Silicon Valley CEO Pleads ‘No Contest’ to Abusing His Wife—and Is Offered a Deal for Less Than 30 Days in Jail
A deal was struck, and the judge had left for vacation, before the victim had her say in the same courthouse where Brock Turner was given a six-month sentence.
At Apple, Neha Rastogi worked on everything from Siri to FaceTime to Maps, sometimes seated beside Steve Jobs himself.
She is clearly brilliant and dedicated as well as passionate about the happy interface between technology and the public. Nobody could have foreseen that she would someday be compelled to employ an iPhone to record harrowing moments of what she says was a pattern of domestic abuse during virtually her entire 10-year marriage to a man who is now CEO of a Silicon Valley startup.
Without the recordings, it would have been just another case of “he said, she said,” as her husband, Abhishek Gattani, faced his second felony domestic violence charge in Santa Clara Superior Court in fabled Palo Alto.
Instead, it was “he said, she-and-her-iPhone said.”
The video that Rastogi made on May 17, 2016, of 5 minutes and 58 seconds of her life with Abhishek Gattani offers no dramatic images like the elevator surveillance footage of Ray Rice knocking out his girlfriend with a single devastating punch.
Visually, this footage is so uneventful you might think that somebody had mistakenly left their phone in video-record mode in their pocket.
But that makes the audio all the more disturbing, most particularly when you begin to hear the repeated thwacks in the presence of their then 2-year-old daughter.
If you know what is to follow, Gattani’s intent seems clear in his tone and words even before the hitting starts. His voice is not raging, not even raised, but quietly ominous, controlled, and controlling.
As the video starts, the two have been discussing a website that had been garnering numerous clicks but now was getting only a few. Rastogi seems to have suggested that the problem is a software bug. Gattani presses her as a teacher might to define a bug in computer terms. But what he really seems to be seeking to teach her is submission.
“We are talking about a bug, what is a bug... NEHA... Rastogi?” he asks on the video. “You are a QA [quality assurance] person, right? This is amazing. I am having fun today actually. Let’s talk about what-- is-- a-- bug?”
“Let’s say you—” she begins.
“No, no, no,” he says. “When did I say that’s a bug? We talked about bugs right? Is it getting very difficult for you to focus? You really do need help. You need me to take another step and come to you. You need help?”
He appears to have his own idea of help and of making her focus.
“Let’s—you know what, here’s the thing, it’s all in your hand,” he continues.
He appears to be telling her that she is to blame for whatever happens to her.
“You don’t want to get beaten up?” he asks. “Then control yourself.”
He appears also to be telling her to rein in the very fear and hurt he is instilling in her; she better not cry or he will give her all the more reason to do so.
“If you didn’t want that police report and incarceration you should have gotten yourself and your senses back to track,” he goes on.
He was referring to a domestic violence incident shortly before noon on Nov. 30, 2013, when Gattani apparently did fly into a rage during an argument about what to pack for a trip with their then 3-month-old baby to their native India the next day. A postal worker called the police to report that a woman was being assaulted in the street outside the couple’s home in Sunnyvale, California. The responding officer would report that when he arrived, witnesses said that Gattani had been “pushing and pulling [Rastogi] along the sidewalk while punching her with a closed fist in the side and back multiple times.” The subsequent police report notes that Gattani told the officer, “He was holding [Rastogi’s] hand when they were walking the neighborhood, he denied that he ever got violent or physical.”
Gattani was charged with felony assault, which was later reduced to a misdemeanor at Rastogi’s urging in a time when she still hoped to keep her family whole and could still feel some sympathy for him despite his behavior. He seems on the video that she is now surreptitiously recording three years later to have taken the position that the earlier incident was her fault because she had not managed to remain calm and focused while he was beating her.
“Am I not right? Yes or no?” Gattani can then be heard saying on the video. “Despite that incident you are still not able to control yourself. OK. You still aren’t—right? This shows me that you need good motivation to do that.”
