Gag Order Denied in Frimpong Case

Written request for a restraining order needed to prevent Frimpong's associates from contacting the alleged victim

Eric Frimpong
Paul Wellman

A brief gag order hearing in the Eric
Frimpong rape case Tuesday morning yielded the ironic net result of
the presiding judge, Brian Hill, holding off on making any ruling
and both prosecuting and defense attorneys discussing the
investigation into the charges against the UCSB soccer player.

Frimpong, a UCSB senior and member of the men’s soccer team, was
arrested Saturday, February 17, after a female UCSB student claimed
she was assaulted and raped on the beach beneath Isla Vista’s Del
Playa Drive by a black man with a slender build and an “island”
accent. Precisely how Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department
investigators came to arrest Frimpong, a citizen of Ghana, has not
been disclosed, as such details have been deemed too important to
the ongoing investigation. Robert Sanger, Frimpong’s attorney, said
his client is innocent and that Frimpong even submitted a DNA
sample to investigators to help prove it. However, following the
news of Frimpong’s arrest, a second woman came forward with claims
that she too was assaulted by the athlete, causing police to arrest
Frimpong for a second time on Friday, February 23. The charges have
resulted in a collective sum of $350,000 in bail.

In response to a Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department press
release detailing Frimpong’s first arrest, Sanger declared that he
would seek a gag order in the case. Sanger, who usually declines to
speak to news media, spoke to various news outlets last week about
the “inappropriate” tone he noticed in the press release. In court
this morning, he explained to Judge Hill that undue media scrutiny
on his client could result in his inability to get a fair trial in
Santa Barbara County. “There’s no reason to make this more
speculative and sensational then it already is,” he said. Sanger
also mentioned that he had worked in previous cases in which a gag
order had been imposed and that he felt the lack of media
manipulation helped the proceedings run more smoothly. “We want to
keep this contained,” Sanger said.

Part of the gag order Sanger proposed to Hill included a
prohibition of the Sheriff’s Department from issuing further press
releases. “If the sheriff is out there, making statements [like the
previous one], then we may be required again to respond,” Sanger
said. County counsel Kerry Scott reasoned that such a restriction
would unduly bind investigators in further researching the rape
claims, as the publication of the first release was crucial in
bringing forward the second alleged victim. Judge Hill declined to
approve Sanger’s gag order, instead suggesting that the two
attorneys work out an agreement to decide what information may be
related to reporters.

Prosecuting attorney Mary Barron also brought a motion before
Judge Hill—specifically, an oral argument encouraging the
imposition of a restraining order on UCSB student Patrick Monahan,
reportedly a close friend of Frimpong’s. Barron claimed Monahan had
an exchange with one of the alleged victims that she considered
witness intimidation. She offered a printout transcript of the
conversation between Monahan and “Jane Doe No. 1”, which occurred
on Facebook.com, an online social network popular amongst
UCSB students. The details of the conversation were not disclosed,
but Judge Hill said he would only consider such a measure if Barron
submitted the proposal in writing at the next hearing, which is
scheduled to take place Thursday, March 1. Monahan declined to
comment.

Facing His Fans

Judging from reports outside of the courtroom, it appears
Frimpong is enjoying support from friends in Isla Vista and Santa
Barbara. Facebook.com, ever the medium for social
interaction amongst college students, is hosting a club titled “The
Eric Frimpong Legal Defense Fund.” Administered by Monahan, the
group currently boasts a membership of 156 people and aims to
collect $25,000 as a retainer for legal counsel.

One of these members is recent UCSB graduate and San Diego
resident Julia Witton, who met Frimpong through her sister, a
member of the UCSB Women’s Soccer team and one of Frimpong’s
roommates. Witton counts Frimpong as a family friend and says the
showing of support is indicative of the shock many feel at the
charges being lobbied against the soccer star. “My family has been
pretty affected by it,” Witton said. “I am just so tired about
reading about the incident in the newspaper, in articles that are
so one-sided.” Witton said the abundance of coverage has led to a
perception of Frimpong as nothing more than a rapist—not as the
friend and good person she knows. “I think all of his friends are
trying to stick behind him because he’s the kind of guy who would
never do something like this,” she said. “They got the wrong
guy.”

Although Witton admitted she was not present during the night
the rapes allegedly occurred, she feels compelled to remind people
that most commentators do not know the facts. “My opinion is that,
yes, they have arrested someone and, yes, someone was raped.… [But]
has there been anything proven?” Witton said. “I just want the
community to know—like some random family in Goleta who’s a fan of
UCSB soccer—not to open the newspaper and think, ‘Oh my god, Eric
Frimpong is a rapist.’”

One point that Witton said has been misreported is that the rape
charges have resulted in Frimpong being dropped from the roster of
the Kansas City Wizards, a professional soccer team. In fact,
Wizards spokesperson Rob Thompson said that Frimpong was never
drafted in the first place; although he was among the soccer
players flown out for tryouts, he was not one the handful who made
the cut.

“Alleged Victims,” Not “Accusers”

While not necessarily attempting to counter the public sentiment
in support of Frimpong, Alena Donovan—a community education
coordinator at the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center—spoke with
The Independent on the tendency for people to rally behind
a friend facing rape charges, but to forget the person claiming to
have been raped, as U.S. law protect the alleged victim’s
anonymity. “If you reviewed hundreds of sexual violence cases in
the media, you’d see [this trend] over and over again… It makes it
really tough in cases like these, because the survivors are often
forgotten,” Donovan said. She noted that in cases like the Kobe
Bryant rape trial, the term for the person claiming to have been
raped was often changed by reporters from “alleged victim” to
“accuser,” which Donovan said had a more negative connotation.

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