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Former Topgolf sous chef to stand trial in sexual assault case

A Las Vegas judge dismissed a kidnapping charge Thursday against a former Topgolf Las Vegas sous chef accused of sexually assaulting one of his employees in 2017.

But the judge ruled that Silvino Hinojosa, 39, must stand trial on the sexual assault charge.

“I find that the state has proven this case has slight or marginal evidence that a sexual assault was committed and that the defendant committed it,” Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Karen Bennett-Haron said at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing for Hinojosa.

If convicted, Hinojosa could spend the rest of his life in prison.

In all, according to court documents, at least four women who previously worked at Topgolf under the man’s direct supervision, including the victim of the 2017 assault, have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse or harassment by Hinojosa.

The suspect also is awaiting trial in a separate, unrelated sexual assault case that authorities have said involved a 4-year-old girl.

Prosecutors originally charged Hinojosa with first-degree kidnapping in connection with the 2017 assault because, according to his arrest report, Ciara Williams, the victim, told police that he had sexually assaulted her after cornering her inside a soundproof walk-in freezer at Topgolf Las Vegas.

In handing down her decision about the kidnapping charge, Bennett-Haron said the walk-in freezer was “not a hidden thing.”

“It’s just the same as if they were at the counter or any other part of the kitchen,” she said. “It’s not a hidden thing — the pantry, the freezer, the refrigerator — all of that’s a part of the kitchen. It’s not separate.”

On Thursday, Williams found herself in the same room with Hinojosa for the first time since resigning from Topgolf in early 2018. The 38-year-old mother of two testified for roughly two hours and was at times emotional, stumbling over her words and taking long pauses, while Hinojosa sat mostly still in his seat as a Spanish interpreter spoke into his ear.

In addition to the criminal case, a lawsuit has been filed on Williams’ behalf against Hinojosa, Topgolf USA Las Vegas and Topgolf International.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was the first media outlet to report details of the ongoing lawsuit, which claims that a “frat boy” culture among Topgolf Las Vegas executives and kitchen managers helped protect Hinojosa.

Neither Topgolf nor its lawyers have commented on the case.

Williams’ assault, according to the lawsuit, was the culmination of months of “virtually daily sexual harassment” by Hinojosa that management had either heard about or witnessed. By then, Topgolf management also had received at least one formal written complaint about Hinojosa from another female employee, who has said she “endured severe and pervasive sexual harassment, abuse, and assault” by Hinojosa.

Yet Hinojosa was allowed to keep his job for nearly a year, according to the lawsuit, even after Williams had reported the June 2017 sexual assault in detail to a human resources manager. Within four months of the assault, Hinojosa was promoted to sous chef.

Hinojosa will be arraigned in Clark County District Court next week in connection with Williams’ assault, while a trial in the sexual abuse case involving the child is set to begin in February.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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