Strip-Search Case Victim Awarded $6.1 Million

Verdict reached in civil suit of woman humiliated during her workday.

ByABC News

Oct. 5, 2006 — -- It was the shocking story — and unbelievable surveillance video — that riveted the nation. Today a jury in Bullitt County, Ky., awarded Louise Ogborn $5 million in punitive damages and $1.1 million in compensatory damages and expenses.

In 2004, Ogborn, then an 18-year-old McDonald's employee, was humiliated and forced to strip and then perform a sexual act in the back office during her workday.

This horrifying ordeal changed Ogborn's life forever and put McDonald's on trial for its alleged failure to warn employees that a hoax caller was on the loose. Ogborn was seeking $200 million in damages in the closely watched civil trial that concluded today.

Watch the story tonight on "20/20" at 10 p.m. EDT.

Ogborn was always willing to take on extra shifts at McDonald's in Mount Washington, Ky. Ogborn's mother had health problems and had recently lost her job, so the 18-year-old did whatever she could to help make ends meet.

On April 9, 2004, Ogborn offered to work through the restaurant's evening rush, trying to be helpful and make a few extra dollars.

"I was just going to eat and then clock back in and help until somebody else came along that could help," she said.

But Ogborn couldn't have known that her noble gesture would turn into a terrifying ordeal that she says will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Ogborn was called into assistant manager Donna Summers' cramped office and told that Summers was on the telephone with a police officer.

"She said, 'Here she is. This is the girl you described,'" said Ogborn. "She told me to shut the door."

Summers told Ogborn that the officer on the phone had their store manager on the other line and that he had described her and accused her of stealing a purse from a customer.

"I was like, 'Donna, I've never done anything wrong,'" Ogborn said. "I could never steal — I could never do anything like that. I don't have it in me."

But inside the back office, which had now become an "interrogation room," Ogborn's protests fell on deaf ears.

"She said, 'Well, they said it was a little girl that looked like you in a McDonald's uniform, so it had to be you.'"

It was Ogborn's word against the accusation of a man claiming to be a cop, and she was given a choice: submit to a search or be escorted to the police station.

Ogborn was told to empty her pockets and surrender her car keys and cell phone, which she did. Then the caller demanded that Summers have Ogborn remove her clothes — even her underwear — leaving her with just a small, dirty apron to cover her naked body.

Summers says she never second-guessed what she was being asked to do, as she firmly believed the person she was talking to was a police officer. Ogborn says she trusted her manager to do what was right.

Because it was a busy Friday night, Summers had to leave the office to check on the restaurant. The man on the phone demanded that another employee be left to watch Ogborn until the police arrived and Summers chose 27-year-old Jason Bradley.

"He [Bradley] takes the phone and they're telling him to have me do certain things and drop the apron," she said. "He wouldn't have any part of it."

Bradley walked out in disgust, leaving Summers with no one to watch Ogborn. Then the caller made an odd request, asking Summers to call her fiancé to have him watch the girl.

Summers says she did as she was told.

"I honestly thought he was a police officer and what I was doing was the right thing," Summers said. "I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing."

Surveillance video shows Ogborn broke down in tears.

Within 15 minutes, Summers' fiancé, Walter Nix, entered the office where Ogborn tugged at the small apron that barely covered her top and exposed her legs up to her buttocks.

Again, Summers says she didn't question the caller and completely trusted her fiancé to be left alone with the girl.

Ogborn says she wanted to run, but that it would have been too humiliating to run through the restaurant naked.

Nix, a 43-year-old exterminator, began following the caller's commands, ordering Ogborn to drop her apron, bend over and stand on a chair.

Then — as ridiculous as it sounds — he told her to do jumping jacks to shake loose anything she might be hiding. Ogborn says that was just the beginning of two more hours of torment.

The demands became more and more bizarre. When Ogborn says that when she failed to address Nix as "sir," the caller tells him to hit her violently on the buttocks over and over. At one point on the video, Ogborn was "spanked" for almost 10 full minutes.

"He told me I was asking too many questions, so he was told to hit me," she said. "I just said, 'Please don't do this.'"

By the end, red welts could be seen on the woman's body.

