SYCAMORE - The mother of a 15-year-old employee of Shawn's Coffee Shop who was allegedly bitten and inappropriately touched by longtime owner, Shawn Thrower, is speaking out in the hope that her daughter's story will empower others to use their voice.
"I feel it's super important to put this out there because we couldn't sit and wait for the courts to do what they need to do without speaking publicly," she said. "We're bringing this to light in order for other girls who have felt powerless like she did in that situation to feel like they can now talk about him."
The Daily Chronicle has granted anonymity to the victim's mother due to the nature of the case involving a minor, and because the mother has a public job.
Thrower, 61, of the 10000 block of Old State Road, also owns Princess Alex Ice Cream in Sycamore and is charged with biting the girl on her neck, picking her up and smacking her buttocks, according to DeKalb County Court records. Thrower appeared in front of Circuit Court Judge Joseph Pedersen Wednesday at the DeKalb County Courthouse for a status hearing, at which time his lawyer, Amanda Wielgus, requested a bench trial, a trial where witnesses are called in front of a judge but no jury presides.
The trial, set for Oct. 15, will determine Thrower's fate, charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery. If convicted, he could face up to a year in jail, and fines up to $2,500. He plead not guilty on March 9.
When approached Wednesday, Thrower, who is out on bail and who's businesses continue to operate, declined comment.
A mother's mission
The victim's mother said she wants the community to know what she feels is at stake.
She said working at Shawn's was her daughter's first job, and now that experience is ruined. According to court records, the teen told police she'd known Thrower since she was little, having gone into the bakery every Wednesday with her mother while in elementary school.
"This was her first job, her first experience in employment," she said. "She loved it at first, loved the people she worked with, and then it gradually became worse."
The mom said she knows Thrower's prominence in the community – longtime businessman, Northern Illinois University former basketball player and graduate – and is worried that the trial won't be a fair one because of his reputation.
"I need to ask those questions as the mother of the victim," she said. "The education about what has gone on behind closed doors at Shawn's has to happen."
She said court records will show her daughter "did everything right" in an impossible situation, and describes Thrower's behavior as "grooming," a term often used when an adult treats a child or minor differently with actions or words to make them feel special, in order to prepare them for an abusive act, sometimes of a sexual nature.
Court records show
According to DeKalb County court records and Sycamore police reports, the teen had been working at Shawn’s Coffee Shop, 204 Somonauk St., for about a month and a half at the time, about 10 to 20 hours per week, usually the closing shift, her mother said. Records show she reported the incident to the Sycamore police on Feb. 27, the day she says it happened.
Her mom said as soon as her daughter came home from work and told her what Thrower had done to her, the two of them went to the Sycamore Police Department. The teen told police she "felt some favoritism and that she was treated a little bit different than the older girls," records state.
In an interview with Sycamore police, the teen said Thrower would often hug her, picking her up off the ground, sometimes text the teen, calling her "queen," "baby" and "his girl." Thrower would buy fruit for the store and offer her some, but the teen never noticed him offering any to other employees, records show.
The teen told police she'd sometimes scare Thrower and he would "tell her he was going to stab her, but she thought he was joking because he never actually did anything," records show.
Another instance made the girl question whether Thrower was using marijuana in the building, records show, since she'd gone to the basement where the stock is kept and it was locked. She'd asked Thrower if she could go down to get something and he told her no, that he "didn't want the smell of weed to get into the bakery."
During one of her closing shifts, around 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 27, the teen popped out from behind a refrigerator to startle Thrower, records show, and "they laughed a little bit." The teen told police Thrower then picked her up by the waist, pinned her against one of the mixer tables and started biting her neck while she attempted to push him away.
When she wiggled away, Thrower grabbed her and smacked her across the buttocks multiple times, the teen told police. Thrower left right after the incident, and when the teen's shift was done, she went home and told her mother. While she was still at work, the girl took photos of the bite marks on her neck, which she later showed police.
The girl said she told police she'd considered telling her coworker but decided against it because "a lot of people really like Shawn."
A Sycamore police detective asked the teen if Thrower had touched her anywhere else at any other time, and she said he'd punched her in the stomach "as he does to other employees," and that it had been a hard punch that "actually hurt," records show.
The girl texted Thrower the next day stating, "Hey I am not so good. Yesterday at work when you picked me up and got my neck you left these marks and my mom asked me about them also when you grabbed my butt I was really uncomfortable I'm not sure I want to come in to work again tomorrow," records show.
Thrower then left a voicemail responding, "Hey can you have your mom call me? Gosh I'm really sorry about yesterday. Man you scared the [expletive] out of me, um yeah, I just picked you up and kind of bit you, but gosh I don't want to go any further than that I'm really sorry about that, but um have your mom give me a call so I can talk to her about it to straighten all this up. Thanks sweetie, I'll talk to you later, bye."
Later that day, Sycamore police interviewed Thrower at the coffee shop. Thrower told police the teen had scared him by jumping out from behind a refrigerator, and that he picked her up and “took a chunk” out of her shoulder. He then told police, “I grabbed somewhere I shouldn’t have.”
"She's my hero," the victim's mother said, who said her daughter, with the ease of COVID-19 restrictions, is going to start up counseling for her trauma. "I kind of got the inclination from what she was telling me when she was working there that there was textbook grooming going on. And I told her, I instructed her, if you ever feel like it goes from goofing around to being playful and you get to a point where you're uncomfortable, you have to tell me.'
When her daughter came home and told her what had happened, she was traumatized, she said.
"We reported it right away," she said. "We took the proof directly to the police station."
She said since the story was reported in March, she's heard others have come forward saying they've experienced something similar at the hands of Thrower.
As case proceedings continue, Shawn's Cafe remains open with employees, something the victim's mother said makes her uncomfortable.
"I don't wish bad things for Shawn, I just want him to have his consequences and for everyone to move on and heal," she said. "But we have to be public and smart so their daughter doesn't sit there thinking this is how a normal boss treats her."