There is no dispute that Cuba Township Highway Commissioner Thomas Gooch put his hand on a female employee's hair on March 11.
The message Gooch was trying to convey with that action is hotly contested, though, and has landed him on trial for misdemeanor battery in Lake County Circuit Court.
Debra Broderick, the former intergovernmental liaison for the highway department, testified Monday that Gooch was angry with her and yanked her hair so hard he pulled the earring out of her left ear.
Ann Baker, the office's administrative assistant, testified that Gooch often tugged on her hair as well as Broderick's but only in the friendliest of manners.
Broderick said she was in her office at the township center near Lake Barrington when Gooch walked in and made personal inquires.
"He said 'I am tired of you lying to me about what you are doing on the weekends, and why aren't you wearing the ring I gave you,'" Broderick said. "I said 'You don't own me and you don't control me,' and got up to leave for the day."
Broderick testified that as she grabbed her purse and walked out of her office, Gooch reached out and pulled the hair on the left side of her head and knocked out the hoop earring she was wearing.
Broderick said Gooch was also upset that her son, who worked part-time for the highway department, had not shown up for work that day and did not call him to say he was not coming to work.
Broderick said the incident with her hair left her too upset to drive away from the offices and, after she called some relatives to ask them to pick her up, she called 911 to report the event.
Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Amber testified he arrived and found Broderick upset when he originally spoke to her, but that she was even more so when he returned to report what Gooch and Baker had told him about the event.
"She had initially said she wanted the incident documented and did not want Tom arrested," Amber said. "However, the second time I spoke with her, she said he was a bully and needed to be taught a lesson."
Daily Herald reporter Eric Peterson testified he spoke with Gooch about the event on March 21 or March 22 and Gooch took issue with the allegations in the police report Peterson had.
"He said the tug on the hair had been done in a playful way," Peterson said. "It was a nonverbal signal between the two parties that an argument was over."
Baker testified that from her desk near the center of the office she was able to see everything that happened between Broderick and Gooch as Broderick was leaving the office.
She said Gooch was standing on Broderick's right side as she walked out, and that Broderick bent over and picked up something as she walked toward the door.
She did not see Gooch touch Broderick's hair, Baker said, but understood the gesture as nonhostile behavior by Gooch.
Assistant State's Attorney Caryn Barone told Circuit Judge Mark Levitt in her opening statement that he should convict Gooch of battery because the action was "insulting and provoking" and caused Broderick to feel pain.
Defense attorney Albert Wyscoki countered that the evidence was clear Gooch's actions were innocent in nature and free of criminal intent.
Gooch faces up to a year in jail if convicted, but would also be eligible for probation or court supervision.
The trial is set to resume Nov. 3.