Motivation in his lexicon seems to be more physical abuse.
“It’s my failure that I have not been able to provide that to you,” he says.
He then returns to the ostensible subject of the present grilling.
“What is a bug?” he asks. “Come on, bitch! What is a bug?”
“A bug is when-- a-- you know when the-- when something doesn’t behave as per intended.” she replies.
He asks how the glitch they have been discussing could be described as a bug. She seeks to answer. He remains unsatisfied.
“No, no, no. I asked you how is that a bug?” he demands.
She again tries to answer.
“No, no you bitch,” he says. “I have a very very specific question, you please, you keep answering complicated questions OK.”
He accuses her of accusing him of being critical. She seems to remain conciliatory, telling him that she is trying to answer honestly and asking his advice.
“So-- I a-- a-- a-- I am just asking what do you think is your understanding that a product manager would go ahead and do at this point,” she says.
“Abhishek, please don’t hit me more,” she says. “I-- I am just trying to be more critical over here. I am just trying to question this-- Please don’t do this, please don’t do this. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this.”
She is crying now, but a skeptic inclined to give the “he” the benefit of the doubt in a “he said, she said” might note that she knows she is recording the exchange and might be playing things up.
He then poses a hypothetical: “OK, here is a link that seems to be landing to a page, which takes you to this content. Would you…”
But then comes the first thwak.
“… keep that link, or would you remove it? Tell me…”
Then comes a second thwak.
“… Keep that link or remove it?”
Rastogi continues crying.
“Remove it,” she says.
“So did you get your answer of what you would do?” he asks.
A third thwack can be heard.
“Your users come to the app, they login, right?” he asks.
“Yeah, no this is a bug I will act on,” she says.
She seems ready to say whatever he wants her to say. Two more thwacks come as he describes a scenario where the user is diverted from a desired page to a generic or empty page.
“What would you do?” he asks.
“I would fix it,” she says.
“You will fix it Na’?” he asks. “Is that a bug? Is it actionable?”
Then comes a seventh thwack.
“Is that something you will fix?” he demands. “Is that something you will operate on?
By her account, he is again pulling her hair with both hands, causing her to cry out in apparent pain. There is an eighth thwack. He asks why she asked him about the glitch in the first place.
“You love being critical right?” he asks. “Because right now it is all about being critical? Yeah?”
There is a ninth thwak. She sobs.
“Yeah, you are right,” she says.
“How come I am right?” he inquiries. “Why, why did it, why come this? Why does this this this thing take so—you spent an enormous number of time debating.”
She would later be asked by a Sunnyvale police officer whether she considered getting away from her husband when he was assaulting her.
“The victim told me she did not think she could leave,” the officer would write in a report. “In the past if she did anything other than take the assault it made her husband angrier, and the assault was worse. She added that he had already assaulted her that evening, and this was the second assault. She clarified the suspect used both hands to hit her on both sides. Initially his left hand held her right ear, but then he switched to striking her with his left hand.”
By the time of that report, Rastogi had taken the video and other evidence she had gathered with her iPhone to the police. Her 38-year-old husband was arrested and ended up pleading no contest. The device she helped refine seemed to have become an instrument of justice.
But to 36-year-old Rastogi’s dismay, the top charge against Abhishek was reduced from felony assault to felony accessory after the fact, with an accompanying misdemeanor of “offensive touching.”
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney Steve Fein, described the plea deal to The Daily Beast as a fair outcome, noting that accessory after the fact is also a felony, though not a violent one that would place Gattani at risk of being deported back to his native India. Fein indicated that his boss, Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, seeks to avoid such deportations. Fein noted that the plea calls for a six-month jail term, though only 30 days of actual incarceration, with the balance served in the weekend-work program, doing manual labor for eight-hour shifts but otherwise at liberty. Fein maintained that Rastogi offered no objection when he provided her with the details of the deal.
