Five women accuse Seattle’s David Meinert of sexual misconduct, including rape | KUOW News and Information

Five women accuse Seattle’s David Meinert of sexual misconduct, including rape

Jul 19, 2018

The woman waited in her car for the police. She lived in Shoreline, but was told earlier that day she needed to be within Seattle city limits to file a sexual assault report against nightlife entrepreneur David Meinert.

So, as instructed, the woman drove to Seattle, picked a parking spot in Sunset Hill Park, which overlooks the Olympic Mountains, and dialed 911.

An hour passed. A dispatcher called to make sure the woman was still there. She was, she said. Was there a way to know when a detective might be on the way? Unfortunately not, the dispatcher said, but they’d send someone out soon.

It got dark. Another hour later, Seattle Police called again. The woman was still at the park, she confirmed to the dispatcher, but she wondered if there was another protocol to file her report. No, the dispatcher told her. The alleged assault had happened four years before, in 2013, and was, in police terms, “delayed.” There was no way to speed up the process, and it just didn’t take priority over urgent calls.

“Obviously if this is something that you wish to document, we are here to assist you,” the dispatcher said.

“I don’t want to press charges,” the woman said. “I just want to file a report because I’m sure I’m not the only person this has happened to.”

After waiting another hour, she went home without filing a report. Two months later, she tried again.

This was not the first time Meinert was accused of sexual assault. In 2007, police received a complaint of rape against Meinert that prosecutors declined to charge.

In total, five women shared stories with KUOW alleging a range of disturbing behavior by Meinert between 2001 and 2015. They include two alleged rapes (one was not reported to authorities, and prosecutors declined to charge the other), a woman who said she had to physically push Meinert out of her apartment, a woman who said he stuck his tongue down her throat — and the woman at Sunset Hill Park, who said he choked her as he masturbated onto her skirt.

Editor's note: The five women interviewed by KUOW asked to remain anonymous for fear of hurting their careers. We're granting anonymity because of the stigma still attached to sexual violence. We will refer to these women with brief descriptions instead. 

The women were motivated to speak out by the #MeToo movement, others who have been treated similarly by powerful men, and their own frustration watching Meinert ascend in Seattle circles with a progressive reputation they believe is undeserved.

Resources for victims and survivors of abuse:

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center

888-998-6423

Hotline for therapy, legal advocates and family services

UW Medicine Center for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress

206-744-1600

Hotline, resources including counseling and medical care

Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs

List of providers across the state that offer free services.

Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN)

800-656-4673

Hotline and/or online chat with trained staff

Meinert sat down for two interviews with KUOW last week to respond to these allegations.

He was contrite about some things. He admitted to being a jerk to women, to making off-color sexist remarks, to being “handsy.” But he insisted that he’s not a rapist.

“The #MeToo movement has pointed out how widespread and grotesque of a situation we have with how men have treated women for thousands of years, and that includes me,” Meinert said. He was interviewed at the offices of Strategies 360, a crisis communications firm he hired last year.

“I have crossed the line of respect,” he said. “I think that I’ve been pushy or handsy, which we might have called it in the past, but now looking back it's more than that, and it's an invasion, and it crosses the line.”

But Meinert denied the specific allegations of rape and sexual assault made against him. A couple of instances of inappropriate behavior — he said those may have happened. But he doesn’t recall them.

So why would five women accuse Meinert of things that either never happened, or in his words, incidents he didn’t recall?

“I don’t know,” Meinert said.

Meinert is a bigfoot in the Seattle music, restaurant and bar scenes. He manages a record label, has produced the Capitol Hill Block Party, owns The 5 Point Café, co-founded a restaurant group that includes the Comet Tavern, and recently invested in a new gay bar.

Meinert also dabbles in local politics. He’s a regular media commentator on Seattle City Council initiatives like the $15 minimum wage and the failed head tax. (He has appeared several times on KUOW’s The Record, too.)

One glowing Seattle Times profile of Meinert described him as an “establishment power broker” after he helped overturn a law that all but banned underage concerts.

