costume so they can see how difficult it would be to grope somebody inside the bulky outfit.
Before the trial started, a Disney lawyer had suggested that the orange Tigger costume be dyed black or white and its ears removed if it is introduced as evidence at the trial. But prosecutor said Monday that the jury would see the costume Tuesday as it’s seen at the park.
The judge agreed to let the jury see 20 pictures that Chartrand turned over to detectives of himself, dressed as Tigger, posing with Disney World visitors. Kaufman objected, saying “a lot of those pictures aren’t of my client.” But Jay said the images would help refute likely defense arguments that the touching was accidental.