The ugliness that marked the dueling lawsuits between Denver DJ David Mueller and pop star Taylor Swift over an alleged butt-grabbing incident at a 2013 Pepsi Center concert has provided a predictably nasty coda. As we've reported, Swift told Time magazine that Mueller had never paid her the $1 judgment she won during an August trial, adding that she considered his failure to do so "an act of defiance" that was "symbolic in itself." But Mueller quickly fired back, insisting that he had sent her the $1, in the form of a Sacagawea coin that served as a symbol for him.
The Associated Press reports that Mueller provided a November 28 letter intended to prove that the $1 had been sent. The letter hasn't been made public at this writing, but the AP states that he "intended the coin featuring a prominent Native American woman as a final jab at the singer in a case her side called a win for all women."
For more about this highly unusual conflict, which took more than two years to resolve, eyeball the text from yesterday's update and two Westword posts that represent the beginning and the end, more or less, of the tale. The earliest item, originally published in September 2015, looks at the assertions in Mueller's original complaint, which actually mentions yours truly by name. It's followed by a personal essay from writer Lila Thulin, a longtime Swift fan who covered the trial for Westword, in which she shares her thoughts about Swift's courtroom victory.
Original post, 8:57 a.m. December 6: In an interview for Time magazine's Person of the Year issue, which pays tribute to women, dubbed "silence breakers," who spoke out about sexual harassment and assault in 2017, pop star Taylor Swift says Denver DJ David Mueller, who sued her in June 2015 for getting him fired from his job at KYGO after claiming (falsely, he insisted) that he'd grabbed her ass during a 2013 show at the Pepsi Center, still hasn't paid her the $1 she won from him at a high-profile trial earlier this year.
"When the jury found in my favor, the man who sexually assaulted me was court-ordered to give me a symbolic $1," Swift told the mag. "To this day he has not paid me that dollar, and I think that act of defiance is symbolic in itself."
To get a sense of the twists and turns taken by this crazy case, check out the text from two Westword posts shared below. The first, originally published in September 2015, looks at the assertions in Mueller's original complaint, which actually mentions yours truly by name. The second, from this past August, finds writer Lila Thulin, a longtime Swift fan who covered the trial for Westword, sharing her thoughts about Swift's courtroom victory.
Westword's Part in Denver DJ David Mueller's Butt-Grabbing Taylor Swift Lawsuit
September 16, 2015
By Michael Roberts
The lawsuit filed against superstar Taylor Swift by David Mueller, a DJ known as Jackson during his days on the air at popular country-music broadcaster KYGO, is certainly unusual.
After all, Mueller's complaint, included in its entirety below, blames Swift, her mom and numerous employees for getting him fired at KYGO in 2013 after falsely claiming that he'd put his hand on her ass.
But there's also a personal twist.
Turns out that yours truly is mentioned by name in the suit, as is Westword — a previously unreported angle that pivots on rumors that circulated in the wake of Swift's tour de force performance at the Pepsi Center two years ago.
As noted in the document, Mueller had more than two decades of experience in the radio industry, working at stations in San Diego, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, before landing at KYGO in Denver circa January 2013 — and as part of these gigs, he took part in publicity-generating grip-and-grins with a slew of celebs.
Specifically cited are Sheryl Crow, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Heidi Klum, Fergie, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Lopez. We're guessing the all-female list is included to stress that he'd previously been in close proximity to some of the most famous booties on the planet and had never been accused of digging his fingers into any of them.
Cut to May 30, 2013, when KYGO program director Eddie Haskell informed Mueller that he and his on-air partner, Ryan Kliesch, better known as Ryno, would be meeting and greeting Swift at the Pepsi Center prior to her June 2 Pepsi Center concert.
Approved to accompany them were Mueller's girlfriend and co-worker, Shannon Melcher, and Ryno's wife, Alycia.
When Mueller and Melcher arrived at the arena, the suit continues, the Kliesches and Haskell were already backstage. The two were led to a curtained-off area, where they waited for Swift along with fans who'd won a contest to bask in the songstress's presence.
During their turn with Swift, Mueller is said to have "complimented Ms. Swift on her patience and sincerity with her fans," while Melcher told her that "she had enjoyed watching the little girls dance and sing while waiting in line," and that Ms. Swift was a great role model.
