The sexual assault trial of Charles McGee and Aubre Dickson began today in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
The men are being tried together related to an alleged incident on May 10, 2012. Both men waived their rights to a jury trial and placed their fate directly in the hands of Judge David Rees.
Supporters of the two defendants and their alleged victim, Erica Naito-Campbell, packed the small courtroom, causing some spectators to have to stand.
Although McGee and Dickson, who once served on the board of McGee's nonprofit, the Black Parent Initiative, sat just a few feet apart at the defense table, pre-trial filings submitted by the Multnomah County District Attorney's office show there is plenty of daylight between them. McGee told police in a 2018 interview that he "did not have sexual contact with the victim," but watched as Dickson did.
In her opening statement, Deputy Multnomah County District Attorney Amity Girt recapitulated the events of May 10, 2012.
That night, Girt told Rees, Naito-Campbell, now 38, arranged to meet McGee and Dickson at an event at the University Club downtown. Afterwards, the three, who knew each other from a nine-month-long Portland Business Alliance Young Leaders course, went to a strip club and then to McGee's home.
There, Girt said, both men sexually assaulted Naito-Campbell.
"Seven years ago, Charles McGee and Aubre Dickson took something from her she'll never get back," Girt said. "She suffered a substantial loss; of self worth, of safety."
Naito-Campbell did not report the alleged assault to police at the time but Girt said Naito-Campbell would not forget what happened.
"She also made herself a promise," Girt said. "She would report them if one of them ran for public office. She couldn't stand them being in a position of public trust or authority."
When McGee, the founder and then CEO of the Black Parent Initiative, decided to run for an open Multnomah County Commission seat in late 2017, Naito-Campbell decided to tell WW what happened to her in 2012. WW's story led to both men being indicted by a grand jury in 2018.
McGee, and his co-defendant, Dickson, a banker and the former chairman of the state Housing Stability Council, pleaded not guilty.
In their opening statements, defense attorneys for both men, rather than disputing Girt's version of events, focused on Naito-Campbell's motivation.
Stephen Houze, Dickson's attorney, said Naito-Campbell pushed a false narrative out of a desire for fame.
Houze said that Naito-Campbell "formed an unholy alliance with a particular reporter to tell a story" that would make her name and then used her family's power and influence to secure an indictment against her alleged attackers. (Disclosure: that reporter is me.)
"This is a case that turns exclusively on the word on Erica Naito-Campbell," Houze said. "There are no photos, forensic evidence, and there was no visit to doctor."
Houze said Naito-Campbell hoped to profit by writing a book about her experience.
"This was a project to write a book to become famous," he said. "But much like with Greek tragedies, it is often times the hubris of the individual that proves to be their undoing. In this case, her own words will unmask the truth and exonerate Aubre Dickson."
Christine Mascal, McGee's attorney, took a similar approach. "This case is about Erica Naito-Campbell getting attention, however cold and however bold that attention is," Mascal said. "Because she didn't get attention in college or in her legal career. She wasn't getting the attention her name demands."
Naito-Campbell was the state's first witness. She recounted the night of her alleged assault in granular detail, down to recalling that when McGee allegedly grabbed her and pulled her to the floor in his house, she knocked into his child's high chair, spilling a drink that McGee later cleaned up.
Naito-Campbell testified that although she didn't know McGee well, she knew he was married with a young child. She said she felt secure in his presence thinking Dickson, a married father of three, would look out for her.
After McGee allegedly grabbed her, pulled down her underwear and attempted to penetrate her vagina with his penis on the night of May 12, Dickson initially told McGee "that's enough," Naito-Campbell said, and helped her to a couch.
"I thought Aubre Dickson was my friend and I could rely on him," Naito-Campbell told the court.
But moments later, she testified, both men attacked her at once.
Since that night, Naito-Campbell testified, she's suffered from regular panic attacks; avoids going anywhere she might encounter either of her alleged attackers and has become a virtual recluse.
Naito-Campbell, whose family has extensive property holdings, denied having any interest in profiting from telling her story. She testified that she wrote about what happened to her in private essays as a way of coping with the stress of telling her story but made no attempt to sell that writing.
Girt asked her if she'd ever consulted an attorney or considered filing a civil lawsuit against the men.
"No," Naito-Campbell testified. "Money can't make me whole or change what happened."
"So do you feel that coming forward to Willamette Week and the Portland Police Bureau has allowed you to get your life back?" Girt asked her.
"No," Naito-Campbell said. "Not at all."
The trial resumes at 1:30 pm on March 14.