Sarasota Police Department detectives seeking other potential victims as they investigate alleged sexual battery case involving massage therapist

Incident reportedly occurred in September at business in downtown Sarasota

Michael A. Morris. Photo courtesy Sarasota Police Department

As the Sarasota Police Department investigates a sexual battery incident that reportedly occurred in September 2020, detectives are seeking other potential victims, the department announced this week.

The incident allegedly occurred in a Sarasota salon suite located at 200 Central Ave.

On Dec. 1, 2020, Michael Allen Morris, 53, of Sarasota, was arrested at his home in the 2700 block of Cocoanut Bay Lane on a warrant for sexual battery, based on the investigation into the 2020 incident, a Police Department news release said.

Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies took him into custody at the Celery Fields, in the eastern part of the county, after he inflicted non-life-threatening injuries on himself, the Police Department report said. He was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital for treatment, the report added.

On Dec. 2, 2020, a judge set bond for Morris at $50,000. Morris also was directed not to have any direct or indirect contact with the alleged victim, according to the court document.

His arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 15, Sarasota County Clerk of Court records show.

On Dec. 4, 2020, court records also note, a member of the Clerk of Court’s staff determined that he was not indigent, after he had applied for that status so a public defender could represent him. He had claimed take-home income of $18,000 per year, the document said, with savings of $3,000 and liabilities and debts adding up to $12,000.

Morris is a massage therapist, the Police Department news release added. His license with the Florida Department of Health “is listed as Emergency Restriction/Active,” the release noted. “According to the Department of Health, Emergency Restriction/Active means the licensed practitioner may practice in Florida but has restrictions specified by emergency order,” the release explained.

Since Morris’ arrest, the release continued, “Sarasota Police Department detectives have worked diligently to continue their investigation. Detectives believe Morris had contact with multiple people as a massage therapist,” the release added. Therefore, they “have reason to believe there may be additional victims,” it said.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call Detective Steven Fergus at 941-263-6059, leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS, or going online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com.

The report of the Sept. 10, 2020 incident — which redacted the victim’s name and address — pointed out that the sexual battery allegedly occurred between 11:35 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. in a suite in the the Salons by JC facilities on Central Avenue. A victim’s advocate assisted the detective with the interview of the victim, the report noted.

The victim explained that she had been going to Morris for the past two years for massage therapy, and he “has never been inappropriate with his massages in the past,” the Police Department report said.

This is a view of the exterior of Salons by JC on Central Avenue. Image from Google Maps

On Sept. 10, 2020, the victim continued, she had a massage appointment with Morris at approximately 11:30 a.m. She related to the detective and the victim advocate that Morris “told her this would be a free birthday massage,” the report said. The victim pointed out that “her relationship with Morris has always been strictly professional,” it added.

Before her massage, the victim said, she removed her clothing and laid down on the table with strips of cloth covering her breasts and genitals. About 30 minutes into the massage, she continued, “Morris asked her if she would like a ‘yoni’ massage,” the narrative said. She told Morris that she did not know what that was, but she trusted him, the narrative noted. Then Morris began to massage her groin and digitally penetrate her, the report said. She told the detective and the victim advocate “that she was in shock” when he began to touch her genitals, and that while he was doing so, she heard him unzip his pants. She added that she was unsure whether he exposed himself, but he continued massaging her genital area for about 15 minutes before asking her to flip over, the report said.

“Morris continued a normal massage for another ten minutes before she got up and left the room,” the report added.

The victim said that she was confused about what had occurred and felt the need to tell another woman, who, in turn, went to the Salons by JC management and reported the incident, the report said.

The victim told the detective and the victim advocate that she wanted to seek prosecution of Morris, the report said.

About 3:39 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2020, the report continued, “[D]etectives attempted a controlled phone call between Morris and [the victim]. Morris answered the phone and [the victim] told him that she would like to talk about the incident that occurred. Morris said that he was inside a Costco at the moment and asked if he could call her back later,” the report added.