"Ms. Swift then complimented Ms. Melcher on the belt she was wearing," the suit goes on.
Mueller was standing a few feet from Swift at this point, but when the singer and Melcher began posing for a pic, he "jumped into the photograph at the last second," the complaint states. Afterward, "Ms. Swift cordially thanked Mr. Mueller and Ms. Melcher for their visit. Ms. Swift gave Ms. Melcher a hug and shook Mr. Mueller's hand." As they departed, one of her minions handed them autographed Taylor head shots and a code to download the photo from Swift's website.
Afterward, Mueller ran into Haskell, who allegedly told him that when Swift had seen him earlier, she'd yelled out, "Eddie!" and given him a hug that he'd reciprocated by putting his "hands on her bottom," the lawsuit states. The document adds that Haskell "explained that he and one of his friends in the industry think Ms. Swift must wear bicycle shorts under her stage outfits."
At first, this passage seems like a non sequitur — but not for long.
A short time later, a member of Swift's security team identified as Craig came up to Mueller and asked, "Do you want to tell me what happened earlier tonight?" — and after Mueller said he didn't know what he meant, the staffer "accused Mr. Mueller of grabbing Ms. Swift's bottom while he and Ms. Melcher were being photographed with Ms. Swift." Mueller immediately denied any wrongdoing, and Melcher also defended him, the suit says. Additionally, Mueller is quoted as recommending that Craig contact the police and Haskell — requests that were allegedly ignored.
Instead, "security personnel and other members of Ms. Swift's staff surrounded Mr. Mueller and Ms. Melcher, verbally abused them, and told them that Ms. Swift did not want them to attend her concert," after which the pair were escorted out of the building.
Later, Frank Bell, a member of Swift's management team, is said to have shown Haskell the photo taken earlier and asked him to identify Mueller. Once Haskell did, Bell is quoted as announcing that Mueller and Melcher were banned for life from Swift concerts and declaring that the incident reflected poorly on KYGO.
Haskell subsequently left Mueller a voicemail saying the DJ wouldn't appear on the air the following Monday pending a radio-station investigation of the incident. The suit also maintains that Haskell was contacted by Scott Borchetta, president of Swift's label, Big Machine. Amid complaints about the situation, Borchetta allegedly maintained that Swift's mother "was livid."
The next morning, June 3, Bell called KYGO's general manager, Bob Call. An excerpt from this part of the suit reads:
Mr. Bell repeated Ms. Swift's charge of inappropriate physical contact by Mr. Mueller, specifically that Mr. Mueller had lifted Ms. Swift's skirt with his hand and grabbed her bottom. Mr. Bell told Mr. Call that Ms. Swift, her parents, and her staff were very upset. Mr. Bell threatened KYGO "could be gravely impacted" by the incident. Mr. Bell indicated he would forward the subject photograph to Mr. Call and commented that the photo would be "damning."
Unfortunately, the photo isn't included in the lawsuit, and it hasn't surfaced to date. But the suit maintains that not only isn't the pic damning, but it may partly exonerate Mueller. While his hand can't be seen in the shot, there's no indication that Swift's skirt had been lifted.
Nonetheless, the document states that after learning from Bell that "the Swifts 'were considering their options' if KYGO did not 'handle' Mr. Mueller," Call terminated the DJ's contract.
That's the point at which I enter the story. Here's the paragraph in question, complete with a misspelling of Westword:
On June 10, 2013, Mr. Call received a telephone call from a Westward newspaper reporter, Michael Roberts, seeking information about Mr. Mueller's termination. Although Mr. Call declined to comment, Mr. Roberts referenced Ms. Swift and "touching" and clearly suggested he had information about the allegations against Mr. Mueller.
How Mueller and his legal team know that I phoned Bob Call is unknown to me; I can only guess that Mueller had a secret squirrel at the station who filled him in about the conversation, in addition to other chats mentioned in the suit to which he wasn't a party. But here's what happened from my perspective.
Following the Swift concert, I received an anonymous tip via e-mail, if I recall correctly. In it, the author stated that Mueller had been fired after being accused of inappropriately touching Swift prior to the concert.
I subsequently reached out to a number of sources in the radio industry. My memory is that one or two of them had heard about the episode, too, but didn't have direct information about what happened. I also tried to track down Mueller, but was unsuccessful — and Call did indeed offer a "no comment" about what had happened, as is common in matters involving personnel. As a result, I didn't feel I had enough firm information to move forward with a story. Westword has published nothing about the incident until now.
