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Five Things We’ve Learned So Far in the Sexual Assault Trial of Charles McGee and Aubré Dickson

#MeToo trials are unusual. This may be the first in Oregon.

Portland has rarely seen a criminal trial like the one now unfolding in Multnomah County Circuit Court. It brings three prominent Portlanders together in a story with heavy racial and social repercussions.

Charles McGee, 33, and Aubré Dickson, 44, face numerous charges for an alleged sexual assault of Erica Naito-Campbell on May 10, 2012.

Naito-Campbell, 38, is a graduate of Reed College and Lewis & Clark Law School and the granddaughter of the late Bill Naito, a Japanese American businessman who built a lucrative real estate company and for whom Naito Parkway is named.

McGee, whose family emigrated from Liberia when he was 5, founded a nonprofit called the Black Parent Initiative and was running for a seat on the Multnomah County Commission last year when WW published Naito-Campbell's account of the alleged assault ("No Way Out," Feb. 7, 2018). Dickson, who is also black, was then a vice president at Key Bank and chairman of the state's HousingStability Council.

In the wake of WW's story, McGee dropped out of the election. Both men lost their jobs and now face felony charges.

The trial, in front of Judge David Rees, began March 13. WW is covering it daily on wweek.com. In the first five days of the trial, five key findings have emerged.

#MeToo trials are unusual.

The movement dates to October 2017, when women came forward with sexual harassment and abuse claims against Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Although Weinstein faces criminal charges in New York, neither he nor most of the powerful men across the country brought down by the movement have yet faced criminal trial.

This appears to be the first high-profile #MeToo case that has come to court in Oregon. "I am not aware of any trials," says Jennifer Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon who studies sexual violence and harassment.

In a December 2017 text message to Danielle Winterhalter, who was advising her on media coverage, Naito-Campbell expressed frustration with the civil nature of discourse. "The greatest flaw in the #MeToo campaign is the sanitization of sexual assault," Naito-Campbell wrote to Winterhalter. "I don't care if Charles McGee sues me, because there's nothing left for him to take that he hasn't already destroyed."

McGee's political ambitions prompted Naito-Campbell to come forward.

Although Naito-Campbell alleges McGee and Dickson assaulted her in May 2012, she did not report the incident to police or seek medical help after the incident. According to trial testimony, she told friends and her therapist she did not want to drag her family into the media, feared furthering the narrative of two black men assaulting a white woman, and wasn't sure she'd be believed.

But she also told people that if either man ever ran for office, she'd reveal what happened that night.

In 2013, in an email she sent to WW that has been introduced into evidence at the trial, Campbell first raised alarm about McGee but would not provide specifics. In 2015, she wrote to Dickson, whom she had considered a friend, after McGee mused publicly about running for the Portland City Council.

"You robbed me of my dignity," she wrote. "You robbed me of my sense of self. You took everything you had no right to take."

The reading of her 2015 letter to Dickson in court—Naito-Campbell couldn't get through it because she was crying too hard to speak—provided the most dramatic courtroom scene last week.

McGee quickly announced he would not run after that letter. But after he began raising money in the fall of 2017 to run for a Multnomah County seat in 2018, Naito-Campbell went public.

McGee put his co-defendant in a difficult position.

Throughout this case, McGee has shown a greater confidence in his ability to talk his way out of trouble than has Dickson. McGee engaged in brief phone and sit-down interviews with WW in early 2018. (He would later tell police that the substance of what he told WW was untrue, court records show.)

He then submitted to an interview with Portland police and testified in front of a grand jury. Dickson ignored two dozen interview requests from WW and never spoke to police or appeared in front of a grand jury.

But court records show, despite the absence of physical evidence, McGee admitted to police Dickson had "sexual contact" with Naito-Campbell at McGee's house while McGee watched and masturbated. That complicated the defense for both men immeasurably.

"It's pretty unusual for a suspect to appear before a grand jury, particularly because the witness doesn't get to have a lawyer present in the grand jury room," says Tung Yin, who teaches criminal law at Lewis & Clark Law School. "I think it would be a highly risky move for a lawyer to let a client who is a suspect (or even person of interest) to testify in that situation."

Defense counsel made a somewhat unusual choice in requesting a bench trial.

On the day before jury selection was due to begin, both defendants elected to waive their right to a jury trial and put their fate in the hands of Judge David Rees. A Stanford University grad who earned his JD from UC Berkeley School of Law, Rees was named to the bench in 2009 after a career as a civil litigator at Stoll Berne, a left-leaning plaintiff's law firm. (Most criminal cases are resolved before trial, and the Oregon Judicial Department doesn't keep statistics on the percentage of cases decided by a jury versus those decided by a judge.)

"Race might well be a reason for the bench trial request," says Yin. "When you have an alleged crime that is interracial in nature, the defense might be concerned about racial biases among the potential jurors." Yin also suggests that since McGee and Dickson may be pointing fingers at each other, they may also hope a judge can better sift through the evidence.

Naito-Campbell told a consistent story from May 2012, and that story has held up so far at trial.

Witnesses, including Naito-Campbell's half-brother, her closest female friends, and a therapist she first saw 10 days after the incident, have all recounted essentially the same story that Naito-Campbell told on the stand.

Her account is that after an evening that began with drinking at the University Club downtown and ended at McGee's Southeast Portland home, first McGee and then both men together attempted to rape Naito-Campbell. She says McGee forcibly pulled down her underwear and engaged in oral sex, Dickson forcibly inserted his fingers in her vagina, and both men tried and failed to rape her.

That's what she told a half-dozen people in the days after the incident, and that's what they mostly remember.

"She told me how frightened she was when they turned the lights off," testified Allison Gilman, a high school friend whom Naito-Campbell called six days after the incident. "She was putting her hands between her legs to stop them, and [later] she had bruises and it hurt when she went to the bathroom."

The trial is set to continue through March 22.