He has thrown fundraisers for former Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sen. Maria Cantwell. King County Executive Dow Constantine, too, has enjoyed Meinert’s longtime support.

And in Burien, where Meinert lives, he helped organize a successful campaign to unseat City Council members who came out against a sanctuary city ordinance.

Almost every piece written about Meinert contrasts his outsized influence to his appearance: He typically wears jeans and T-shirts, has rumpled hair and scruff on the jaw.

His activism traces back to Western Washington University, where he protested the Reagan administration’s presence in Central America.

These days, Meinert presents as a family man. He has softened around the middle since his club and band promoting days in the 1990s and early 2000s, and in 2009 he had a daughter with a longtime partner.

'For years I just buried it because I didn't want to go to the police, didn't want to go through what women used to go through.'

Meinert has a reputation for brashness and hot takes. He sometimes pops up on the national radar, like when he instituted a “No Google Glass” policy at The 5 Point and one of his businesses kicked out a Glass-wearing customer, and when he got into a public spat with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.

He has consistently supported women’s issues. On the last International Women’s Day, Meinert announced women would get 22 percent off their tabs at his restaurants because of the wage gap. He supports Planned Parenthood, and when it comes to regulating firearms — which he is passionate about — he has advocated discussing the role of “toxic masculinity” in fatal shootings.

Yet several of the women interviewed by KUOW this year said Meinert’s respected standing and wealth made them afraid to speak out. Meinert’s defense attorney hired a private investigator to background a woman who accused him of rape. Another woman said she was afraid he would “ruin” her.

He did accept some fault — but not for sexual assault.

“I've spent tons of time reflecting on my lifestyle and on my actions,” Meinert said. “I'm not trying to claim I'm an innocent guy.”

“I'm a deeply flawed person,” he continued. “I've done lots of things that are wrong and I'm open to people approaching me about them and to try to address them and fix them.”

At the beginning of Meinert’s career in Seattle, he worked as a music promoter. It was in this capacity that Meinert’s first accuser, a business owner, said she met him.

The year was 2001, and the business owner said she had offered up her balcony on a warm night for beers with Meinert and her business manager. Meinert was in his mid-30s then. She was in her early 40s.

The woman said she wasn’t good friends with Meinert; he was a professional acquaintance. Her balcony had a great view, she said, and people sometimes met there.

Between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., the woman said she was going to bed. She told the men they could keep hanging out and leave when they wished. She retired to her bedroom and closed the door.

What happened next, she said, has stayed with her for 17 years.

Ten to 15 minutes later, as she was drifting off to sleep, she said Meinert entered her bedroom and got on top of her. She wasn’t fully awake, she said, but asked what he was doing. She put up her hands and said “no.” Within seconds, she said, he was inside of her. He didn’t use a condom, moved quickly, and ejaculated.

She said he left her room quickly after that. She was stunned, but didn’t move.

Meinert confirmed that he attended the gathering and entered her bedroom, but denied assaulting her. They talked, he told KUOW, and he made a pass at her, but she rebuffed him.

'I feel like I failed her. Like she had a line of defense and I didn't do what I should have done.'

After that, he said, he came out and rejoined the party.

But the woman’s business manager, who also attended the gathering, told KUOW a different story. It wasn’t a party, he said. Not long after his boss went to bed, he crashed on her couch.

He saw Meinert enter his boss’s bedroom but thought nothing of it.

When his boss emerged from her room in the morning, she told him she had been raped.

“I was shocked,” the business manager said. “And just apologized over and over again. It never would have occurred to me that that would happen. I felt like shit because I could have done something and I didn’t.”

He asked the woman if she was going to call the police, but she said no. “It was a different time then,” he said. “She had her standing in the community.”

The business manager said he’s lived with guilt ever since. He became emotional over the phone as he recounted these events from 2001.

“I feel like I failed her,” he said. “Like she had a line of defense and I didn't do what I should have done.”