During it all, Summers periodically came back to the office, and each time, Nix threw the apron at Ogborn, telling her to stay quiet.

"I begged her every time she came in the room," Ogborn said. "'Get me out of here. Please get me out of here."

Ogborn says she even asked the assistant manager to call the police, but each time, she says, Summers told her, "No, we're still waiting for the cop."

Summers denies Ogborn ever asked her to call the police or that the girl pleaded with her.

Ogborn says that after more than three hours of dehumanizing treatment, Nix — again on the instructions of the caller — forced Ogborn to perform a sexual act.

The caller then told Nix to hand the phone back to Summers and instructed her to bring in someone else.

This time, she had Thomas Simms, a 58-year-old maintenance man who worked at the restaurant, get on the phone with the caller, but Simms refused to comply with the caller's strange demands.

"Tom told me, 'This man is asking … for her to drop her apron so I can see her without the apron,'" she recalled. "And I said, 'Do what?'"

Summers frantically called her manager, Lisa Siddons, who the caller claimed had been on the other line all along. But when Siddons answered her phone, she said she'd been sleeping.

It was then that Summers realized she'd been had.

When Mount Washington Police Detective Buddy Stump arrived at the restaurant, he had Nix arrested and began the process of trying to figure out who the caller was.

"The first thing I thought about was … this has got to be somebody on a pay phone," he said. "Maybe over [at] Winn Dixie and they're getting their jollies off at watching all the action and the police roll in."

But thanks to an Internet search by his chief of police, Stump discovered that calls like this have been going on for more than 10 years. Ogborn, it turns out, was only the latest in a long line of victims.

After a McDonald's employee used the "*69" feature to get a telephone number for the caller, Stump learned the call had been made from a supermarket pay phone — in Panama City, Fla.

Stump discovered that the call was made with an AT&T calling card and, upon learning that the biggest seller of those cards in Panama City is Wal-Mart, he contacted local police for help.

It turned out that the Panama City Police Department had received several calls about investigations in multiple states for similar incidents.

At a McDonald's in Hinesville, Ga., a caller convinced a 55-year-old janitor to do a cavity search of a 19-year-old cashier, while in Fargo, N.D., a manager at a local Burger King strip-searched a 17-year-old female employee.

In Phoenix, a caller had a Taco Bell manager pick out a customer and then strip-search her. And police in Massachusetts had been looking for a man who called three Wendy's restaurants near Boston in a single day.

Stump was put in touch with Vic Flaherty, a detective in West Bridgewater, Mass., investigating the Wendy's calls.

Flaherty told Stump he had traced the card's purchase to the exact time the caller bought it, but as luck would have it, the security cameras were pointed toward the front doors — not the registers — and didn't capture the sale.

The detectives caught a break when they say they discovered the calling card used in the Kentucky incident was purchased at a different Wal-Mart than the one in the Massachusetts case. This time, the cameras in the store were trained on the cash registers.

"We can see the card go across the scanner — we see everything," said Flaherty. "But now we see an individual. We don't know who that is."

When detectives go back to the first surveillance tape to try and match up the face, they say they believe it is the same man and notice something else — he's wearing a uniform.

The uniform is that of CCA — Corrections Corporation of America — a private prison company that runs a jail in Panama City. The warden identified the man in the video as one of his prison guards — 38-year-old David Stewart.

According to police, a search of Stewart's trailer revealed guns, police paraphernalia and training manuals. Police also discovered that Stewart had attended a local police academy and even volunteered as a deputy with a small police department in western Florida.

"It's like a sigh of relief," Flaherty said. "It's been a long time, now you actually have a name to a face."

Stewart was extradited to Kentucky and charged with solicitation of sodomy and impersonating a police officer, and pleaded not guilty.

Clinical psychologist Jeff Gardere says the caller's actions were likely a way to feed a God-like complex by manipulating his victims emotionally, physically and sexually. He calls it "virtual voyeurism."

Gardere goes on to say that it was no accident that the caller was targeting fast food restaurants.

"Everything is by the book," he explained. "This is how you serve it. This is exactly how you do it. You follow the book — you're OK. I believe he picked fast food restaurants because he knew, once you got them away from that book, once it was something outside the manual or the procedures, they would be lost."

