Kevin Spacey's lawyers enter not-guilty plea, question sex assault allegation at Nantucket bar

/ CBS/AP

Kevin Spacey in court on sex assault charge

NANTUCKET, Mass. — Kevin Spacey appeared in court Monday to answer a sexual assault charge as his lawyers filed new court documents calling into question allegations he groped a young man in a bar on the resort island of Nantucket in 2016.

Spacey's arraignment comes more than a year after a former Boston TV anchor accused the former "House of Cards" star of sexually assaulting her son, then 18, in the crowded bar at the Club Car, where the teen worked as a busboy.

The actor's lawyers entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf to a charge of felony indecent assault and battery. The two-time Oscar winner smiled and chuckled with his lawyer before the proceeding began, but otherwise didn't speak, reports CBS News' Jericka Duncan, who was seated behind him in the courtroom.

A judge granted a prosecutor's request that Spacey, 59, be ordered to stay away from the accuser and have no contact with him. Spacey nodded slightly when a judge asked if he understood.

A judge had previously denied Spacey's bid to avoid appearing in person Monday at Nantucket District Court. Spacey had argued his presence would "amplify the negative publicity already generated" by the case. On Monday, the judge granted a defense request to preserve cellphone evidence and set a preliminary hearing date for March 4. Spacey will not have to appear at the March hearing, but he must be available by phone.

Spacey and his lawyers declined to comment as they left the courthouse amid a crush of reporters.

Actor Kevin Spacey is arraigned on a sexual assault charge at Nantucket District Court in Nantucket, Massachusetts, U.S., January 7, 2019. Nicole Harnishfeger/Pool via REUTERS

Television anchor Heather Unruh told reporters in November 2017 that Spacey got her son drunk and then grabbed his genitals during the incident. She said her son fled the restaurant when Spacey went to the bathroom. The police report said the accuser captured the alleged assault on a Snapchat video he sent to his girlfriend.

Spacey's lawyer, Alan Jackson, has sought to poke holes in the case, noting that the teenager didn't immediately report the allegations.

The accuser said he encountered Spacey in the early morning hours of July 7, 2016, after he had ended his shift as a busboy around midnight, according to a state police report. The 18-year-old said he told the actor he was a 23-year-old college student. He said he had at least eight drinks with the actor, with Spacey buying most of them and telling him, "Let's get drunk." He said Spacey made a sexual comment to him and later asked the teen to go home with him, but he refused. He told police he felt uncomfortable but lingered because he wanted to take a picture with Spacey for Instagram.

He said the two were standing in a crowd by a piano when Spacey unzipped the teen's pants and groped his genitals for about three minutes. The teen said he texted and Snapchatted his girlfriend during the incident, including the video. The teen said he tried to shift his body away from Spacey and move Spacey's hands away, but Spacey continued reaching down his pants.

He said Spacey then went to the bathroom, and the teen told a woman at the bar that he thought Spacey had tried to rape him. He said the woman told him to leave, so he did. He said he received a text from Spacey saying, "I think we lost each other."

The teen told his sister and mother about the incident and later reported it to police. He said the incident left him feeling embarrassed and had a "profound emotional effect" on him. He said he decided to come forward because he didn't want something similar to happen to anyone else.

But in a motion seeking to preserve cellphone and other evidence from the accuser and his then-girlfriend, defense attorneys called the allegations "unsubstantiated and after-the-fact." They said no witnesses have come forward to corroborate the accuser's assault claims, despite the crowded bar and publicity surrounding the case. They call the teen's actions "completely inconsistent with a victim of sexual assault," saying he didn't ask Spacey to stop or remove himself from the situation.

"Instead, according to [the accuser,] his reaction was to text and Snapchat his girlfriend, while [Spacey] was supposedly assaulting him," defense lawyers wrote.

Spacey's lawyers said that despite the texts and Snapchat messages during the encounter, the teen didn't tell his then-girlfriend about the alleged sexual assault. The defense said the first time the girlfriend heard about the assault allegations was more than a year later when Unruh described them at a press conference.

The defense calls the texts and Snapchat messages "relevant to the issue of consent and whether lack of consent was fairly communicated to [Spacey,]" and says they are "likely to reveal that [the accuser] joked about the incident with friends for months after the incident and that his mother is the driving force behind these allegations."

The defense also says the video "does not show anything that could remotely be described as assaultive behavior."

The civil attorney for the accuser said in a statement ahead of the hearing that his client is "leading by example" by coming forward.

"By reporting the sexual assault, my client is a determined and encouraging voice for those victims not yet ready to report being sexually assaulted," said lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of clergy sexual abuse victims.

Garabedian is not a part of the criminal case against Spacey.

Media trucks lined the street before dawn, and locals on the island, which teems with tourists in the summer but quiets down in the winter, drove by slowly to take photos of reporters standing in line in the cold.

When the doors opened, more than two dozen journalists packed the courtroom hours before Spacey was scheduled to appear.

It's the first criminal case brought against Spacey since other allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him in 2017.

After the charge was announced last month, Spacey released a video in the voice of Frank Underwood, his character on Netflix's "House of Cards," in which he said, "I'm certainly not going to pay the price for the thing I didn't do." It was unclear whether he was referring to the charge.

Spacey has also faced other allegations.

His first accuser, actor Anthony Rapp, said Spacey climbed on top of him on a bed when Rapp was 14 and Spacey 26. Spacey said he did not remember such an encounter but apologized if the allegations were true.

If convicted, Spacey faces up to five years in prison.

First published on January 7, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Actor Kevin Spacey is arraigned on a sexual assault charge at Nantucket District Court in Nantucket

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