The business owner said Meinert called that morning and asked if they were okay.

“I didn’t know what to say besides — I don’t even know how I answered,” she said. “‘Yes, fine I guess.’ Got off the phone and then was pretty much able to avoid him.”

Meinert denied having called.

From then on, she made her business manager Meinert’s point of contact and was polite when she saw him in passing.

“For years I just buried it because I didn't want to go to the police, didn’t want to go through what women used to go through, probably still go through, to try to prove that he had done something,” she said.

"I am committed to being a part of the solution, and I expect each of you to hold me to it." — David Meinert

Twelve years later, Meinert opened a diner, Lost Lake Café & Lounge, near one of her businesses. She saw him frequently on Capitol Hill, which was becoming too much to bear. She decided they needed to talk. They went on a walk.

“I said, ‘You raped me, and it’s really bothered me,’” the woman said. “He was astounded.”

She said Meinert couldn’t believe she had perceived what had happened to be rape, but said he had been drinking a lot back then and he had changed. He apologized, she said. And she decided to let it go.

Meinert confirmed this conversation but said he apologized for how she was feeling, not for an alleged rape.

The woman’s feelings changed in 2014, when she saw a Facebook post from Meinert about a football player accused of rape. Charges were never filed, but Meinert said the football player should be banned from the NFL. She was furious.

She became angrier in the fall of 2017, amid a rush of stories about abuse from men like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. In October, Meinert published a Facebook post saying he had been “overwhelmed with contemplation and self-reflection” upon reading #MeToo social media posts.

“I am a deeply flawed man, and I know I’m constantly in need of self-improvement,” he wrote. “I am making a commitment to be more aware and to never become complacent or apathetic to this issue.”

Credit Facebook screenshot/David Meinert

Two months later, Meinert text-messaged the business owner. She showed KUOW the texts.

“Hey, been a while,” the first message began. “Given our conversation when you brought up your issue with me, and the #MeToo movement going on, I’d love to get together and talk more. I’m on a huge mission to improve myself, and my businesses and don’t feel I can do that without addressing your concerns. Can we meet?"

The message shook her, and she didn’t respond. Two days later, Meinert tried again, this time telling her how much he benefited from her “friendship and mentorship.”

She balked. They weren’t friends, she said, never had been.

“We had casually known each other for years,” she said. “I don't remember ever being friends with David.”

Meinert was intent on proving their friendship to KUOW; he produced their email communication and provided three people to contact. The seven email conversations between them are brief, usually a sentence or two from her, and friendly in nature. Of those called, one said Meinert and the business owner were professional aquaintances; the other two said they were friends.

She told a friend what had happened in her bedroom years before. The friend replied that she, too, had a David Meinert story.

Credit : Text message provide by one of the women interviewed for this story.

The friend told KUOW that she had been eating and drinking with a group, including Meinert, one night in 2015. She, Meinert, and others walked down the street; she was headed to her car. The others eventually trailed off, and he remained. As she typed her code to the parking garage, she said Meinert stuck his tongue in her mouth in an attempt to kiss her.

Surprising, too, because she was a lesbian with a longtime partner.  

“I was blindsided, and I was shocked,” she told KUOW. “I was just like, ‘David!’ Like I probably said, ‘What the fuck.’”

She continued into the parking garage; she doesn’t remember if she pushed Meinert off or if he backed away. At the time, she chalked it up to Meinert “being drunk and acting inappropriately.” She didn’t think of it again until she heard the much more serious allegation from her friend.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute,’” she said, recalling their conversation. “In hindsight, it really forced me to put into context his audacity to put his tongue down my throat. It was a bigger deal looking back on it — and not just some guy who was drunk.”

Meinert told KUOW that he couldn’t say whether he put his tongue in the second woman’s mouth, but that he did try to kiss her and was rebuffed. “Sometimes I kiss—you know, French kiss,” he said. “So that could have been. I don't know.”

