February 13, 2007
“An overtly sexual person”
Here in America, who you are doesn’t affect the treatment you receive at the hands of the law or in the courts… that is, unless you’re an exotic dancer:
No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.
When the case went to trial, however, defense attorney Al Stokke argued that Park wasn’t responsible for making sticky all over the woman’s sweater. He insisted that she made the married patrolman make the mess—after all, she was on her way home from work as a dancer at Captain Cream Cabaret.
“She got what she wanted,” said Stokke. “She’s an overtly sexual person.”
That last phrase makes me so uncomfortable. Will the “she was asking for it” argument ever lose its potency? Because, while I wasn’t in that courtroom, it doesn’t quite sound like Park’s story holds water:
In the wee hours of Dec. 15, 2004, Lucy (only her first name was used during the trial) finished her final shift at Captain Cream in Lake Forest, not far from the Irvine Spectrum. Management had let her go after an incident involving a female customer in a bathroom stall. According to court records, there had been a small amount of cocaine, kissing and breast fondling.
Meanwhile, Park was on patrol in the southwest portion of Irvine. Prosecutors believe he was craving a sexual rendezvous, and so he watched for Lucy’s white BMW to leave the strip club parking lot, then tailed her, waiting for an excuse for a stop. Park insisted he’d been cruising on the 405 north and coincidentally saw Lucy’s vehicle weave and speed.
Kamiabipour, the prosecutor, shook her head in disbelief. She knew the facts—that the officer had waited at least eight or nine minutes before stopping the stripper on a secluded section of a highway that was out of his jurisdiction.
“He was stalking her,” she said.
Four months earlier, Park had stopped Lucy under similar circumstances. That time, he’d ignored a plastic drug baggie he’d found in her car and her suspended license. But the stop wasn’t a waste of time. After friendly chit-chat, the officer had scored Lucy’s phone number. Telephone records show that Park called the stripper the next morning. She told him she was too busy to meet.
On the witness stand, Park explained that he’d called Lucy out of concern for a citizen’s safety. He also shrugged his shoulders when Kamiabipour slowly listed the first names of nine Captain Cream female employees—Annette, Denise, Rashele, Marlia, Brandi, Andrea, Deborah, Laura and Shannon—whose license plates he’d run through the DMV computer in the weeks prior to his sexual encounter with Lucy. (Another coincidence, according to Stokke.) Jurors also learned that Irvine Police Sgt. Michael Hallinan had previously warned Park as they left work to stay away from the strippers.
But wait–there’s more: Park said he didn’t know it was Lucy in the car, but “Records show he ran the bosomy, 5-foot, 110-pound dancer’s license plate before the stop, did not call for backup despite the potential for an arrest and failed to tell his supervisor or dispatch that he was leaving Irvine. Several Irvine officers testified that Park’s behavior that night was odd.” Furthermore, “After an exhaustive police internal affairs investigation, [Irvine city officials] felt it was prudent to give Lucy $400,000 to make her civil lawsuit go away.” Finally, “on the night Park tailed Lucy out of the city, the global positioning system in his patrol car had been disconnected without authorization.” But all that information couldn’t stand up against the character of the woman making the accusation:
It wasn’t a surprise that [defense attorney Al] Stokke put the woman and her part-time occupation on trial. In his opening argument, he made it The Good Cop versus The Slutty Stripper. He pointed out that she’d once had a violent fight with a boyfriend in San Diego. He mocked her inability to keep a driver’s license. He accused her of purposefully “weakening” Park so that he became “a man,” not a cop during the traffic stop. He called her a liar angling for easy lawsuit cash. He called her a whore without saying the word.
“You dance around a pole, don’t you?” Stokke asked.
Superior Court Judge William Evans ruled the question irrelevant.
Stokke saw he was scoring points with the jury.
“Do you place a pole between your legs and go up and down?” he asked.
“No,” said Lucy before the judge interrupted.
“You do the dancing to get men to do what you what them to do,” said Stokke. “And the same thing happened out there on that highway [in Laguna Beach]. You wanted [Park] to take some sex!”
Lucy said, “No sir,” the sex wasn’t consensual. Stokke—usually a mellow fellow with a nasally, monotone voice—gripped his fists, stood upright, clenched his jaws and then thundered, “You had a buzz on [that night], didn’t you?”
As if watching a volley in tennis, the heads of the male-dominated jury spun from Stokke back to Lucy, who sat in the witness box. She said no, but it was hopeless. Jurors stared at her without a hint of sympathy.
In his closing argument, Stokke pounced. He called Lucy one of those “girls who have learned the art of the tease, getting what they want . . . they’ve learned to separate men from their money.”
I don’t have words to express the disgust Stokke’s argument inspires in me. Yes, strippers dance provocatively for money. It’s not a crime. Men aren’t forced to watch or forced to give their money away, and I have a very hard time believing that Park was forced to ejaculate on Lucy. Still, the jury decided that Park had not committed a crime. I can’t really blame the members of the jury; I want to believe that they made their decision as best they could. I do blame our society, however–this society wherein a woman’s character, job, sexual history, and even clothing can ultimately mean that a man won’t be held responsible for harassing or even sexually assaulting her.