Nix was sentenced in March, 2006 to five years in prison. He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and unlawful imprisonment. Nix testified that he thought he was following an officer's orders.

Donna Summers was fired after the incident. She was charged with unlawful imprisonment, and was sentenced to probation after entering an Alford plea — a type of guilty plea in which a person does not admit guilt, but acknowledges the evidence is sufficient for a conviction. She broke off her engagement to Nix after viewing the surveillance tapes. Summers also sued McDonald's and was awarded $1 million in punitive damages and $100,000 in compensatory damages.

In a statement, McDonald's said, "We take this matter very seriously and through our training try very hard to warn employees about such schemes."

McDonald's training manual does include a section that cautions employees that "no legitimate law enforcement agency would ever ask you to conduct such a search."

But none of the employees ABC News spoke with at the Mount Washington, Ky., McDonald's say they recall seeing the warning.

Before the civil case being decided this week, there was a criminal trial in the fall of 2006. David Stewart was accused of masterminding the bizarre and elaborate hoax and faced a possible 15 years in prison on charges ranging from solicitation of sodomy, to impersonating a police officer. Stewart sat impassively in the courtroom as witnesses recounted the events of that fateful night in April 2004.

The jury then witnessed firsthand the ordeal that Ogborn had gone through as they silently watched the surveillance video. Throughout the trial, defense attorney Steve Romines maintained that police had caught the wrong man, that his client was "the fall guy."

When pressed, during an interview with ABC News, on the issue that there was video of Stewart buying the calling card at a Wal-Mart, Romines replied: "That's the key question, was it him?"

Romines also noted that even if one were to find that it was Stewart who had bought the phone cards, it did not prove that it was he who had made the calls to the fast food establishments.

Then a bombshell in the courtroom: Detectives testified that they had recovered a calling card from Stewart's home that they say had been used to call a Burger King in Idaho — the same restaurant at which a female manager received a call instructing her to strip-search a male employee.

That call had been made nearly a year before the call to the McDonald's in Kentucky. Again, Romines argued that this did not prove that he'd made the calls.

In the end, there apparently wasn't enough evidence to convince the jury. After two hours of deliberations, Stewart was found not guilty on all charges.

One thing to consider: Since Stewart's arrest in June 2004, there have been no reported hoax calls to fast food restaurants.

Deliberations began yesterday in the closely watched civil case, after 18 days of testimony. The jury was asked to determine whether McDonald's was responsible for the hoax that victimized Louise Ogborn. If they found McDonald's to be responsible, they were then determine how much of the $200 million Ogborn's lawyers asked for should be awarded in damages.

Ogborn and her lawyers maintained that McDonald's failed to warn their employees about the hoax, even though the caller had successfully pulled off the same scam at dozens of its other franchises across the country.

Although the facts were not being disputed and witnesses testified that Ogborn initially suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after the horrific event, the company maintained that it was a series of mistakes and poor judgment by the restaurant's manager and her assistants that led to the incident.

Lawyers for McDonald's tried to convince the jury that if the company's employees had taken note of written policies and a voice mail message sent to the franchise, the workers should have realized it was a hoax.

However, manager Lisa Siddons testified that she had forgotten to mention the voice mail message to her assistant managers because it was vaguely worded and she didn't think it was important.

In one of the most explosive moments from the trial, a psychologist hired by McDonald's testified that Ogborn had "grown in some way" from the horrific incident. Forensic psychologist Alan Friedman, who was paid more than $50,000 by the fast food company, acknowledged that Ogden experienced post-traumatic stress, but asserted that she has grown from the experience and is more assertive and self-reliant than she was before the 3½-hour humiliating ordeal.

Friedman reportedly stated that after interviewing Ogborn and performing a number of tests on her, "It's not the ideal way to come to new growth, but some people grow through their trauma."

When Ogborn's co-counsel asked Friedman if he thought the event would affect Ogborn for the rest of her life, he said, "She will never forget it, but it won't psychologically affect her for the rest of her life."

Before closing arguments, the judge told the jury that it may return punitive damages against McDonald's Corp. if it acted "in reckless disregard for the safety, security and well-being of others, including Ogborn."

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