Credit KUOW Graphic/Isolde Raftery

Around the time that the business woman confronted Meinert after he opened Lost Lake, his Capitol Hill diner, he bumped into an old college friend.

That friend, then 46, had been blues dancing and was eating a salad at Lost Lake. This woman, who would later wait hours in her car in Sunset Hill Park to file a police report, had attended Western Washington University with Meinert.

They chatted, she told police, and he eventually left. When she went outside, Meinert was waiting in his car. He offered her a ride to where she had parked farther up the hill.

She got into his car and they continued talking, she said, until he told her, “Take off your bra.”

At that point, she told police, she got scared. She did what she was told: She took off her bra.

They made out in his car, she said, but after a short while she decided she didn’t want to be there. She put on her shirt and got out. When Meinert asked for her number, she refused — she said they were probably Facebook friends.

“I gave a very clear indication that I was not interested in going any further or having any further contact with him because he was creeping me out,” she told police.

She got in her car and turned on her engine. That’s when Meinert approached.

She rolled down her window. What happened occurred “at lightning speed,” she said.

According to the woman’s interview with the police, Meinert reached through the window and grabbed the car door handle. He opened the door and got inside, and straddled her. He put his left hand on her neck.

Gripping her throat, he masturbated onto her skirt, she said. She froze.

“And then he made fun of me,” she said. He imitated her high-pitched voice, she told police, and said of his ejaculate, “Look, it sparkles like fairy dust.”

Meinert denied most of the blues dancer’s story. He remembered meeting her at Lost Lake, where he said they both had a few drinks. After that, he maintained that they had consensual sex in her car.

Hearing Meinert’s version of events last week, the woman was furious. “That's not true,” she said. “Nope. That's disgusting.”

The woman decided to file a police report in part because of a Facebook post that Meinert had written on the #MeToo movement — the same post that rankled the business woman who accused him of rape.

Meinert’s post said he wanted his friends to know their sexual assault stories were being heard, and that he was “making a commitment to be more aware and never become complacent or apathetic to this issue.” The post was liked by nearly 200 people.

Meinert’s college friend was amazed by what she believed to be the post’s total lack of self-awareness. In that moment, she wondered if there were others like her.

She reported her story to a police officer in January 2018, two months after the time she tried to file a report from Sunset Hill Park.

Still, the woman’s case would never see a courtroom; the statute of limitations to prosecute rape or sexual assault in Washington state is three years if not reported to police within one year after the alleged assault.

Meinert’s former college friend missed the deadline by a little more than a year.

Credit KUOW Graphic/Teo Popescu & Isolde Raftery

A third woman accused Meinert of raping her in 2007. Meinert adamantly denied the allegation.

The woman reported the allegation shortly after it occurred. But authorities found the accusation "legally insufficient" after they questioned the woman, her boss, Meinert's defense attorney and an associate of Meinert's who was present that night. The prosecution declined to pursue charges.

Meinert and his 2007 accuser agreed on some parts of the story.

This woman, then a 30-year-old city employee, was at happy hour with her boss. They’d had a win at work and wanted to celebrate. Meinert, an associate of her boss, was there, too.

Meinert left to attend another business meeting, and the city employee, who had been working with Meinert over the prior month, went to join him and others who attended that meeting later.

From there, the stories diverge.

At the second location, the woman said she went to the bathroom and Meinert followed her, according to a prosecutor's report.

Meinert kissed her and pulled his pants down to expose his penis to her, the report said. She told him, “I can’t do this,” and said she was on her period, with a tampon inserted.

In response, Meinert reached into the woman’s pants, pulled out the tampon, and threw it into the toilet, the woman told police. According to the report, the woman insisted: “I don’t want to do this here. I can’t do this.”

She pushed Meinert away, she said, and he told her he would meet her outside the bar. When she returned to the table, dizzy and disoriented, she found the others at the table had left.

Meinert told KUOW the bathroom incident never happened.

When the woman left the restaurant, Meinert was waiting out front. He offered to drive her to her car, which she accepted. She said later she didn’t know why she did this.