“She seemed fine with it,” Fein said.
Rastogi insists she was never even close to fine with it and became less so having learned that Gattani would likely serve not even half of the 30 days in jail and could have the felony expunged from his record if he successfully completed three years of probation and the other terms of the plea.
Indeed, the overall deal is so lenient as to call into question how seriously the criminal justice system took a case where the physical injury was not as catastrophic as that suffered by some victims, but the long-term effect as told by Rastogi amounts to an excruciatingly intimate domestic terror.
Rastogi—who is presently separated and in the process of a divorce from Gattani—made her feelings dramatically clear in a four-page victim impact statement that she read aloud in court on Thursday at what was supposed to have been the sentencing. She declared herself doubly victimized by her husband and by the criminal justice system. She wondered aloud how someone arrested for a crime could be charged with being accessory after the fact without being charged with the crime itself, even though he was the only possible perpetrator. She also made it known that she is offended by the charge of offensive touching.
“‘Misdemeanor—offensive touching’? I didn’t even need to look this one up, as it made me laugh when then I realized that I was laughing at myself, I was the joke here,” she said in her statement. “‘Offensive touching!!!’ Please explain me is it offensive touching when a 8 month pregnant woman is beaten and then forced to stand for the entire night by her husband, is it offensive touching when a mother nursing her 6 day old child is slapped on her face by her husband because he thinks she is not latching properly with the child, is it offensive touching when a women is flung to the floor and repetitively kicked in her belly, is it offensive touching when a woman is slapped 9 times by her husband until she agrees to everything he is saying and then gets hit again for not agreeing with it sooner…?”
She went on, “Offensive touching—I call it terrorism…”
She added, “That’s how I felt—terrorized and controlled, held hostage by the fear of pain, humiliation and assault on my being and my daughter’s.”
The judge who presided over the case, Allison Marston Danner, had apparently decided that the victim-impact statement would have so little impact on the outcome that she had scheduled the sentencing for a day when she was on vacation.
But the pro-tem judge who filled in for her, Rodney Stafford, was clearly moved by Rastogi’s plea for actual justice—an appeal that was adamant, but also as controlled and logical as computer code, ringing with the strength of a woman who refused to be subjugated, of a loving mom determined to protect her child. He put off the sentencing until May 18, after Danner returns.
“That was certainly a powerful statement and I’ve listened to it very carefully,” Stafford said from the bench on Thursday.
He noted that he was only sitting in while Danner was away.
“So, until today, about 15 minutes ago, I knew nothing about the case,” he went on. “So, I don’t know how the negotiations were arrived at. I assume that the matter was negotiated in good faith by both the prosecution and the defense.”
He continued, “However, it gives me pause and gives me some concern that Judge Danner [who] was basically part of the matter of settling this matter may not have known some of the things you have brought to the attention of this court.”
Stafford asked Rastogi if she had an extra copy of her statement. She said that she did.
“What you’ve just read, is that a verbatim reading of it?” he asked.
“Yes, mostly yes,” Rastogi said.
“Ma’am, like I say I just, I just here sort of walked into this and I really don’t know much about it,” Stafford told her. “I thought there was a disposition that had been settled on and I think your thoughts ought to be at least made, that Judge Danner ought to at least be made aware of it and I’ll make sure that she gets a copy of the statement that you’ve just read.”
“Judge, may I ask a question?” Rastogi inquired.
“Yes,” Stafford said.
“Do we expect any change on that day?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Stafford said. “I don’t know why Judge Danner, after she reads that, she may have some further discussions with the attorneys, I don’t know.”
Gattani sat at the front of the courtroom, staring straight ahead during the entire statement, not once looking at Rastogi. His attorney, Michael Paez, had earlier told The Daily Beast that his client has nothing to say to the press regarding the case and Rastogi’s many accusations.
“He’s not going to comment on this thing,” Paez had said.
