A prominent Tower District real estate agent is facing a misdemeanor sexual battery charge from an incident at a gay nightclub in early February.
Fresno County District Attorney's Office filed charges against Tom DeBey, 49, earlier this month after a Fresno Police Department investigation. DeBey has not entered a plea and is scheduled to be arraigned in June.
The alleged incident occurred Feb. 9 at FAB, a gay nightclub on Olive Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Fresno's Tower District. Jessica D. Thomas, a 31-year-old artist and performer who lives and works in the Tower District, told police DeBey grabbed her hair and yanked her back as he rubbed his groin on her.
The Bee typically doesn't identify victims of crimes that are sexual in nature, but Thomas agreed to be identified for this story in an effort to raise awareness of sex crimes.
DeBey declined to comment for this story. His attorney, Gregory Fox, did not return phone messages left by The Bee.
DeBey bills himself as "Tower Tom" for his real estate business. His Facebook page says he works at the Landmark office on Olive Avenue, in the heart of the Tower District..
He received his real estate license in 2005, according to the state's real estate bureau.
In his bio on his website, DeBey describes himself as being "honest, trustworthy, and knowledgeable in the real estate market."
Reviewers on his website mostly give him five stars and note his ability to sell their properties quickly, saying he knows the Tower District "like the back of his hand."
Thomas recounted her experience to The Bee in a phone interview and multiple written messages through social media.
Thomas arrived at FAB early on Feb. 9, a Friday night. She visited with a friend while sitting on a bar stool on the patio as the club filled with patrons.
Within the next couple hours, DeBey arrived at the club with his partner and another friend. Though Thomas had never formally met DeBey, she knew who he was, she said.
DeBey's Facebook page showed that on the night of Feb. 9 he also was at Lucy's Lounge celebrating a friend's business success. The post has been taken down, and it appears DeBey deactivated his Facebook account.
Thomas said she and her friends noticed DeBey and his partner already were "completely inebriated" at FAB to the point they could hardly stand and were bumping into tables. They continued ordering drinks from the bar.
As Thomas visited with her friend on the patio, DeBey approached her from behind and grabbed her by her hair, yanking her head back. While holding Thomas by the hair, DeBey began grinding his pelvis on her backside. Thomas was yanked back so hard she couldn't scream. She flailed her arms behind her to hit DeBey, knocking his drink from his hand, she said.
When DeBey released Thomas, he apologized. “After he was pushed off of me, he aggressively got in my face and said ‘I’m sorry! Accept my apology!’” Thomas said. “I threatened to punch him in the face.”
Thomas reported the incident to police the following Monday.
Police confirmed Thomas’ account of the incident was accurate and obtained surveillance footage from the nightclub as evidence, said Sgt. Israel Reyes, who works with the Fresno Police Department's sexual assault unit.
Police said DeBey declined to be interviewed and referred investigators to his attorney. After a warrant for his arrest was issued, DeBey posted $1,000 bail at the courthouse in lieu of being arrested.
The night of the incident, Thomas took to Facebook to express her hurt and outrage, directly addressing DeBey. That Facebook post also has been taken down.
Thomas, who is bisexual, said DeBey's actions violated a "safe space" for the LGBT community.
"Shame on you for ruining the safe space that is supposed to be here for women and those of us in the LGBT Community."
Thomas told The Bee the incident was unfortunate because people in the LGBT community already fight stereotypes and stigmas.
"I just wanted to go hang out with my friends after work one day, and then I got assaulted by a gay guy — which is the craziest thing to say as a woman," she said. "These gay guys think they have some type of entitled view of a woman’s body because they’re gay. It's appalling behavior. It's a bigger shame for me because we’re trying to fight that view that the gay community is just a bunch of drunken perverts. We’re trying to police this."
One of FAB's owners, Terry Story, said DeBey was escorted out of the club by security and is not allowed to return.
"We try to create an environment where people feel safe, and that type of behavior is not acceptable at all," Story said.
Story said he's seen DeBey intoxicated many times, even outside a bar setting. But Story has never seen DeBey assault someone.
"I can't say there's been a history of this kind of behavior," Story said. "I can say I've seen him in locations where he’s been very intoxicated and he acts very stupid, but I'm not trying to judge .… When he gets overly intoxicated, he’s a mess."
Other bartenders in the Tower District defended DeBey, saying he's friendly and never violent.
Amber Grubb, who works at Piemonte's Deli and bartends at Detention Billiards a couple days a week, has known DeBey for about seven years as someone who is a frequent customer at multiple places in the Tower District. She was "shocked" to hear the allegation against him.
Grubb described DeBey as "gregarious, loud, boisterous," but said "I don't feel he has a malicious bone in his body."
"It shocks me to hear he would put his hands on somebody," she said.
Amanda Langston, a bartender at Lucy's Lounge, agreed. She said DeBey often goes to Lucy's with girlfriends and their children.
"Everybody knows him as a happy, go-lucky guy," she said.