She said Meinert again tried to have sex with her in his car. He put his fingers in her underwear. She told investigators that she tried to squirm away and made excuses for why she didn’t want to have sex with him. She said he seemed mad about not being allowed to penetrate her.

Eventually, Meinert pushed her shoulder down until she was sitting on the floor with her face near his penis, she said. He forced her head to his penis, she told investigators, and she relented by giving him a blowjob.

“I said I don't want to do this,” the woman told KUOW. “And he said, ‘Okay, but you're going to give me a blowjob.’ And so I did.”

“I felt at the time it was the way to get out of the car,” she said.

Meinert agreed that the woman gave him a blowjob, but said it was consensual.

The woman said she got out of his car and sat in her own car for a while before driving herself home. She lived with her parents at the time; when she woke up feeling nauseated and dizzy, her dad drove her to the local hospital. She was then transported to Harborview, where nurses administered a rape kit.

The woman didn’t want to meet with police at the hospital, but 10 days later, she filed a report, her boyfriend by her side. That boyfriend, now her husband, said that after the night with Meinert, she would wake during the night in terror, throwing punches. She stopped going to work. She began having panic attacks.

The week after the alleged assault, the city employee filed an internal sexual harassment complaint against her boss. Her frustrations with him had been boiling for months, she said, and she felt she had been set up.

Meinert conversely said the city employee had flirted with him all night, made sexually suggestive comments in the car, and consensually given him a blowjob. He argued that she falsely reported a sexual assault to justify her complaint against the city.

'She appears to have provided a series of excuses as to why she could not have sex with him ... without ever firmly refusing him.' - Prosecutor Carol Spoor

Meinert’s strategist, Stacy Pearson, sent KUOW the internal investigation into the woman’s sexual harassment claim against the city. An investigator hired by the City Attorney’s Office generated a report claiming the woman had “diminished credibility.”

The investigator explained her reasoning behind the judgment: The woman characterized the gathering with Meinert as work-related; the investigator considered it social. The investigator also said that the woman’s fears that her boss would retaliate against her were misplaced. The investigator said she could not corroborate the city employee’s description of her boss’s behavior and a hostile workplace environment, but wrote that her boss likely did make inappropriate comments. He had credibility issues too, the investigator concluded.

As for the sexual assault allegation against Meinert, "I do not have any independent evidence with which to confirm or refute these allegations,” the investigator wrote. 

The woman's boss announced his resignation six months later. The woman initially made an arrangement with the city to come back to work, but decided not to because of concerns about her mental health, she said. She and the city settled the claim later that year.

“The idea that I would do this for a settlement with the city is ridiculous,” the woman told KUOW. “I loved my job.”

'There is simply no way that she would be dishonest about a matter of this nature, sensitivity and importance. Zero chance.'

After the night with Meinert, the woman’s health deteriorated, she and her husband told KUOW. Two months after she filed the police report, she received a call from her ex-husband: He and his mother had been contacted by a private investigator hired by Meinert’s defense attorney.

Emails forwarded by the ex-husband described their conversation.

“In a nutshell, [the woman] has accused my client of sexually assaulting her,” private investigator Leigh Hearon told her ex-husband. “My client is baffled; he thought the encounter was completely consensual.”

The private investigator continued: “Has [she] ever accused anyone in her work environment of sexually harassing or assaulting her? I don't mean to disparage your former spouse, but so far, the facts just don't add up in this case.”

“Though I don't know anything about this current situation, obviously, I can say I am 100 percent sure that [she] is telling the truth,” the ex-husband responded. “Note that this number is not 99.9 percent. There is simply no way that she would be dishonest about a matter of this nature, sensitivity and importance. Zero chance.”

Prosecutors questioned the woman, too, but declined to file charges.

“Rape in the third degree requires the victim to clearly express a lack of consent,” Carol Spoor, the prosecutor, wrote. “During the act of intercourse here no witnesses were present, so we have victim’s word against the suspect’s.”

