Three women endured hours of agonizing cross-examination in front of a jury this week, at times fighting tears and breaking down as they were asked to recount alleged sexual assaults by a Bellingham bistro owner.
Jamison Scott Rogayan, 32, is on trial for sexual assaults on five women – charged with four counts of second-degree rape, one count of indecent liberties, and one count of unlawful imprisonment – for encounters with women who say they were drunk, high, or both when Rogayan made unwanted forceful advances.
Rogayan denies the encounters were sexual assaults. His attorney, Alexander Ransom, apologized to the women on the witness stand, as he asked probing, intimate questions about what happened at Rogayan’s apartment:
So you were not aroused while this was happening?
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Afterward you washed your clothes?
You took showers?
You did not get a rape kit?
You did not go to the hospital?
As a general policy The Bellingham Herald does not name alleged victims of sexual assault. Here we are using initials, however, for the sake of clarity.
“This was an assault, correct?” Ransom asked, about a half-hour into his cross-examination of L.G., a woman in her 20s.
“Yes,” she replied, in a tone suggesting, “Isn’t this obvious?”
“In the way you described it?” Ransom asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I was incapacitated. I was unconscious, and when I became conscious, he had his hands in my vagina. That is an assault.”
Yet she wasn’t sure whether what happened to her would be considered rape. So, like all of the other accusers, she said she hesitated and did not go to the police. L.G. didn’t come forward until she read an article in The Bellingham Herald about Rogayan more than a year later, when he was arrested and charged with sexual assaults dating to 2011. Some of the claims of sexual assault went as far back as 2006; the statute of limitations has passed in four cases.
Each story seemed to L.G. to mirror her experience.
“Beyond the legal issue of whether you knew that was rape, that’s an assault,” Ransom continued. “Why didn’t you just report that?”
“It’s very hard to report this kind of stuff, for this reason,” she said, gesturing to the courtroom. “I have to relive it, with someone that’s trying to deny my truth. That is extremely emotionally taxing. I have spent a year waiting for this – agonizing about this, feeling terrible. This is not my choice of fun. So, no, I didn’t report, because I didn’t think anything would happen, because generally things don’t happen in these cases. And you just get shamed over and over. So, no, I didn’t report. ... I just wanted to forget that it happened, and go on with my life.”
L.G. knew Rogayan through his work at Avenue Bread. She went to Cap Hansen’s tavern to meet him for a drink in 2014, under the impression that mutual friends would go, too. But they were alone. It was awkward. She tried to be polite, ordered a gin and tonic, finished most of it, went to the bathroom, and came back to find Rogayan had bought her a second gin and tonic, she said. It was already on the bar.
She recalls the second drink, then an immediate blackout, like a light switch going off. She has one snippet of a memory, she said, feeling frozen, with Rogayan “pawing” at her in the Herald Building, where his new restaurant was under construction. She believes he drugged her, but not with a “rufi,” the notorious date rape drug Rohypnol. (Some jurors asked for a definition of “rufi.”) She’d been slipped that drug before, she said, but it felt different when she awoke in Rogayan’s apartment. She broke into a full run on her way home, she testified. She slept, showered, got ready for work, and tried to act normal.
Rogayan worked at Avenue Bread before opening Cosmos Bistro in the Herald Building. His business partner, Cinnamon Berg, banned him from the business when allegations of rape surfaced on social media in September 2015.
A few months after the assault, L.G. smoked marijuana with Rogayan and a friend, she testified. She continued to see him through the local restaurant crowd. Ransom asked if it seemed odd to L.G. to hang around someone she thought of as a creep.
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s really common among survivors of sexual assault, you often – ”
“So you’re an expert now,” Ransom said, cutting her off. Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder sustained an objection from a prosecutor.
“I decided I was going to forget this happened and squish it down,” L.G. continued.
However, as the rumors surfaced on social media, a self-appointed advocate for the women set up a secret Facebook page to share their experiences with Rogayan. The defense has suggested the group showed signs of collusion.
“Do you know what witness collusion is?” Ransom asked L.G.
“Tell me what it is.”
“It’s talking to other witnesses, and trying to get your stories to be the same,” she said, “and that’s not what happened.”
Testimony from L.G. and another woman, R., lasted all day Wednesday.
R. broke down in tears as Ransom asked if she was aroused, during what she described as a drunken sexual assault that lasted hours in Rogayan’s apartment. Ransom questioned why she had no injuries to her privates, if it lasted that long.
He asked why she didn’t get a rape kit right away. R. said she, too, wasn’t sure if what happened to her – touching, without intercourse – was considered rape. Still, she reported a sexual assault that week in 2011. The case stalled, and no charges were filed until 2015.
Throughout her testimony, she gazed down at her hands.
“Did you want to be here today, to talk about this?” asked a deputy prosecutor, Eric Richey.
She paused for about 20 seconds.
“Um, what do you mean?” she asked. “It’s difficult for me. It was a very traumatic experience for me, and it’s also humiliating.”
After a couple glasses of mead and a beer alone, K. bumped into Rogayan and some other friends at Cap Hansen’s on a night in April 2015, she testified Thursday. She left her wallet and other things in the bar when she walked out.
She blacked out, but had a brief memory of Rogayan showing her around the new restaurant, and waking up in the morning – either with a woozy hangover or still drunk – to Rogayan engaged in intercourse with her in his bed. She froze, she said.
“I guess I was numb,” K. wrote, in a private Facebook conversation in September 2015, before the group formed. “Or just like (expletive) it or idk what but I just let it happen. At this point idk if he did anything that night. … What I do know is that I passively accepted.” (“idk” is chat speak for “I don’t know.”)
On the witness stand, the defense asked K. to read the full post aloud. She recalled feeling disgusted, “like trash,” and confused about how she got there. That week she described what happened to a friend, who seemed disappointed in her.
She did not go to police until December 2015.
“It crossed my mind, but I didn’t want to do anything,” K. said. “I didn’t want to go through the whole process – this process.”
Ransom asked if she chose to testify because she wanted to support the others in the Facebook group.
“I want to tell my story,” K. said, her voice cracking. “And I don’t want anyone else to be in that situation, and feel this way, in the future.”
Two more accusers, and 20 other listed witnesses, have yet to testify. The trial resumes Monday.