Local businessman faces criminal charges, civil suit
A prominent Newberg businessman has been accused of behavior not unlike that of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul that gave cause for women across the nation to rise up against their abusers.
Benjamin Stephen Jaquith, a former agent for American Family Insurance and the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce's 2017 Business Person of the Year, was arrested Jan. 26 after allegations were leveled by a group of local women.
The 38-year-old Newberg resident was arraigned Friday on six counts of third-degree sexual abuse. He was detained for a short time in the Yamhill County jail following his January arrest on the Class A misdemeanor, but posted security on the $30,000 bail and remains free in anticipation of trial. A plea hearing is set for March 15 in Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge Ladd Wiles' courtroom. Jaquith has retained McMinnville attorney Eric Hanson as counsel; the case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Harmon.
Attempts to gain comment from Jaquith were unsuccessful as of press time Tuesday morning.
According to a press release from the Newberg-Dundee Police Department, five women came forward to report unwanted sexual contact by Jaquith over a two-year period at four venues and a variety of events, some social and others professional.
"During this investigation detectives were able to obtain corroborating evidence in the case and to support the charges," the release said.
The instances of alleged abuse began in August 2015 and continued through February 2017. In a probable cause affidavit filed prior to Jaquith's arrest, NDPD Detective Todd Baltzell listed multiple instances where the women alleged that Jaquith initiated unwanted sexual contact with them.
"An adult female reported in August of 2015 (that) Ben Jaquith had unwanted sexual contact with her while she walked him home from a bar to ensure he made it home safely. She reported he grabbed her by her buttocks with one hand and by the hair with the other hand and pulled her into him, forcing a kiss against her will," the affidavit recounted, adding that Jaquith later appeared contrite. "The female showed me a message to her from him apologizing for his behavior, blaming his drinking and promised this would never happen again."
The affidavit lists six other instances of similar alleged behavior, all followed by calls or texts from Jaquith the following day, apologizing and promising it would never happen again.
According to state statutes, third-degree sexual abuse is committed when a "person subjects another person to sexual contact and the victim does not consent to the sexual contact … for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the person or another person …"
Jaquith's arrest shocked the business community in Newberg as he was deeply involved in city affairs. He was involved in Rotary, the Newberg Downtown Coalition, Young Professionals of Yamhill County and was co-chairman of the Newberg Downtown Improvement Plan advisory committee. He can often be seen at his business' booth at Tunes on Tuesday, crafting balloon animals for children. He lives in Newberg, is married and has three children.
Victim files civil complaint
One of the five women that came forward last month to accuse Jaquith of inappropriate sexual advances has filed a civil suit in Yamhill County Circuit Court.
The woman (the Newberg Graphic does not identify victims in stories), filed suit Feb. 1 claiming battery, assault, negligent infliction of emotional distress and defamation. The suit seeks upwards of $750,000 in economic and non-economic damages.
"Plaintiff … brings this civil action and complaint for damages against defendant Benjamin Stephen Jaquith to redress the violation of her person and the harm to her reputation caused by defendant after he subjected plaintiff to unexpected, uninvited and unconsented sexual touching and kissing in her own business, and then retaliated against her opposition and lack of submission to his adulterous sexual desires by branding her a liar and slandering her in the community, despite knowing that closed-circuit television evidence shows his unwanted sexual touching and kissing."
The suit alleges that at a Feb. 1, 2017, wine event at a business in Newberg, Jaquith made numerous sexual advances on the plaintiff, sometimes before other attendees, despite her attempts to deflect him.
"Defendant was persistent and undeterred, despite having a wife and three children whom he had left for the evening while he sexually harassed a married woman …," the suit states, adding that the woman contacted the NDPD to press criminal charges.
The suit further alleges that Jaquith mounted a campaign to brand the woman as a liar for falsely accusing him of sexual harassment.
The suit seeks $200,000 in non-economic damages for battery and $100,000 for assault, or $300,000 for negligent infliction of emotional distress; $250,000 in economic, general and special damages and $200,000 in non-economic damages for defamation; as well as various court and attorney fees.