Hard to tell why this material was included in the lawsuit. I can only speculate that my inquiry is being used as an example of how Mueller's reputation was harmed by rumors about why he'd been fired from a position that paid him, according to the document, $150,000 per annum.
Whatever the case, the lawsuit says that Mueller took and passed a pair of lie-detector tests about the alleged ass-grabbing the following December. "Mr. Mueller invited Ms. Swift to undergo a similar polygraph examination," the suit states. "She declined."
There's no telling if anything will come of Mueller's lawsuit beyond the initial rush of publicity — but given Swift's power and the difficulty in proving that her representatives directly demanded that Mueller be canned, it's got to be considered a long shot. If it does come to trial, though, there's no need to subpoena me. You now know everything I do.
Click to read the lawsuit.
Speak Now: A Fan's Take on Taylor Swift's Trial
August 17, 2017
By Lila Thulin
Two years from the day that I belted out Taylor Swift songs at a concert where the singer sashayed across the stage of the 56,000-seat Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, she won a countersuit for sexual assault. It was August 14, 2017. I was in the courtroom.
At the 1989 tour stop, Swift was in full pop-goddess mode, wearing a glittery crop top, her face magnified on a screen so fans like me could see her sing and strut amid a sea of male backup dancers, even from the back of the football stadium. But twenty feet from me on the eighth floor of a Denver federal courthouse, hand on her mother’s as she awaited the verdict, Swift was simply a woman in the all-too-common position of waiting for someone to take her at her word that a man had touched her body without her consent. And for a scary half-second, I was afraid that, despite a clear case argued by a high-powered legal team and backed by both witnesses and photographic evidence, the answer would be no.
I first became a Taylor Swift fan in sixth-grade gym class. Sitting next to my best friend, Ally, our pasty legs in their black mesh gym shorts stretched out on the wooden floor, I told her about a song I’d been listening to, about an unrequited crush on a boy named Drew. She said she’d been looping one about an angry ex-girlfriend planning revenge on the erstwhile object of her affections. Both songs, we discovered, were Taylor Swift's.
Since then, Swift has metamorphosed. Gone are the corkscrew curls, banjo strumming and the sundress-and-cowboy-boot getups my friends and I tried to emulate when we went to her 2011 Speak Now tour. The boys she writes songs about are no longer senior football players in Tennessee, but top-of-the-Hollywood-pack performers like Tom Hiddleston or a Kennedy scion. Throughout it all, she’s carefully sought to maintain a wholesome image for the legions of girls and young women who idolize her: Any references to sex are veiled in misty romanticism, and the strongest substance she’s ever mentioned in a song is red wine.
As she’s earned wild success (winning ten Grammys and becoming the first woman to win Album of the Year twice) and transitioned to pop, Swift’s public image has stayed as polished. Save for her close relationships with her biggest fans and her charitable giving, which have always seemed warm-hearted and genuine, her presence has struck commentators like The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman as “both calculating and enviable.”
This veneer cracked last year when Kim Kardashian West exposed that despite publicly decrying Kanye West’s (in my opinion, total banger) “Famous” as “misogynistic,” Swift had approved the reference to her (though not the rapper calling her “that bitch”). The internet abounded with think pieces about how “Taylor Swift Plays the Victim” and Swift’s social media swarmed with snake-emoji comments. This year, she’s kept a low profile.
My admiration of Taylor Swift has become more tempered and less breathless than it was in sixth grade or even three years ago on the last night of summer, when Ally and I drove around her neighborhood in circles because “Shake It Off” had finally come on the radio. Still, I’m clear on how harmful and misguided it is to extend the “playing the victim” narrative to her sexual-assault trial. It’s one thing to recognize that the animosity in Swift’s media-swollen feud with Katy Perry goes both ways. It’s another matter entirely to downplay a woman’s traumatic experience of sexual assault because of extraneous actions and unflattering headlines.