When asked about Rastogi’s statement and his earlier impression that she was fine with the deal, the prosecutor, Fein, told The Daily Beast, “she has changed what she told me.”
“Her understanding of all the intricacies of the case are not as in depth as mine,” he added.
In response to her view of the plea as expressed in the statement, Fein said that “I respectfully disagree.” He further said that as a prosecutor he could not address those aspects of Rastogi’s life with Gattani that were not immediately pertinent to the criminal case and admissible in court.
“I have to look just for the criminal case, whereas she lived it,” he said. “That’s a different thing.”
He allowed that no case is exactly like another, but ventured that the outcome in this one was not unusual.
“[Gattani] didn’t get a lighter deal, he didn’t get a heavier deal,” Fein said.
He confirmed that Gattani’s immigration status was a factor.
“It was a consideration, yes,” he said.
Rastogi would tell The Daily Beast that she had met Gattani only a few times before their arranged marriage in 2009. She was a modern woman of Indian birth and American citizenship who still treasured tradition.
“Women, we were raised to be smart, we were educated, we make the same kind of money, we do anything,” she said, adding, “I didn’t want to give up the romance of the culture we come from,” also saying, “I just want to be treated like a human being, to be loved, respected and cherished.”
She began to learn in the first months of their marriage that her husband had trouble controlling his anger, when they drove 20 miles to see a movie only to discover it was sold out.
“He said, ‘Why didn’t I call the theater before coming?’” she would remember. “It never occurred to me. He just kept getting angrier and angrier.”
She added, “He started using really foul language. Nobody had ever spoken to me like that.”
He kept on after they returned home.
“He just felt I wasn’t sorry enough,” she recalled. “He slapped me. I kind of sat down on the floor. He kicked me in my belly. I was lying there on the floor… I couldn’t even scream. I didn’t believe it happened… I had never known or even seen anybody who ever went through this.”
She added, “I feel that’s not OK [but] calling the cops just never ever occurred to me at all.”
The next morning, he acted as if everything was only normal.
“He just woke up, had breakfast,” she would report.
She hoped for an apology. None came.
“Why would you do that?” she would remember asking him after two or three days.
“That’s what happens,” he replied by her account.
He appeared to her to be on the verge of doing it again. And he remained that way.
“It was all unreal,” she recalled. “I just shut down… My body’s doing things, but my brain is numb.”
He seemed to blame her whenever things did not go as he wanted.
“It’s always my fault according to him,” she later said.
The abuse continued and at times it seemed as if he never called her by her name.
“It was bitch or slut or whore,” she recalled.
She would later tell the Sunnyvale Police that her husband began subjecting her to a demeaning ritual under threat of force.
“She talked about him wanting to humiliate [her] by making her stand at the foot of the bed for hours,” the resulting police report would say. “She cited this as in the tradition of school humiliation. He would threaten to come hit her if she did not comply.”
To the outside working world, they must have seemed like a perfect Silicon Valley couple. Gattani’s LinkedIn profile says he created Polaris—“the search engine for the second largest eCommerce retailer in the world”—and was the principal product director of engineering for Kosmix and then led engineering and product teams for a major online retailer. Rastogi was a quality engineer and then a product engineer and manager for Flip Video and then Cisco and then Apple, staying with the development of applications from start to finish. She could see beauty in a piece of code and magnificence in all the layers of inspiration and effort that go into an application.
“It’s a piece of art,” she told The Daily Beast.
She added, “I do like what I do.”
And the result was something that would be employed in millions of lives, including her own.
“I always work [on] products I would use,” she said.
This enviable image of a Silicon Valley couple on the rise toward having it all seemed complete when she became pregnant. But by her account the nightmare at home only deepened.
“She said he struck her when she was pregnant,” a Sunnyvale police summary of her account reads. “He then advised her he was doing that for her benefit to teach her to remain calm.”
The child was born in August of 2013.
