A Bellingham bistro owner took the witness stand Wednesday in a trial in which he’s accused of sexual assaults on four women who say they were drunk, high, or blacked out when he made unwanted advances.
Over the past week, five accusers have described how Jamison Scott Rogayan sexually touched them in his apartment on Chestnut Street. Three women recalled waking up in Rogayan’s bed not knowing where they were, what was happening, or what to do. Two women went to his apartment buzzed on alcohol or drugs, not wanting sex. They recalled that Rogayan blocked the door, grabbed them and made it feel like they couldn’t leave.
On the witness stand Rogayan, 32, denied any sexual contact with two women, R. and H., and testified that a third woman, E., took off her pants and seemed to give him a “green light” for sexual touching. E. had testified she was blacked out at the time. Rogayan recalled that she seemed intoxicated, like him, but not totally out of it.
So far Rogayan has testified for a little more than an hour – outlining his work history, his cocaine and drinking habits, and three of the cases – but was cut off by the end of the court day. He breathed nervously into a microphone, his voice shook, and he could not keep from crying at times. His testimony will continue on the seventh day of trial, Thursday, in Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder’s courtroom.
A total of 10 women have accused Rogayan of sexual assaults, court records show. In four of those cases, however, the statute of limitations expired, and one woman did not wish to press charges. The women whose cases did go to trial endured hours of testimony on the witness stand, as attorneys asked them to recall the alleged assaults in front of a jury of seven women and five men.
One count of rape was dismissed Wednesday – Snyder found no evidence that a woman, identified as K., didn’t consent. She stated she had “passively accepted” when she woke up in Rogayan’s bed, after a hazy night during which she blacked out, and they had intercourse while she still felt woozy. She felt repulsed, “like trash,” but didn’t resist. Rogayan remains on trial for indecent liberties, unlawful imprisonment and three counts of second-degree rape.
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.
Rogayan got kicked out of a party he’d gone to with a friend, R., in 2011. Both had been drinking and smoking marijuana, and he was drunk. She had invited him, and he was angry because he didn’t want to go in the first place, he testified. They argued on a walk back to his apartment, where she had left some of her things. She testified he sexually assaulted her for hours in the apartment. He says that never happened. Rogayan said the argument dragged on: She got emotional, she slapped him, he clapped onto her arms and tried to force her out. She punched him and locked herself in a bathroom. He got in bed, he said. He awoke wearing his clothes, with R. kicking him off the bed, he testified.
“I’m saying, ‘What the (expletive) are you doing? Get the (expletive) out of my house, you crazy (expletive),’ ” Rogayan said. “I said, ‘I’m going to bed, and when I wake up, I want you (expletive) gone.’ ”
“Was sex even a question in the air?” asked his defense attorney Alexander Ransom.
“No,” Rogayan said. “I wanted her to leave.”
He says they fell asleep, and in the morning they were almost cordial.
He recalled seeing a post on social media as early as 2012, when R. wrote that he sexually assaulted her, he testified.
“I remember reading this and thinking, ‘This did not happen,’ ” Rogayan testified.
Origins of the criminal case can be traced to a dining recommendation posted on reddit.com/r/bellingham, what’s called a “subreddit,” which is a page focused on a general topic. One user had suggested Cosmos Bistro, a newer restaurant on the ground floor of the Herald Building, in September 2015.
“Cosmos, no,” replied charmlessman1, who became a witness in the trial. “One of the owners is a rapist.”
Rogayan co-owned Cosmos. He managed the front of the house with cheery, over-the-top enthusiasm that made him memorable to patrons. Days later as rape accusations piled up on social media, his business partner banned him from the restaurant. Meanwhile, the moderator of /r/Bellingham deleted comments on the thread. (The moderator is the defense’s only other listed witness, besides Rogayan.)
The conversation moved to Facebook. A post from one concerned citizen, Cordelia Fiterre, took off in a flurry of comments, and as women continued to get in touch with her, she set up a private Facebook group for them to share their stories.
Three of the women testified last week, answering hours of questions that picked at their reports. This week two more women took the stand.
On Tuesday, the woman identified as H. described how she’d bumped into Rogayan at Cap Hansen’s, where he was a regular, in fall 2013. She was not raped, she said, and two years later when she spoke with police she did not realize the incident would be considered a crime.
She’d accepted an invitation back to Rogayan’s apartment, where he offered her MDMA, cocaine, marijuana and mixed drinks. She accepted canned beer, and tried to leave at least twice, but Rogayan held her back, she said. He kept offering drugs and she took cocaine. She said she felt captive in the apartment for hours, as he kissed her and didn’t seem to pick up social cues that she had no interest. She never actually said, “no,” she testified, and he never touched her in a private area, though in her view he seemed to be trying to take her clothes off.
Rogayan, a fine arts major, insisted on drawing her. She took off her clothes, with reluctance – figuring it might be better to give in than to fight back, she testified. In Rogayan’s version, she asked to be drawn, and she kissed him once in a friendly, comical, nonsexual way.
After he finished some drawings, she reclined on the bed and pretended to be more out of it than she was, she said. Rogayan went to the bathroom. She ran outside wearing a bra, and got dressed on the way downstairs, around the time the bars closed. She told a doorman at Cap’s that she got stuck in Rogayan’s apartment. He laughed it off, she said, not understanding she meant it literally.
Rogayan was charged with unlawful imprisonment and indecent liberties, a sex crime for situations in which the victim feels physically helpless. Prosecutors argued that when Rogayan French-kissed H., by putting his tongue in her mouth, he made sexual contact with an intimate part of her body.
Three years have gone by since E. took Molly, a form of the rave drug Ecstasy, with her boyfriend, and went downtown after a few beers in February 2014. She blacked out on the walk to Cap Hansen’s.
“That’s what’s so frustrating about this,” E. testified.
Over those years she has struggled to piece together what happened from there. She awoke in a bed, with a foggy feeling “like climbing out of black tar,” she said, being forcibly sexually touched by a man she didn’t know. It was Rogayan, she said. As soon as she felt herself waking up, he stopped, she said, and went to do the dishes.
She left confused and too out of it to respond, she said, and he “lunged” at her for a kiss in the elevator on her way out. Rogayan said the kiss was reciprocal. That week she hunted for him, and through friends and Facebook, she figured out where he worked. She sent a message identifying herself as the “girl who came to blacked out” as he sexually touched her in his apartment.
“Please be honest,” she wrote. “Was there sex? Was there protection?”
He replied that he had “wandering hands,” but nothing beyond that happened. She went on to tell Rogayan that her boyfriend had cheated on her that night.
“Why are you messaging him with details of your life, if you feel like a victim?” Ransom asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “How should I have messaged him?”
E. regrets that she did not come forward until seeing the other women’s stories, she said. Evan Jones, the deputy prosecutor, asked how it affected her to read those posts.
“Does it change your memory of what happened to you?” Jones asked her.
“No,” she answered.