Day 1 of Taylor Swift groping trial: What's at stake

Taylor Swift performs in Times Square on New Year's Eve in New York in 2014.
Taylor Swift performs in Times Square on New Year's Eve in New York in 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

DENVER (NYTIMES) - On this the radio host and the superstar agree: David Mueller, known on the air as Jackson, took his girlfriend and co-worker along to meet Taylor Swift shortly before a concert in Denver on June 2, 2013. They chatted and posed for a photograph.

From there their versions differ starkly and vehemently. Now a federal jury will decide whether, as Swift says, Mueller groped her while the picture was being taken. Or whether, as Mueller says in the civil suit he filed two years after the preconcert encounter, Swift falsely accused him, leading the local radio station KYGO to fire him from a US$150,000 ($204,510)-a-year job hosting a morning show.

Swift countersued, accusing Mueller of assault and battery. Neither side has said how much compensation it expects if jurors decide in its favour. Swift said that she would donate any award to groups who work to protect women from assault.

Swift is scheduled to testify during the proceedings. Hours before jury selection was to begin Monday, Maya Benia, a 20-year-old New Mexico State University psychology student, was at the courthouse hoping to pass a letter of support to Swift.

"I have been a Swifty for 11 years. I adore her so much," Benia said. "I think she's really brave for speaking up about sexual assault."

Other fans hoping to see Swift at the federal courthouse in downtown Denver will be asked to line up each day for one of the 32 seats reserved for the public in the courtroom or for one of 75 in an overflow room with a closed-circuit video feed of the proceedings. But the prospect of jury selection did not draw many spectators Monday. 

 

It's not clear when during the trial, expected to last nine days, Swift might appear. The presiding judge, William J Martínez, has warned anyone who hopes to attend to refrain from wearing clothing "bearing the name or likeness of any of the parties." He said posters are also banned in the courthouse.

Swift's pretrial deposition provided a preview of her testimony about the events at Pepsi Center, the arena in Denver not far from the courthouse. The arena, which can seat more than 20,000 people for concerts, is also home to the city's professional basketball, ice hockey and lacrosse teams.

Swift described in the deposition getting in "photo formation" between Mueller and his girlfriend, "and that's when right as the moment came for us to pose for the photo, he took his hand and put it up my dress and grabbed onto my ass cheek, and no matter how much I scooted over it was still there. It was not an accident, it was completely intentional, and I have never been so sure of anything in my life."

Mueller, who has worked in radio for more than two decades in San Diego, Kansas City and elsewhere, as well as in Denver, is just as adamant. According to the suit his lawyers filed, "the contention that Mr Mueller lifted up Ms Swift's skirt and grabbed her bottom, while standing with his girlfriend, in front of Ms Swift's photographer and Ms. Swift's highly trained security personnel, during a company-sponsored, VIP backstage meet-and-greet is nonsense".

His suit names Swift; her mother, Andrea Swift, who was in town for the concert; and Frank Bell, who handled radio relations for Taylor Swift. Bell is accused, at Andrea Swift's behest, of pressuring KYGO to take action against Mueller.

The case, as Martínez wrote in May in an order allowing it to proceed, will turn on credibility. In court papers, Swift anticipates a question that women often face when they make accusations of sexual assault: Why didn't she protest at the time?

Swift described being too "surprised, upset, offended and alarmed", and noted that Mueller was an intimidating 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds.

Her lawyers have asked Lorraine Bayard de Volo, an associate professor of women and gender studies at the University of Colorado, to testify as an expert witness about how women typically react when they are sexually assaulted or harassed.

As soon as Mueller and his companion, Shannon Melcher, left, Swift said that she told her tour manager and security staff that she had been groped. Members of her staff tracked down Mueller and Melcher in the Pepsi Center and escorted them out. Swift's team contacted KYGO officials to describe her allegations. Mueller was fired two days later.

Mueller, who is scheduled to testify, has repeatedly denied groping Swift. Melcher said in a deposition that she noticed nothing unusual during the Pepsi Center meeting. Mueller has indicated that if he had touched Swift in a way she found inappropriate, it was inadvertent as he rushed to get into position for the photograph, which, though inconclusive, is expected to be key evidence at the trial.

Mueller included in his complaint an account of a conversation he had with his boss the night of the concert. He claimed that his boss, a longtime acquaintance of Swift, told Mueller that he greeted her at the Pepsi Center by putting his "hands on her bottom." Mueller described the man going on to speculate that the singer wore bicycle shorts under her stage outfits.

Swift has in court papers rejected the implication she was mistaken about who groped her. She said that she countersued to "serve as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts".