Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. pleads guilty to forcibly touching woman at NY nightclub

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Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. pleaded guilty Wednesday to forcibly touching a woman at a New York nightclub in 2018.

The guilty plea came nearly three years after the Oscar-winning "Jerry Maguire" star was arrested in the case that saw several delays as his lawyers sought to get charges reduced or dismissed.

Gooding, 54, accused of violating three different women at various Manhattan night spots in 2018 and 2019, pleaded guilty to just one of the allegations. He told the judge he "kissed the waitress on her lips" without consent at the LAVO New York nightclub. Gooding also admitted to subjecting two other women to non-consensual physical contact in October 2018 and June 2019, according to the district attorney's office.

The plea came during a scheduled hearing in the case Wednesday, two years after Gooding was first charged and following multiple hearings, many of which were postponed or continued. Previous negotiations over a plea agreement had stalled under former district attorney Cyrus Vance.

"Today, two of the three cases were dismissed, and as for the third case, Cuba Gooding Jr. entered into a re-pleader today whereby in six months his case will be disposed of with a violation, which is not a crime, resulting in no criminal record," said Gooding's attorney Peter Toumbekis in a statement to USA TODAY.

Actor Cuba Gooding Jr., seen here in court Jan. 22, 2020, in New York, pleaded guilty to forcibly touching a woman at a New York nightclub in 2018.
Actor Cuba Gooding Jr., seen here in court Jan. 22, 2020, in New York, pleaded guilty to forcibly touching a woman at a New York nightclub in 2018.

Gooding's plea deal calls for no jail time. If he continues counseling for six months, he can withdraw the misdemeanor plea and plead guilty to a lesser violation of harassment. If he does not comply, he faces up to one year in jail.

"We fully credit and believe all of the survivors in this case and thank all of the women and other witnesses who cooperated with our office during the pendency of our investigation," Assistant District Attorney Coleen Balbert said during the court appearance.

Balbert said they were "able to reach a disposition in this matter after lengthy discussions between the defense, myself, and the complaining witnesses in this case."

Gooding's plea also allows all three complainants in the case to make victim impact statements, either at the time of plea or sentencing. One of the accusers will be making a statement Wednesday, according to the district attorney's office.

The district attorney's office revealed Wednesday that the judge in the case changed course to not allow prosecutors to introduce Molineux testimony, otherwise known as prior bad acts witnesses, at a trial of Gooding.

Molineux testimony can be used to help establish that a defendant has engaged in an alleged pattern of criminal behavior. Such testimony about uncharged alleged crimes can help persuade a jury to convict on the actual counts charged. Molineux testimony was used successfully to convict Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2020 in Manhattan on sex-crime charges.

Gooding was arrested in June 2019 after a 29-year-old woman told police he squeezed her breast without her consent at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge near Times Square.

A few months later, he was charged in two additional cases as more women came forward to accuse him of abuse. New charges alleged he pinched a server's buttocks after making a sexually suggestive remark to her at TAO Downtown and forcibly touched a woman inappropriately at the LAVO nightclub, both in 2018.

Gooding had previously pleaded not guilty to six misdemeanor counts and denied all allegations of wrongdoing. His lawyers have argued that overzealous prosecutors, caught up in the fervor of the #MeToo movement, are trying to turn "commonplace gestures" or misunderstandings into crimes.

Yearslong delay: Cuba Gooding Jr. trial began earlier this year in NYC groping case

Cuba Gooding Jr. arrives at New York Criminal court for his sexual misconduct case, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in New York.
Cuba Gooding Jr. arrives at New York Criminal court for his sexual misconduct case, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in New York.

The judge had ruled that if the Gooding case went to trial, prosecutors could have called two additional accusers to testify about their allegations that Gooding also violated them. Those women, whose claims did not result in criminal charges, were among 19 other accusers whom prosecutors were seeking to call as witnesses.

The judge's reversal on the prior bad acts testimony was cited by Balbert as one of the factors in the district attorney's office agreeing to the disposition of the case.

Seven of the 19 accusers came to the attention of the district attorney's office since October 2019, following widespread media coverage of Gooding's case after his arrest in June of that year. The allegations made by the witnesses include a woman who says Gooding groped her breast and attempted to kiss her in a crowd at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in 2003. A second woman alleges Gooding forcibly groped her at the festival in 2009.

Other witnesses allege Gooding groped their breasts or buttocks or genitals, or kissed or attempted to kiss them, in a nightclub in Los Angeles in 2005; at a restaurant in New York in 2006; at a restaurant in the Atlanta area in 2011; in a nightclub in San Francisco in 2016; and at a restaurant in Malibu in 2016.

"Looking at the defendant's repeated interactions with women, his purpose and intent is clear," said Assistant District Attorney Jenna Long in a filing at the time. "Touching a woman with the intent to gratify one's self sexually or to degrade her is not innocent or commonplace behavior."

Along with the criminal case, Gooding is accused in a lawsuit of raping a woman in New York City in 2013. After a judge issued a default judgment in July because Gooding hadn't responded to the lawsuit, the actor retained a lawyer and is fighting the allegations.

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Contributing: Maria Puente, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cuba Gooding Jr. pleads guilty to forcible touching in groping case