NANTUCKET, Mass. (AP) — Kevin Spacey pleaded not guilty Monday to groping an 18-year-old busboy in 2016 in the first criminal case brought against the disgraced actor following a string of sexual misconduct allegations that crippled his career.
Spacey’s court appearance came more than a year after former Boston TV anchor Heather Unruh accused the former “House of Cards” star of sexually assaulting her son in a bar on the Massachusetts resort island of Nantucket.
Nantucket District Court Judge Thomas Barrett ordered Spacey to stay away from his accuser and the man’s family. Spacey will not have to appear at his next hearing on March 4, but he must be available by phone, Barrett said.
The judge also ordered Spacey’s accuser and the man’s then-girlfriend to preserve text messages and other data on their cellphones from the day of the alleged assault and six months after. Spacey’s attorney Alan Jackson told the judge they believe the cellphones contain information that is “likely exculpatory” for Spacey.
The actor and his lawyers declined to comment as they left the courthouse amid a crush of reporters. Spacey, wearing a gray suit, navy vest and polka dot tie, didn’t speak during the hearing and his lawyers entered the not-guilty plea on his behalf.
In court documents, Spacey’s lawyers called the accusations “patently false” and noted that prosecutors have no witnesses to the alleged groping. Spacey’s lawyers wrote that the teen lied about his age, “welcomed” drinks bought by Spacey, left the bar with him to smoke a cigarette and gave Spacey his phone number.
“At best, this describes two people engaged in mutual and consensual flirtation, nothing more,” his attorneys wrote.
If convicted of felony indecent assault and battery, the 59-year-old two-time Oscar winner could face as many as five years in prison.
Unruh’s son told police that he wanted to get a picture with the former “House of Cards” star and went over to talk to him after his shift ended at the Club Car, a popular island bar and restaurant, according to court documents. The man said Spacey bought him several drinks and tried to convince him to come home with him before unzipping the man’s pants and groping him for about three minutes.
The accuser told police that he tried to move Spacey’s hands, but the groping continued, and he didn’t know what to do because he didn’t want to get in trouble for drinking. The man said he fled when Spacey went to the bathroom.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people alleging sexual assault.
The civil attorney for the accuser said in a statement ahead of the hearing that his client is “leading by example.”
“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.
A judge denied Spacey’s bid to avoid appearing in person Monday. Spacey had argued that his presence would “amplify the negative publicity already generated” by the case.
Hours after the court appearance, Spacey was pulled over for speeding as he exited Washington’s Reagan National Airport and given a warning, said Athena Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
After the sexual assault charge was announced last month, Spacey released a video in the voice of Frank Underwood, his character on “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 was ousted from the Netflix series and other productions after he was accused of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior by numerous people amid the #MeToo movement.
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.
Spacey remains under investigation on suspicion of sexual assault in Los Angeles for an incident that allegedly occurred in 2016. Prosecutors declined to file charges over a 1992 allegation because the statute of limitations had expired.
By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER