On March 22, Multnomah County Circuit Judge David Rees found Charles McGee and Aubré Dickson not guilty of sexually assaulting Erica Naito-Campbell nearly seven years ago in McGee's house after an evening of drinking.
When Rees delivered his verdict to a standing-room-only courtroom, there were cries of victory from the men's supporters, and howls of pain from the family of their alleged victim, Naito-Campbell.
McGee, 33, founder and former CEO of the Black Parent Initiative, joyfully hugged his attorney, Christine Mascal, and yelled out his relief. His co-defendant, Dickson, 44, formerly a vice president of community lending at Key Bank and the chairman of the state Housing Stability Council, absorbed the news stoically. Naito-Campbell, 38, ran from the courtroom. Her anguish was audible through a closed door to the jury room.
McGee's and Dickson's attorneys—Mascal and Stephen Houze, respectively—won freedom for their clients. But the means they used to accomplish their victory left some observers troubled.
"This verdict from David Rees makes it even less likely that women will trust the legal system to hold perpetrators accountable," says Jillian Schoene, executive director of Emerge Oregon. "The legal system is failing women."
Schoene's comment relates to the strategy on the part of Mascal and Houze to spend less time defending their clients and more tearing apart the credibility of Naito-Campbell, who didn't report the crime until more than five years after it happened. By then, there was no physical evidence and there were never eyewitnesses.
Houze and Mascal did little to dent the consistent accounts of the alleged assault Naito-Campbell had provided to her therapist, family and friends since right after the incident, and they did not dispute most of the events she first recounted publicly one year ago to WW ("No Way Out," Feb. 7, 2018).
Instead, Mascal and Houze attacked Naito-Campbell's character and her credibility. Skirting facts that were incriminating to their clients, such as phone records, an email apology from Dickson, and McGee's pre-trial statement to police, they painted her as a mentally unbalanced, fame-seeking failure who seduced the defendants and concocted a fantastic story in a fit of morning-after regret. And they even conjured Portland's history of prejudice against its black citizens, suggesting Naito-Campbell's charges were racially motivated. (Dickson and McGee are black, Naito-Campbell is Japanese-American.)
Mascal says nobody properly vetted Naito-Campbell's account of the evening prior to trial. "Pointing out the inaccuracies, inconsistencies and nefarious reasons for her story was not victim-blaming," Mascal says. "It was necessary to unearth the previously buried facts that led to an acquittal…and, ultimately, justice." Houze declined to comment.
Here is what Houze and Dickson did to damage Naito-Campbell's credibility.
They suggested Naito-Campbell was looking for sex the night of May 10, 2012.
"By her own power and control, she chose to go with these men to those places. She could have left at any time," Mascal said in her opening statement.
"The entire case presented by the state," Mascal added, "has ignored the intent of [McGee and Dickson]. They followed her lead. She was drinking. She was dancing. She didn't leave the strip club. She chose to go in the house and continue the party. It was a drunken night with friends, and that's all it was."
Caroline Forell, professor emerita at the University of Oregon School of Law, has studied the way the legal system treats women since 1978. She says victim-blaming is a tried and true tactic in sexual assault trials.
"Women are still at the mercy at that kind of defense," Forell says.
They described her as erratic and manipulative.
Houze accused Naito-Campbell of a "lifetime of reckless behavior" and trying to "hoodwink" the court with her ability to "cry on command."
Houze spent time during the trial reading Naito-Campbell's therapist's notes, including details about her strained relationships with her parents and other personal matters, suggesting this was her real reason for seeing a therapist, not, as she claimed, because she was suffering from the trauma of a sexual assault.
"She mentioned she went to a therapist because of her anger and loss over her son's father's abandonment of her and her son," Houze said.
Rosemary Brewer of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center says defense lawyers commonly strip-mine victims' educational and counseling records, looking well beyond relevant time periods and topics for any record of dishonesty or mental illness.
They suggested her motive had nothing to do with a sexual assault but instead her desire for fame.
"Erica Naito-Campbell is trying to find her way through life," said Mascal during closing arguments. "School in Boston didn't work out. She's unemployed. She became a mother at a young age. She's trying to find an identity and become a poster-child for the #MeToo movement."
Both defense attorneys argued personal essays Naito-Campbell wrote were the beginning of a book she intended to publish to cash in on the #MeToo movement. "This was a project to write a book to become famous," Houze said.
Naito-Campbell testified in court she had no plans to publish a book. "I was trying to process this horrific experience and get the things going on in my head down on paper to externalize it and feel separate from it," she testified.
They summoned Portland's history of bigotry to cast the case in a racial and class context.
Both defense attorneys argued Naito-Campbell used her family's wealth and connections to gin up a prosecution. (Naito-Campbell is the granddaughter of the late Bill Naito, a prominent Portland developer.)
During her closing arguments, Mascal even drew a parallel between McGee and Dickson's trial and the 1902 hanging of Alonzo Tucker, Oregon's only documented lynching of a black man. "The press called [Tucker] a black fiend," Mascal said. "He was shot and hanged."
Mascal later told WW she raised the issue because Tucker's hanging was "the product of white hysteria overpowering fact-finding and reason."
Rees' verdict quickly echoed across the city. On social media, prominent women—including former mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone, former City Council candidate Andrea Valderrama, and Schoene—slammed the trial's outcome.
"This is bullshit," Valderrama wrote on Facebook after the verdict was announced.
Forell says Naito-Campbell's motivation for coming forward—to stop a man she believed was unfit for public office—reminds her of Anita Hill, who stepped forward to provide information about now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Christine Blasey Ford, who provided information about now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
"Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford were doing their civic duty by coming forward," Forell says. "But they paid a huge price—and Thomas and Kavanaugh are on the court anyway."
Forell notes that Blasey Ford has been relentlessly attacked by Kavanaugh supporters and has had to move to escape them. She says the kind of victim-blaming Blasey Ford and Naito-Campbell endured has a chilling effect.
"What happened here [in the McGee-Dickson trial] is why women don't come forward."
Naito-Campbell says she is undaunted by the verdict. "I told the truth, and that truth exists outside the bounds of a courtroom," she said in a statement. "It exists for those other women who could not come forward publicly. And it exists in the hearts of all survivors who suffer a system that is designed to deny their humanity and their truth."