“The abuse was really bad,” she would later tell The Daily Beast. “Now we have a child.”
She would further tell The Daily Beast that Gattani became angry when she had difficulty breastfeeding.
“He was saying that I wasn’t doing it right, that I wasn’t concentrating,” she recalled. “It got him really mad and irritated. He hit me when I was breastfeeding the baby.”
She did not end the marriage, she said, in part because of her upbringing in India, where nobody she or her family knew was divorced and where it would have brought shame on all involved.
“I didn’t grow up around even one couple that was divorced,” she told The Daily Beast. “I don’t want a broken family for my daughter.”
She reasoned that her husband must be deeply unhappy and she urged him to seek something that might give him at least a modicum of joy and make him feel more fulfilled.
“Flying lessons, golf lessons, dance classes, whatever you want,” she recalled. “I tried to introduce him to so many different things, hoping he will find one thing he likes.”
Then came the day in November of 2013 when the postal worker saw Gattani punching her outside their home and called 911. A radio car responded and a cop separated Gattani and Rastogi. Two more radio cars arrived.
“My first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, I’m in trouble,’” she would recall. “I’m standing in the middle of three or four really big, tall guys questioning me… The question in my head was, ‘What did I do?’ It didn’t occur to me that somebody called the cops because he was hitting me.”
She only came to understand that her husband was the one in trouble when the police arrested him and took him away.
“My first response was he was going to kill me,” she would remember.
He later called her from jail, saying he loved her, sounding crushed. She could have just left him there, but he was still the father of their child and he was still her husband and she was still someone whose first inclinations are to forgive and sympathize.
“My internal voice was speaking to me, ‘I cannot leave him in this,’” she would recall. “‘I cannot do this to him. He has done this to me over and over, but I cannot do this to him.’”
She got in the car and headed for the jail.
“I was the one who bailed him out. I was the one who picked him up.”
She would remember that as she drove him from home, he asked, “Am I a bad person, Neha?” and began to open the door of the moving car and threatening to jump out.
“That night, he was so broken,” she would report.
She would remember him saying, “I’m not a bad person. I do this for the betterment of our family. I wanted to give you a better future. That’s why I push you so hard.”
As soon as they got home, he went in to bathe, as if he could wash away the jailhouse taint.
“I don’t even want to see these clothes,” he told her.
By her account, she retained a defense attorney on her husband’s behalf and attended hearings when he did not want to attend them over the long seven months that the case proceeded through the criminal justice system.
She would recall him being fearful that his colleagues would learn that he had been arrested.
“If somebody finds out, I’m going to kill myself,” he said by her recollection. “I’m such a senior executive.”
She would later describe him as being anxious and frazzled, complaining, “I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep.” She found herself seeking to reassure him on top of being a full-time working mom.
“Pacify him, calm him down,” she would report.
She urged the district attorney’s office to lower the charge from felony assault.
“We got it reduced as [low as] it could have been,” she would remember.
He was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to a year of domestic violence/anger management classes, but not a minute behind bars. She would tell The Daily Beast that he was anything but grateful.
“He made it like this was my failure he still got a misdemeanor,” she would recall. “He always said, ‘What did you do for me?’”
The abuse abated as he attended the anger management course, though he insisted that it was her responsibility to be mindful of his “triggers.”
“You also have a role to play in me not being aggressive to you,” she would remember him saying.
She would also recall him saying that she had to learn to own up to her mistakes and informing her, “I can’t hit you, but I can hit myself,” and then begin striking himself.
“He hit himself in the head to control me,” she would conclude.
In time, she would report, he returned to hitting her.
“At least twice a month” she told The Daily Beast.
She would remember him saying, “What are you going to do, call the cops on me? I’ll call the cops for you.”
In their working lives, Gattani had become co-founder and CEO of Cuberon, a startup that describes itself as a “customer behavior analytics company that helps product and marketing teams to discover, analyze, and visualize customer behavior that impacts their business metrics.” Rastogi describes his co-founder as “an amazing guy.” She herself left Apple to work for the online retailer on mobile apps for home shopping, which targeted just the kind of customers she was happy to assist.
“All these products are for moms,” she noted.
She began to put an Apple product to a new use for herself on April 28, 2016, when Gattani pressed her to quit the job that meant so much to her.
“I only use Apple phones,” she would tell The Daily Beast.
She set her iPhone to video record, though the footage—which she would later share with the police and The Daily Beast—showed neither him nor her. The audio was clear.
“Repeat what you were saying, what were you saying?” she can be heard asking.
“What I want to do today, my goal, my accomplishment for today is to have you resign from your job and I’m going to make it happen,” he can be heard replying. “My entire day, even if it takes the entire day, whether it’s fighting, pushing you around snatching your phone. Or whatever…”
“Why would you want to do that?” she asked.
“I will die, but I want to see you burn before I do that,” he said. “That will give me some peace to my soul. When I die even if my soul wanders around then it will not feel that lost as much as I would otherwise think…”
Then, on May 17, 2016, Neha made the recording with the nine audible thwacks. She recorded another conversation on June 14, 2016.
“You are telling me that you are at the brink of cutting my throat and killing me?” she asks. “You want to kill me, what did, what did you just say? You want to kill me basically?”
Here again a skeptic might have suspected entrapment. But here again he immediately confirms what she has suggested.
“Yeah I would like to see you murdered,” he says. “I used to always think, like in some murders (in movies and all) they show that the murderer stabbed the victim with a knife 45 times; how would someone do that. Killing someone even once is so difficult to accomplish. Then how can that person/man stab the knife in the victim’s body so many times. I now imagine and can relate now to doing that to you. And I am not kidding. If you can’t believe me I can swear on anyone’s life.”
Rastogi took his threats seriously. She set about preparing a will and began to look into obtaining life insurance.
“I started to plan,” she would say. “If he killed me, I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to be dead. He’s going to be in jail. If I am going to die, how am I going to give my daughter a family?’”
On June 19, Father’s Day, the family took a trip to Lake Tahoe. A subsequent Sunnyvale Police police report reads, “Rastogi stated that she and her husband Abhishek were driving back from Lake Tahoe on 6/19/16 verbally arguing the entire way. The couple mainly argues about marital issues and the stresses of work for Abhishek. Upon arriving home from the Lake Tahoe trip, Abhishek became angry and struck Rastogi one time with a closed fist in the upper left thigh. Rastogi did not call the police at the time of the incident due to the continued threats that he would stab her with a knife.”
The report continues, “After the incident Rastogi took photos of her injury with her phone and recorded several threatening conversations on her phone with Abhishek.”
The police would later listen to the calls and note in a report that the exchanges in English include a male, apparently Abhishek, saying, “You need to be brutally treated for you to see the truth,” and, “You will remember this.” The report continues, “The victim tells the suspect, ‘Please stop.’ A young girl also adds, ‘Please stop,’ and asks what he is doing. The male voice said, ‘Making medicine.’”
The young girl is almost certainly the couple’s daughter, not yet 3. Rastogi would later report that at another moment the girl said, “Mama, I’m scared of papa.”
Rastogi understood that she could not just let things continue.
“I finally said, ‘No, I’ve had enough,” she would recall.
She decided to seek advice of an attorney, Michael Pascoe of Silicon Valley Law Office. The office manager there is a paralegal named Karen Ewart, who is also an experienced domestic violence advocate. Ewart chanced to see Rastogi pace back and forth outside the office and finally enter only to immediately turn around and leave. Rastogi subsequently worked up the nerve to return and ask to speak to someone.
“I felt it was important for me to get it out,” Rastogi would later tell The Daily Beast. “Not just to defend my child but to teach her you may get in situations that are not safe, but stand up.”
