Aug. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former International Monetary Fund chief criminally charged with sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper, was sued by the woman for what her lawyer called “violent and deplorable acts.”
Nafissatou Diallo, who emigrated to the U.S. from Guinea, filed the complaint yesterday in New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx, where she lived at the time of the incident. The criminal case against Strauss-Kahn, 62, a onetime French presidential hopeful, is pending in state court in Manhattan.
Diallo, who revealed her identity in media interviews last month, was working at the Sofitel hotel in midtown Manhattan May 14 when she entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite, where the incident took place. Strauss-Kahn, whose lawyer has said the encounter wasn’t forcible, was arrested and charged with sexual assault and attempted rape.
“Believing that he was immune from the laws of this country, defendant Strauss-Kahn intentionally, brutally and violently sexually assaulted Ms. Diallo and in the process humiliated, degraded, violated and robbed Ms. Diallo of her dignity as a woman,” her lawyers said in the complaint.
The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages for physical and psychological harm, damage to Diallo’s reputation, career, and mental anguish, for the assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges and denied any wrongdoing.
‘Vindicate Her Rights’
“Ms. Diallo has filed her lawsuit now because she wants to vindicate her rights and hold Dominique Strauss-Kahn accountable for the violent and deplorable acts committed against her,” defense lawyer Kenneth Thompson said yesterday in an interview. “We expect that the District Attorney will stand by this victim, because to abandon her would also be an abandonment of other women who are going to be raped or sexually assaulted in the future.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is still investigating the criminal case. Strauss-Kahn, who remains free while he awaits trial, is scheduled to return to court Aug. 23.
On July 1, prosecutors told a judge that the criminal case was hurt by Diallo’s “substantial credibility issues,” which included lying to a grand jury about her actions immediately after the alleged attack as well as regarding details of her life history.
It’s unusual for such a civil suit to be filed before the criminal case has been resolved, said New York attorney Paul Callan, who isn’t involved in the case.
‘Fearful’ of Dismissal
“Thompson is fearful the criminal case is going to be dropped so he’s throwing out the rule book,” said Callan, who represented the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson in a lawsuit against former professional football player O.J. Simpson.
Simpson was found liable for his ex-wife’s death after being acquitted on charges of murdering her and her friend Ron Goldman.
According to Diallo’s civil complaint, a naked Strauss-Kahn appeared in the Sofitel luxury suite and “charged at Ms. Diallo, who was startled that anyone was in the room and tried to leave.”
He grabbed her breasts, closed the door of the hotel room, and pushed her into a bedroom where he tried to force her to perform oral sex, according to the complaint. She struggled to free herself and pleaded with him to stop, her lawyers said.
Blocked Her Exit
Strauss-Kahn, undeterred, blocked her exit and pushed her down the hallway toward the back of the suite, according to the filing. He pulled up her dress, pulled down and tore her pantyhose and grabbed her vagina with so much force that, for several days after, she felt pain whenever she urinated, the complaint stated.
Strauss-Kahn forced Diallo to the back of the suite and down on her knees outside of a bathroom at the end of the corridor, according to the lawsuit.
“Strauss-Kahn violently grabbed the back of Ms. Diallo’s head, shoved his penis into her mouth against her will and then forcibly held the back of her head with his hands as he thrusted his penis back and forth in her mouth,” according to the complaint. Strauss-Kahn “moaned until he ejaculated inside her mouth,” her lawyers said in the filing.
After the attack, Diallo was emotionally distraught and hotel employees saw that she was shaking, spitting repeatedly and gesturing that she wanted to throw up, according to the complaint.
The suit also seeks to introduce other alleged crimes by Strauss-Kahn involving purported sexual assaults on women in other hotels or apartments used by him around the world.
Leaks to Media
The suit states that because of leaks to the news media, some people believe Diallo “made up the sexual assault in order to shake down” Strauss-Kahn for money. She has been vilified in news reports around the world and called a “professional con-artist,” Thompson wrote in the filing.
News Corp.’s New York Post “assaulted her reputation” by running articles that falsely stated she is a “prostitute” and the “infamous Sofitel maid/hooker” who was “turning tricks” while in the protective custody of prosecutors, according to the complaint. Diallo sued the New York Post for libel in the same Bronx court last month.
Proceeding with a civil case that seeks monetary damages may harm the criminal case, Callan said.
“It undermines the credibility of a victim whose credibility is already very shaken,” he said. “Prosecutors will not like this at all.”
Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., declined to comment on the lawsuit. She said the criminal case was “continuing.”
It is easier to prove a civil case than a criminal case. The “preponderance of the evidence” is all that is necessary in a civil case, whereas criminal jurors must be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“If there’s a little more evidence on the side of one party than the other, that party wins,” Callan said.
Callan said he thinks a Strauss-Kahn civil attorney will seek an immediate deposition of the victim.
“There will be a lot more to cross-examine her on,” he said.
“We have maintained from the beginning that the motivation of Mr. Thompson and his client was to make money,” Strauss-Kahn’s criminal defense attorneys, Benjamin Brafman and William Taylor, said in an e-mailed statement. “The filing of this lawsuit ends any doubt on that question. The civil suit has no merit and Mr. Strauss-Kahn will defend it vigorously.”
A lawsuit filed in the Bronx, as opposed to in Manhattan, may work to the housekeeper’s advantage, Callan said.
The Bronx is probably “the best jurisdiction for her because of the heavy minority and immigrant populations in the borough which would probably be more sympathetic to her than to Strauss-Kahn,” the lawyer said.
Even if Diallo wins the lawsuit, Callan said, it may not be easy to recover any damages.
“Strauss-Kahn’s assets might not be so easy to attach, even if you get a verdict against him,” said Callan. “A lot of the money is in his wife’s name and a lot is in France.”
Prosecutors revealed that the criminal case may be in jeopardy more than a month ago. Diallo stated in a 2004 application for asylum that she had been gang-raped in Guinea, prosecutors said in a June 30 letter to defense attorneys filed with the court. She had “cried and appeared markedly distraught” in two interviews when recounting the rape, according to prosecutors.
She admitted in June that the rape hadn’t happened, prosecutors said.
Diallo also changed her story about what happened immediately after the incident at the Sofitel, according to the letter. Diallo, who told the grand jury she had fled to a main hallway after the attack, later said she proceeded to clean a nearby room and then returned to Strauss-Kahn’s room before reporting the incident, according to the letter.
Diallo’s lawyer said in the complaint yesterday that “contrary to some reports, at no point and time did Ms. Diallo go back and clean” any other hotel room.
A person familiar with the matter said in July that, in a translated summary of taped conversations with a friend imprisoned in Arizona, the housekeeper said in her native Fulani, “Don’t worry. This guy has money. I know what I’m doing.” The person didn’t want to be identified because the information wasn’t public.
Diallo, along with her lawyer and prosecutors, listened to the tapes together on July 27, Thompson said. Thompson told reporters that Diallo’s comments had been “merged together” and mischaracterized.
The civil case is Diallo v. Strauss-Kahn, 11-307065, New York State Supreme Court (Bronx County); The criminal case is People v. Strauss-Kahn, 11-02526, New York State Supreme Court (New York County).
To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Freifeld in New York State Supreme Court at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com