Spoor also wrote in her report that while the woman said she expressed a clear lack of consent and Meinert ignored her, “she appears to have provided a series of excuses as to why she could not have sex with him (not in bathrooms; tampon inserted; not in cars; no condom; her boss was suspect’s friend) without ever firmly refusing him.”

There was insufficient evidence, the prosecutor concluded, to corroborate a lack of consent beyond a reasonable doubt.  

Later that year, the woman intentionally overdosed on benzodiazepine and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Her therapist confirmed to KUOW that 11 years later, she continues treatment for the trauma related to Meinert’s alleged assault.

Learning that other women had Meinert stories gave the woman a sense that she was not alone.

Credit KUOW Graphic/Teo Popescu

Editor's note: Since this story was published, the woman originally identified as "The Friend" asked to be named. She is Elizabeth Potter Puccinelli.

Their affair began one night in 2004, when she was drinking with a friend at the Mirabeau Room, a club Meinert once owned. They were friends, but she didn’t know he was interested in her, until he grabbed her and kissed her, she said.

Meinert had a girlfriend, but this woman, then 28, didn’t know about her. The woman continued seeing him casually until 2007, when she got serious with someone else.

The last time she and Meinert spent time together alone, they were at her apartment. She said they couldn’t sleep together anymore, but he touched her anyway, tried taking off her pants, and pushed her onto the bed, she said.

She said she told Meinert to stop and to leave. But he kept pawing at her, she said. He was strong, she said, and it took physical force to push him away and out of her apartment. She struggled to close the door against him, and anxiously locked it when she finally got him out. She never reported the incident to police.

Years later, in 2013, they still ran in the same circle of friends. They were friends, the woman thought. She had put the incident in her apartment behind her. She was in her late 30s by then, married, and had taken her newborn baby to attend a kid’s birthday party held at Meinert’s house in Burien.

She had to use the bathroom and handed her baby to a friend. But when she emerged from the bathroom, her friend wasn’t holding the baby. Meinert was. He turned a corner into a dark hallway, where she followed him. When she tried to get her baby back, she said he went in for a kiss.

The woman told a friend at the party what had just happened. The friend confirmed this conversation to KUOW. This friend said the woman had also told her what had happened in 2007, at her apartment.

Meinert said he and this woman had always been flirty and playful, so it was possible that she pushed him out of her apartment in a lighthearted way. He didn’t recall the specific incident, and he emphasized that they remained friends for years after the fact.

The woman said she did not consider that incident a flirtation. She had revoked her consent, and he didn’t listen. As for the incident with her newborn, she was grossed out. Meinert, however, said he didn’t recall that happening.

“If that happened, I mean, I feel horrible that she feels that way about it, and it’s something I need to deal with,” he said. “It’s confusing to me given our continuing relationship that this is an issue. But I trust [her] and I believe what she’s feeling.”

In the offices of Strategies 360, a representative from Meinert’s crisis communications firm defended her client. Not every inappropriate behavior rises to the level of rape or more serious forms of sexual assault, she said. There were accepted things in previous years that in 2018 are only now considered bad behavior.

“Things have progressed since the beginning of these conversations,” Pearson, the strategist, said. Pearson had flown up from Arizona to help Meinert.

Sitting next to her, Meinert remained subdued. “I don’t think I’m a perfect guy,” he said. “But I also did not sexually assault anyone.”

Along with denying some of the allegations, Meinert defended himself by saying that he’d remained friends with some of these women long after these alleged incidents. Some of the women said it’s true that they stayed in touch, or were friendly, despite what they said transpired.

But that politeness, said Meinert’s 2001 accuser, was just the cost of doing business in Seattle. Beneath it: layers of self-blame and a constant effort to keep her baggage in check.

“I buried it for a long time,” the business owner said. “I didn’t talk about it for 10 years.”

“I was filled with shame for so long.”

Reporter Sydney Brownstone can be reached at 206.353.3729 or sydney@kuow.org.