Pascoe and Ewart listened to Rastogi and recommended she go to the police. Ewart was with her when she walked into Sunnyvale Police headquarters.
“I never imagined I would be in a police station for anything,” Rastogi would later say.
Officer David Meinhardt spoke with Rastogi in an interview room. His report would note, “Prior to and during the statement, Rastogi was visibly shaking and cried several times.”
But Rastogi was not at all confused about her reasons for being there.
“My intentions are very clear,” she said, “I want safety for my daughter and I want my own safety.”
She recounted to the police the history of her marriage and backed up her account with a thumb drive containing the videos and the recorded phone conversations, all of which she had made legally as a domestic violence victim with an order of protection from the previous case. She also provided photos of her most recent injuries.
The next step was for Meinhardt to get the husband’s side—the “he said”—of the story. The subsequent report reads, “I responded to the work place… of Abhishek Gattani to obtain his statement. Upon arriving at his work place I asked him outside to speak away from his co-workers.”
The report continues, “Abhishek stated that he and his wife argue often but that he has never hit her in the past. Abhishek was arrested in 2013 for domestic violence and has not had any issues since. Abhishek has no idea why the police would need to get involved in a simple verbal dispute and continued to state that he has never hit his wife or daughter.”
The report concludes, “Based on the statements provided and the photographic evidence, I placed Abhishek under arrest for 273.5(a)PC-Domestic violence. Abhishek was placed in handcuffs which were double locked and checked for proper fit. He was then transported to [Sunnyvale Police] HQ for booking without further incident. While at [Sunnyvale Police] HQ, Abhishek invoked his right to speak to an attorney.”
Rastogi figured that her husband would be held at least through the long Fourth of July weekend, but on Saturday she was shocked to learn he had been freed without bail. She was able to track his phone and she could see he was headed her way. She hurried to hide her car, so he would conclude she was not at home.
By the account of Ewart, the domestic-violence advocate, Rastogi was advised by the district attorney’s office not to attend the initial hearings because it would “complicate things.” Rastogi finally decided to see for herself how the case was progressing.
On Dec. 21 of last year, Rastogi attended a hearing. The judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney went into chambers, out of her hearing and view, for some 20 minutes.
When the prosecutor, Fein, emerged, he sat down with Rastogi. He indicated to her, and later confirmed to The Daily Beast, that his office was concerned about placing Gattani in danger of being deported.
Ewart, the domestic violence advocate, was present. She would recall Fein “mentioned something about ‘his vs. her’ story.”
Ewart would further recall, “I told him there’s more to this case than that, WE HAVE RECORDINGS. The defendant lied to the police, said he never hit her… I believe even in a world of liberal bleeding heart NIMBY Palo Altans, they would find the recordings as awful as anyone else who heard them does. THE RECORDINGS SHOULD BE HEARD. BY ANYBODY, BY EVERYBODY.”
Rastogi was back in court with Ewart for a hearing on Jan. 27. They arrived right on time, at 9 a.m.
“Similar to last time, when we entered, counsel, [Fein] and defendant departed,” Ewart would report. “Judge, this time, stayed in the courtroom.”
Fein then reappeared and asked to speak to Rastogi and Ewart in the hallway.
“[Fein] told us that they made an offer of a felony—but a lesser form of a felony, one that would make him an accessory to the crime of an unwanted touching, accessory after the fact,” Ewart would recall, matching what Fein would later tell The Daily Beast. “That way it would soften the penalty and not affect the immigration status.”
Fein then returned to the courtroom for the formal plea in case B1687324.
“We’re calling the matters of Abhishek Gattani,” said Judge Allison Marston Danner.
“We’re prepared to proceed with the plea,” defense lawyer Mike Paez said.
“Mr. Fein, are you going to put the proposed disposition on the record?” the judge asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Fein said.
Fein told the court that Gattani would be pleading to felony accessory after the fact and to misdemeanor offensive touching.
