Prosecutors in Massachusetts on Wednesday dropped a sexual assault charge against the actor Kevin Spacey, bringing an abrupt close to one of the few criminal cases of the #MeToo era.
Mr. Spacey, 59, had been accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a Nantucket restaurant three years ago. In recent weeks, there had been signs that the case against Mr. Spacey was in jeopardy. Last month, the accuser’s lawyer said that a smartphone at the center of the case had gone missing, and this month, the accuser dropped a lawsuit against Mr. Spacey only six days after filing it.
Problems for the prosecution came to a head last week when Mr. Spacey’s accuser invoked the Fifth Amendment during a hearing over his missing phone. After the young man refused to continue his testimony, a Nantucket District Court judge speculated about whether the prosecution was still viable.
In a court filing, Michael O’Keefe, a prosecutor with the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office, wrote that the office was dropping the prosecution “due to the unavailability of the complaining witness.”
The Nantucket case was one of a series of sexual misconduct allegations against Mr. Spacey that came to light in the early days of the #MeToo movement, which followed revelations about the behavior of the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Numerous powerful men have lost their jobs after people they harassed or assaulted felt emboldened to speak out; Mr. Spacey’s acting career came to a sudden halt, with “House of Cards” cutting him out of the final season.
But the accusation out of Nantucket was the only one against Mr. Spacey that resulted in criminal prosecution, and other than a coming trial against Mr. Weinstein in Manhattan involving two women, few other #MeToo cases have been brought in the United States. In most instances, the alleged acts were either too old to prosecute or did not rise to the level of a criminal offense.
Mr. Spacey’s accuser had reported to the police that in July 2016, when he was 18 and working as a busboy at the Club Car, he asked to be introduced to Mr. Spacey one night after his shift ended.
After he and Mr. Spacey had several drinks, the young man said, they began to sing together at the piano. The accuser said that Mr. Spacey had been trying to get him to come home with him, and that while they were standing by the piano, Mr. Spacey unzipped his pants and rubbed his penis for about three minutes, according to a police report.
When Mr. Spacey went to the bathroom, the young man told a woman at the bar that he thought Mr. Spacey was trying to rape him, and when she told him to leave, he ran home, according to the man’s account to the police.
Mr. Spacey was charged in December 2018 with one count of indecent assault and battery. He had pleaded not guilty and his lawyer, Alan Jackson, argued that the encounter with Mr. Spacey was “consensual flirtation.” Mr. Jackson wrote in a court filing that the accuser “concocted and exaggerated elements of a story to impress his friends.”
During the criminal court proceedings, the defense focused its efforts on obtaining the smartphone that the young man used the night of the alleged assault. Throughout the night, he had been texting his girlfriend updates on what he said was happening. At one point, according to court documents, he texted her that Mr. Spacey had grabbed his penis “like eight times.”
Mr. Jackson said that records of the text conversation between the accuser and his girlfriend appeared to be incomplete, suggesting that the accuser had deleted messages that could prove Mr. Spacey’s innocence. A group chat between the accuser and several friends also appeared to be incomplete and edited, Mr. Jackson wrote in court filings.
A Nantucket District Court judge granted the defense’s request to obtain the accuser’s physical smartphone so they could examine it forensically. But shortly before the phone was supposed to be produced, the accuser’s lawyer said it was missing.
At the hearing about the missing phone last week, the accuser and his parents denied that they had manipulated screenshots of texts messages from the night of the alleged assault before handing them over to police. When Mr. Jackson was told the accuser that he could be charged with a felony for deleting evidence, the young man invoked his constitutional right to protect himself from self-incrimination.
The Nantucket case became public in fall 2017 after the accuser’s mother, Heather Unruh, a former television news anchor in Boston, disclosed her son’s story at a news conference and asked the unidentified woman who told her son to flee the Club Car to step forward. That news conference came soon after Mr. Spacey was publicly accused of sexual misconduct for the first time. In a BuzzFeed article, the actor Anthony Rapp accused Mr. Spacey of sexually assaulting him in 1986, when Mr. Rapp was 14. No criminal charges stemmed from that case.
Brittany Bowker contributed reporting from Nantucket, Mass.
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