Morris did not return the call until evening, the report noted. The victim texted him that she could not speak to him at that time and would call him later.

Detectives pursue second controlled call

The Sarasota Police Department is on Adams Lane in downtown Sarasota. File photo

Then, about 4 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2020, the report continued, “[D]etectives attempted a second controlled call between Morris and [the victim].” During that call, the report said, the victim asked Morris why he thought what he had done during the massage was OK. “Morris said that he did not feel comfortable talking on the phone and wanted to meet [the victim] in person,” the report continued. Morris told the victim he had been ill, adding, “ ‘[T]his whole thing has made me sick,’” the report said.

As the victim tried to continue the conversation, the report added, Morris told her, “‘I don’t want to talk about this over the phone,’” “‘You must really be upset,’” and that he wished they could have talked more before she left the salon on Sept. 10.

The victim asked him whether he believed he felt worse than she did, the report said. He replied, “‘No, no I don’t,’” the report added.

When the victim asked why Morris thought she would have wanted him to act as he did during her massage on Sept. 10, Morris replied “that he did not feel the massage was different and that she always trusted him,” the report said. The victim responded that he never had touched her that way in the past and she did not understand why he thought it would be appropriate that time, the report continued. “Morris then asked, ‘Should I expect the police to show up at my house?’” the report said.

The victim also told him that she had related the incident to her boss “and did not know that [her boss] went to the salon” to report what had happened, the report continued. Morris told the victim that the salon was “kicking him out,” the report said.

When Morris asked the victim whether she wanted to stop seeing him for massages, the report continued, the victim replied that she was upset and still wanted to know why he thought it was all right for him to touch her genitals. “Morris became speechless,” the report said.

Morris told the victim that he had not mentioned the incident to his wife and that he would have to tell his wife the truth. Again, he asked the victim whether he should expect the police, so he could prepare for that, the report noted.

Morris then kept asking the victim to meet him in person. Finally, the report said, he told the victim that he felt bad about the incident. When the victim asked him for an apology, he did not respond, the report said. After the victim asked him whether he would tell his wife what had happened, he replied, “‘I will tell her the truth,’” the report noted.

When the victim asked him what the truth was, the report continued, he responded that he had to go because his wife was coming, and then he hung up.

The controlled phone call was recorded via audio and video, the report said.

Morris and his wife speak with detectives

Just after 11 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2020, the report continued, Morris came to the Police Department to discuss the incident. A detective recorded his statement, as well, the report noted.

At the end of the interview, the report added, the detective met with Morris’ wife, who was waiting in the lobby. The wife wanted to speak with the detective, the report said, but Morris told her not to make a statement, that they needed to leave. The detective gave his card to the wife before Morris escorted her out of the building, the report added.

Finally, just after 11 a.m. on Sept. 17, the report said, the wife called and asked to meet with the detective; the interview took place outside the department that morning.

The wife told that detective and a second one that Morris had told her he was being accused “of inappropriately touching a client,” the report continued. The wife said she was concerned about him because he suffers with depression and had recently made a statement about suicide.

This is a vista from the Celery Fields in eastern Sarasota County. image courtesy Sarasota County

She also told the detectives that she had left Morris that morning on the pretext of going for a jog at the Celery Fields. She had not heard from him since then, the report added. Later, the report continued, she did receive a text from him, “telling her that this has been the best year of his life with her and [asking] her to watch over his kids for him.”

Shortly before 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, the report noted, the lead detective talked with a sergeant about his interview with the wife. The detective and the sergeant contacted Dispatch, the report said, “and requested an emergency cellular ping for Morris’s telephone. Dispatch informed us that the phone pinged in the area of the [Celery Fields].” Sarasota County deputies later informed the detective that Morris had called 911, “requesting an ambulance due to self-inflicting lacerations” to his wrist, the report pointed out.

On Dec. 1, 2020, the Police Department report said, police officers executed an arrest warrant for Morris and transported him to the jail “without incident.”

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