“The court should indicate on or about and between May 17th, 2016 and June 19th, 2013, Gattani did offensively touch Neha Rastogi,” Fein said. “The understanding is he will do 30 days of that in custody, and five months of that on the weekend work program… And there will be no early termination of probation. He must do the three years on probation. But if he’s done everything he’s supposed to do in accordance with the probationary custom, if they recommend a misdemeanor part way through there will be no objection.”
Fein was saying that the charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor and Gattani would no longer be a felon. Gattani’s lawyer, Paez, noted that his client had served two days—actually part of a Friday and part of a Saturday—in jail.
“I’d like those days to be credited toward his county jail sentence, as we’ve discussed in chamber as well,” Paez said. “And we discussed that he would commence the weekend work portion of the sentence first, followed then by the custodial time.”
Paez was apparently referring to the discussions conducted in the back after Rastogi arrived at the courtroom. The parties had apparently decided to knock the two days off what was effectively a 15-day jail sentence, making it 13 for Gattani. And Gattani would be allowed to serve the weekends first, in accordance with his preference.
Rastogi had not been party to those discussions and she had yet to be given an opportunity to express her feelings to the judge when the time came for Gattani to make his formal plea.
“How do you plead?” the judge asked regarding each of the two charges.
“No contest,” Gattani replied twice.
While that is not an admission of guilt, it carries the same consequences of one, except that by saying “no contest” the admission could not be used against him in civil court should somebody sue him.
“It’s my understanding that the victim is going to want to speak at the time of sentencing,” Fein said. “I can recommend a Thursday morning to give us a little more time.”
Fein was being accommodating to the victim, but only after the deal was done and her impact statement would presumably have little or no impact. Not that Fein or Danner had anything to do with establishing the way things are routinely done. Danner’s clerk later told The Daily Beast that she does not comment on ongoing cases.
One question that would have been worth asking was why Danner could not have at the very least scheduled the sentencing for a time when she would be on the bench to hear Rastogi’s statement.
Danner is a Stanford-educated former federal prosecutor as well as a law professor who studied international criminal law, once writing with a co-author that “the idea of applying legal rules and standards to the complex and chaotic backdrop of contemporary armed conflicts and episodes of mass atrocity is a bold—some would say futile—effort to fix individual responsibility for history’s violent march.” She was on vacation when Rastogi arrived in court and delivered a searing account of her husband’s violent march through her life and demanded that he be held fully responsible.
Imagine the scholarly article Danner might write if a perpetrator of international terrorism were allowed to escape individual responsibility by skating as an accessory after the fact?
Thanks to Stafford, Danner will have the four-page statement regarding another kind of terrorism awaiting her attention when she gets back from her holiday.
In it, Rastogi writes that “I feel fooled not just by a convicted criminal, aggressor, wife beater, batterer, that I unfortunately married - the worst mistake of my life but by this court as well. With all due respect to the system... I stand FOOLED, disgraced and ridiculed as a victim.
“I wanted to speak up at the last hearing as well, but I was told today is the right time to do so. Honestly I am not sure why is it so, as it seems it’s all done... what’s the point of me speaking up now? I get heard to be ignored? to be told that the system understands the abuse and the impact it has had on our child and me but sorry it is what it is. I was told no jail, no classes, no penalties can change Mr. Gattani. Is this the faith the DA’s office and the court have in the justice being provided in this court? Is that the reason for leniency in such cases? Have we given up on justice?”
Next month, a hopeful Rastogi will be back in court. This happens to be the same courthouse where another Santa Clara judge, Aaron Persky, outraged the country last year when he sentenced Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to just six months in jail and probation for sexual assault.
At 1:30 p.m. on May 18, Rastogi will learn what impact, if any, her victim-impact statement had on Judge Danner in case B1687324, the case of she-and-the-iPhone said.
—with additional reporting by Michael Rosen