Regardless of how oversized you think Swift’s surprised reactions are as she racks up awards, the emotion in the courtroom was genuine and often painful. It was hard to watch Swift’s outraged expression as attorney Gabriel McFarland – making his closing argument on behalf of Swift’s groper, former DJ David Mueller – crouched down to demonstrate to the jury exactly how his client would have had to move to reach under Swift’s stiff skirt to have, as he put it, “grabbed a handful.” It was even more upsetting and offensive when McFarland displayed the photo of the incident and queried, “Ask yourself: Is that the face of someone who just had a strange man grab their butt?” (detect the not-so-subtle whiff of “it couldn’t have been rape because she enjoyed it” rhetoric), and Swift turned her back to the media, so I could only see her blond bun and the tissues amassing on the table as she seemed to dab away tears and blow her nose.
I ached that Swift, like many victims of sexual assault, had to spend six days in court in the same room as the man who’d groped her, having her experience questioned from every angle. I’m aware the media coverage only exacerbated this problem; observing and documenting the trial did feel exploitative. I and other journalists aimed to prioritize accuracy and hoped our reporting would bring attention to the prevalence of workplace assault. Still, it’s hard to know when humanizing detail crosses the line into tabloid fodder, especially when there were hordes of curious Swifties following along. (I was up-front with my editors about my own fandom so we could keep my articles even-handed.)
Despite the bravado with which she had voiced blunt accusations (and swearing! Taylor Swift swears!) of Mueller palming her “ass,” Swift seemed nervous as Judge William Martinez read out the verdicts on charges of assault and battery. When the yeses vindicated her suit, Swift closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. Then she rested her head on her red-faced, weeping mother’s arms in a long hug. Her legal team embraced, and in the front row of the public seating, her father, Scott, who had spent much of the closing arguments with his head bowed, latched on to her brother Austin’s shoulder. I was moved.
The fact that even celebrities with an estimated net worth of $280 million are, in fact, human, isn’t a hot take. But seeing someone as influential (remember when she changed Apple Music’s mind about royalties?) and media-savvy as Swift, someone whose music was the soundtrack to my girlhood, sigh with relief as she won a deeply relatable case — that seemed new and powerful. In the courtroom, giving snarky, frank testimony or watching the jury with anticipation, Taylor Swift, impenetrable megawatt celebrity, was everywoman. Her “horrifying and shocking” experience at a meet-and-greet was a variation of the handsy guy pushing past you in a theater, the unknown and unwelcome hands at your hips at a club or dingy frat party, the creepy person touching your thigh on public transportation while giving a “compliment.” Swift’s lawyer, J. Douglas Baldridge, said in his closing argument that the nominal $1 Swift had requested in damages “is of immeasurable value.... It means ‘no means no,’ and it means every woman can determine what is tolerable to her body.” I agree.
Swift is, like many of us, a woman navigating a world where all of her charisma and accomplishments cannot always safeguard her from being treated as a body that’s up for grabs.
Even Taylor Swift will tell you that she’s not your average woman. A statement released minutes after her trial victory read, in part, “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this...I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves." This tangible step and her countersuit are the sorts of concrete action the largely apolitical singer has been critiqued for forgoing in the past. Yes, Swift has been criticized as a “spineless” white feminist whose version of female solidarity is a #squad of size-zero supermodels strutting around a soundstage in black leather to a diss track about Katy Perry, or as someone whose Lena Dunham-rooted feminism surfaces only for the sake of optics and lacks a grasp of intersectionality. Her sexual-assault suit doesn’t excuse past shortcomings (none of us are perfect), but in this moment, Swift deserves vocal support.
The trial of a star once described as someone who “will never be an underdog again” also merits some clear-eyed confrontation of how we address all instances of sexual assault. It’s sobering that even with her high-powered team of D.C. lawyers, confidence on the stand and litany of witnesses, Taylor Swift, a millionaire who stands at 5’ 11” even without the towering designer ankle boots on her feet, was almost an underdog, worried the jury would listen to a man who argued that because she was smiling in a photo, the groping incident just wasn’t possible.
I had thought the most my life would ever overlap with Taylor Swift’s would be when I jammed a dollar bill into a jukebox with alcohol-clumsy fingers so I could loudly sing about "feeling 22" on my birthday. But I was wrong: Swift is, like many of us, a woman navigating a world where all of her charisma and accomplishments cannot always safeguard her from being treated as a body that’s up for grabs.
As the jury stood to leave, Swift mouthed, “Thank you.” I’m going to echo it back to her the way I did when she held the mic out to the crowd at that California concert: Thank you, Taylor.
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