This story is part of IowaWatch’s ongoing coverage of the trial of Toshiki Itoh, a University of Iowa Professor, who is accused of abusing his lab assistant. Click below to read earlier coverage.
Using graphic details and demonstrating slaps with her hands and arms, a UI lab assistant testified Wednesday that Assistant Professor Toshiki Itoh repeatedly punched her in the face and sometimes twisted her breast until it bled.
Testifying in broken English, she said the University of Iowa faculty member would beat her if she refused to let him touch them.
“It was very painful,” the woman said. In one incident, she said he ordered her to get on her hands and knees and then he touched her genitals and breasts.
The witness, a Japanese national, who holds a doctoral degree, said that she was in the U.S. on a visa that required her to work and that she feared she would get fired if she complained.
As she spoke calmly for more than two hours, Itoh, 47, sat next to his lawyer, his jaws often clenched, occasionally leaning forward in his chair over a yellow legal pad, rapidly taking down notes.
He looked straight at her from the defense table when prosecuting attorney Elizabeth Beglin asked the witness if her assailant was in the courtroom.
She pointed at the defense table. He is the man wearing a black suit and glasses, she said.
Itoh is standing trial in Johnson County District Court facing one count of sexual abuse and two counts of assault causing bodily injury that allegedly occurred on several different occasions between Jan. 1, 2007, and July 10, 2008. He has pleaded not guilty. Itoh has been on a paid administrative leave with a salary of $93,000 since his arrest. Itoh was arrested about two weeks after the lab assistant called campus police from a lab in the pathology department where she and Itoh worked.
Although Wednesday’s proceedings included audio and video recordings of Itoh appearing to admit to police that he hit her and once broke her glasses, the lab assistant’s testimony was the most riveting of the day.
Her testimony was a story of working long hours, including weekends, of having no social life and of a tense and often volatile relationship with Itoh. She said he was constantly yelling at her and threatening to fire her, leaving her in constant fear that if she complained, the university would take his side and dismiss her. That is why, she testified, that she bore the attacks in silence.
“Sometimes he slap,” she said, referring to Itoh. “Sometimes he hit my face. Sometimes he kick me.”
The immediate events leading up to Itoh’s arrest in 2008 started on July 8.
On that day, she said, Itoh struck her in the face after she reported the misuse of a lab microscope by a fellow employee.
“You are not a good employee; you have no right to criticize,” he said, just before striking her, according to the testimony. He then punched her in the face several times, and when she raised her hands to try to protect her face, he managed to break her glasses.
“He used fist, not open hand,” she said.
The final episode that prompted her call to police occurred two days later.
The lab assistant arrived at work on July 10 and began work on an experiment, she testified. Itoh arrived at the lab later, and began to hit her with his closed hand.
“Your attitude is ridiculous,” he said, according to the lab assistant.
She left Itoh’s lab and fled to another, where she called the UI police on a non-emergency number.
“I didn’t want to disturb anyone,” she said.
Up to this point, she had not told anyone about the attacks. She testified that she didn’t want to put her friends in a difficult situation and she was concerned at how her family would react to the news.
The lab assistant is working in the states on a three-year work visa. According to the lab assistant, the visa requires that she remain employed in a specific professional field during the duration of her stay in the states.
So when Beglin asked the lab assistant why she didn’t contact the university sooner, she replied, “I chose police, because I didn’t trust the university.”
She went on to say that the university invests a lot of money in professors and she was worried that she would lose her job.
“University doesn’t want to fire the professor,” she said. “University wants to fire the employee. Even now I don’t want to report to the university.”
UI Media Relations Director Tom Moore declined to respond to her comment when contacted by IowaWatch.
Earlier in the proceedings Wednesday, UI detectives Brian Meyer and Terry Bringman interviewed Itoh for 55 minutes and recorded the conversation.
“He admitted to hitting her several times, breaking her glasses,” Bringman, said referring to the July 8 incident. “He demonstrated whacking her. Hitting her. I believe at one point he threw her into a wall.”
The trial will continue today. There has been no indication whether Itoh will testify in his own defense.
(Mike Anderson is a senior journalism student at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a second major in philosophy and a minor in English).