When Cuba Gooding Jr. pleaded guilty on April 13 to a single misdemeanor count of forcible touching, one condition of his no-jail plea deal was that his three accusers in this case could speak in Manhattan court. One woman who said she had been groped by Gooding at a midtown nightclub on June 9, 2019, opted to speak. She had borne the brunt of the victim-shaming hurled at Gooding’s many accusers — his lawyers had publicly claimed that breast-size insecurity impacted her credibility. But this afternoon, she finally had the opportunity to address these smears. “I won’t lie. I’m very disappointed that we’re here today discussing a plea deal,” she said. “I want to talk about what happened to me. I want to talk about the aftermath of that.”
As the victim continued to speak her truth, explaining how she wanted to “discuss what I believe is the larger impact this is going to have,” Gooding’s lawyer interrupted her. “No, absolutely not, Judge!” attorney Frank Rothman boomed. The accuser could make a statement about her personal feelings, Rothman argued, but not a statement “for the rest of society.” (Rothman would interrupt the victim several more times before the proceedings ended.)
The woman wound up apologizing for touching on this broader point before describing how the incident has profoundly impacted her life. She had come to New York City in 2019 for a neuroscience internship; she and a colleague from her lab decided to grab a drink and discuss her project.
“When I met the defendant, we were walking through the club to go see the view on the other side,” she told Justice Curtis Farber. “When I saw him, I was immediately super-excited. I recognized him from one of my favorite childhood films, Snow Dogs.” Although she was happy about meeting Gooding, she said she didn’t want to do anything that could suggest sexual interest. As a woman who had endured a previous sexual assault, she said she used defensive tactics with strange men, like sitting next to the woman accompanying Cuba, not next to him. “You can imagine my surprise when I saw a flash of movement and felt his hand on my breast, groping it, feeling around on it, as if it was a piece of meat for dinner that night and he wanted to make sure it was cooked well enough,” she said. “I was mortified and, quite honestly, just frozen and shocked from that.”
She added that one of the most humiliating parts of the case came when Gooding’s lawyers asked a judge to let them “cross-examine me about my breast size, to ask what it was, and to ask what I felt about that.” As the woman described this part of her ordeal, Rothman and Gooding kept whispering to each other. “You’re a little distracting,” she said, imploring them to stay quiet. “If you could, please. Thank you.” After she concluded, Rothman once again picked at her words. “What she said happened here for the last 20 minutes is a product of her imagination for a large part.”
The comment capped off an already bizarre proceeding. Gooding’s guilty plea was made for forcibly kissing a woman at a nightclub in September 2018. However, he also admitted to having nonconsensual contact with two other women, one of whom was the victim who spoke as part of the plea deal. These two women are not included in the charge he copped to.
“I kissed the waitress on her lips,” Gooding said in admitting his crime.
“Was that without her permission or authority?” Farber asked.
“Yes, Your Honor,” said Gooding, who sported a fitted black suit, matching tie, and cloud-white dress shirt.
To say Gooding lucked out is an understatement. After the woman came forward about Gooding groping her breast in June 2019, his legal woes snowballed. During an August 2020 court proceeding, prosecutors said 30 women had made allegations against him. In total, Gooding would face six misdemeanor counts.
Prosecutors said in court that one reason they had brokered a deal was Farber’s decision not to allow evidence of uncharged bad acts at trial. (This type of evidence was key to securing Harvey Weinstein’s conviction.) Gooding, they said, has been in counseling since September 2019. Under the deal, he must continue in treatment for the next six months. If Gooding stays out of trouble during this time, he will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea — and replead to a harassment violation. A violation is not a crime, so this means he won’t have a criminal record if he keeps up his end of the bargain.
Gooding did directly address his victims after seemingly becoming annoyed about his lawyer speaking on his behalf. “I don’t need the coaching,” Gooding said to his lawyer, adding to the court, “I apologize for making anybody ever feel inappropriately touched, anyone.” Gooding still faces a civil suit in Manhattan federal court, where he is accused of rape. He has previously denied this allegation.
“I am a celebrity figure,” Gooding stated in court. “I come into contact with people. I never want them to feel slighted or uncomfortable in any way.”